On the drive home from Denver, Jenn and Mark Rinn made a decision: they would find something good to take away from this experience. Not exactly an easy decision considering the couple had just taken their newly born daughter off of life support. The baby, Miranda Jean, had lived for just 36 hours.
“We said our goodbyes,” Jenn said, tearfully, “and held her until she was no longer breathing.”
It had been an excruciating 48 hours for the Rinn family, beginning on Saturday night when Jenn went into labor, two days prior to her scheduled C-section the following Monday. After her uterus ruptured, their daughter Miranda was born without a heartbeat and subsequently flown to Presbyterian St. Lukes (PSL) in Denver, though by this point, Miranda had no brain activity and the family was faced with an agonizing decision.
This was four years ago, and today, despite the fact that the pain of Miranda’s loss is still achingly present, Jenn recalls the support of their friends and family during and after the event, which made all the difference to their family.
“My family was there in Denver waiting for me when I arrived and I just remember how good that felt to see all those faces and feel all that love,” Jenn recalled with a rueful smile. “I wanted to follow their example of living gracefully and show them that something good could come out of this.”
So, on the drive home from Denver, Mark and Jenn decided to set up a fund to help other families in similar situations, and before the family car had pulled in the driveway in Douglas, Jenn had made her first post on Facebook, asking others who had offered them help to instead donate to this memorial fund. And the money started pouring in.
Coincidentally, the first two families the Rinns helped were Jenn’s best friend from high school, Mindi, whose daughter was born with cancer, and Mark’s best friend from high school, whose twins were born prematurely. All three of these children, Jenn is happy to note, are living healthy lives today.
In the past four years, the Rinns have given $46,500 in gifts to 49 families across the country, 16 of which are local families in Douglas. Today, the fund sits at just under $10,000, thanks to the continued support of donors.
Ultimately, however, it’s not about the money or the dollar amount given. Rather, the point of their effort is to reach out to other families who are hurting to show them that they are not alone and that there is someone out there—who sometimes might be a complete stranger—to support them.
“Obviously, the fund is designed to help ease the financial worries on some level, though in most cases, the money is just a drop in the bucket,” Jenn explained. “For us, though, it’s really about paying forward the support and love we received. You can’t imagine how that unconditional love and support feels when you are going through something so painful.”
Jenn recalls receiving a necklace with Miranda’s name on it from a complete stranger and what that selfless gift and thoughtful gesture meant to her. “You form bonds with strangers simply because they understand what you are going through,” she said.
With this in mind, the Rinns actively look for families—sometimes people they’ve never met—who are going through similar situations and who no doubt could use some help, if just to let them know someone is out there thinking about them and that they are not alone in their struggles.
Furthermore, there are no stipulations on how the families use the money, nor do the Rinns feel the need to ask.
“It’s completely up to their discretion,” Jenn said. “Obviously, we’d like to help them with their bills, but only the families know what they need, and if that means that the couple wants to take a weekend for themselves to get away from the stress, then that’s entirely up to them.”
And to her great surprise, the memorial fund has received a lot of support from the community, notably from Douglas native Shea Lehnen, who also lost a daughter in her ninth month of pregnancy, and who last year initiated the first annual 5-K Color Run, with the support of Anne Saunders at Peak Fitness, with all proceeds from the event going toward the Miranda Jean Memorial Fund.
Last year’s run exceeded all expectations, both in number of runners and money raised, as well as the general feeling of camaraderie among the participants at the BBQ following the run. Initially, they had hoped for 100 participants and were blown away when around 500 people turned out for the event.
“This probably sounds completely cheesy,” Jenn said, smiling, “but everyone seemed so happy, even the guys manning the grill.”
Not only is the run for a good cause, she added, but she’s also hoping that people who might be going through similar situations can find relief, if just momentarily, in the overall camaraderie of the event, especially for those people who find it hard to share their feelings.
“I’m an open book,” Jenn said, “but a lot of people who have lost children aren’t comfortable talking about it.”
Also, she added, it’s a good way to keep her daughter’s memory alive. Just hearing Miranda’s name spoken aloud in conjunction with the event makes her feel good about what they are all doing to help and support others.
That said, it’s important to her that people understand that she and Mark in no way consider themselves heroes.
“I’m by no means a perfect person,” Jenn said, “I’m just a person, I’m not someone special, and anybody can go through hard things. It’s just a matter of whether or not you choose to let go of the anger and find the positive things that come out of the pain. Our sadness will never go away, but our hearts are much less heavy now that we can do these awesome things in her memory.”
And speaking of positive things, Jenn and Mark are grateful for the addition of their newly adopted daughter of two years, Harper, as well as their two boys, Trey, 9, and Tristin, 7, who they are blessed to have in their lives.
This year’s Color Run will take place on Friday, June 12, beginning at 6 p.m. at Peak Fitness, followed by a BBQ courtesy of Converse County Bank with beer from Headstrong Brewery. There is no cost to participate in the event, though donations are welcome.