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Chuck Haga, Forum Communications, Published December 26 2012

Grand Forks woman ‘a pillar of strength’ through family tragedies

GRAND FORKS - As graveside ceremonies ended for her mother last January, Jennifer Frederikson accepted hugs from a long line of relatives and family friends.

Most knew she also was helping her husband, Jared, just beginning his recovery from a traumatic brain injury suffered in the western North Dakota oil fields.

A cousin took her turn in the hugs line and asked Frederikson how she had stayed strong through the double ordeal, caring for daughter Halle, 1, as she shuttled between hospitals in Minot, Rochester, Minn., and Grand Forks, where the family lives.

“I have to be,” she said through tears.

“My niece is an inspiration to me,” aunt Erin Knudson said. “She has been faced with a great deal of tragedy, sadness and adversity in the past 12 months, yet she remains a pillar of strength and integrity.

“I’m sure she didn’t always feel so strong. But she always appeared as strong as could be.”

Nearly a year later, Frederikson, 29, still mourns the loss of her mother and cries as she recalls the frightening phone call that came from Williston, N.D., as she walked with her mother outside the hospital in Rochester where she was being treated for leukemia.

But she holds tight the memory of her mother, and she brightens as she talks about her husband’s recovery.

She tries to deflect the words of praise that have come her way, insisting that many people made it possible for her to do what she did.

“As a parent, I am so blessed to have so many people around me who love my child so much” and were willing to pitch in, she said. “It all falls back on them, too.”

Frederikson’s mother was 54 when doctors diagnosed leukemia on Aug. 15, 2011, a little more than nine months after Halle was born.

“Halle made my mom so happy,” she said. “She was her first grandchild here in town, and my mom altered her schedule, starting her work at 5 a.m. so she could take Halle at 10:30 and I could go to work.

“I feel so sad for Halle and my mom, sad they didn’t get to go further in their relationship.”

Frederikson had taken her mother for a brief walk outside the hospital in Rochester on Dec. 15, 2011, when a cousin called. There had been an accident, she said. Jared had been hit in the head as he worked on an oilfield rig and was on his way to a hospital in Williston.

She called the hospital and talked with people there, who eventually told her Jared had a serious skull fracture and was being air-lifted to a Minot hospital.

Jennifer returned to Grand Forks, collected Halle and, without sleep, flew to Minot to be with her husband.

She was there on New Year’s Day when a call came from Rochester. Her mother’s leukemia was back, and it was taking over her body. Doctors said she had a week, maybe 10 days.

“So I’m sitting in my husband’s rehab room, and I know I’m going to leave, but I don’t know how I’m going to leave,” she said.

She made it to Rochester and was able to say goodbye to her mother, who died Jan. 4.

A week later, Jared came home and started rehabilitation — physical, occupational and speech therapy, and strength conditioning.

Jennifer talked him through it every day, “telling him he could do it,” she said. “I told him Halle and I needed him to do it.”

When the grief and daily struggle threatened to overwhelm her, “I went behind closed doors and collected myself,” she said.

“The brain injury affected his reasoning skills. I could sit and explain something to him, and 15 minutes later I’d have to explain it again. I’m sure he was scared and confused.

“In Minot, at first he was so quiet. He would drop his head onto my chest. It was like he was ashamed, embarrassed. I think he thought he had hurt someone.

“I told him what had happened, and I said, ‘You did not hurt anyone.’ It was like a 1,000-pound weight was lifted.”

She could handle the long, difficult recovery, she said, because she had the help of sisters and cousins and others, “and because I knew I didn’t have anything on my plate like he had on his. And I was so happy I still had him.”

How is he today?

“He is awesome!”

Knudson, the aunt, said that Frederikson’s kindness and compassion have inspired her to be a better person her-self.

“Not once during this past year have I heard Jennifer complain or express self-pity,” she said. “She is one amazing young lady, and an angel indeed.”