By Charlene Renberg Winters (BA ’73)
SEVERAL years ago the personnel on the seventh floor of Yale-New Haven Hospital in Connecticut dubbed Jennifer Calvert Edwards (BA ’82) “Mother Nature” because the mother of five regularly dropped in to embellish the children’s wing with colorful, seasonal decorations.
She became the self-designated hospital decorator after spending several weeks in the rather dreary hospital atmosphere helping a friend with her premature son.
“I was his ‘playdate’ when his mother had other responsibilities, and as I looked around, I realized I wanted to make the area fun and more visually attractive,” she says. With the hospital’s blessing, she designed seven trees for large windows flanking the hallways and created new decorations for the trees throughout the year. When the staff of the surgical unit realized they had an artist onboard, they hired her to paint lively fish in their wing.
Edwards didn’t realize how much she would need a dose of her own cheer, however, until she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of 2008.
“I began cancer treatments and was so sick,” she says, “but I still had this need and desire to make a cheery atmosphere. I decided I would do something for the patients and staff every time I went into the center.”
Edwards began sneaking uplifting thoughts into the waiting rooms and restrooms. “I wrote silly songs and stories about our symptoms and posted them,” she says. She also made cupcakes, decorated charts, and made word strips saying things like, “You can do this,” and, “You look beautiful today,” to hang on IV poles. After her daughter’s wedding, for which she created giant gerbera daisies, she brought the daisies to the hospital for the other cancer patients and the staff. She placed the daisies on IV poles and gave away so many flowers they could be found taped to computers and doctors’ doors.
“Some people might call me the crazy lady,” she says. “But I know Heavenly Father sustained me so I could do so many of these things when I was bald, weak, and ill. I was even able to continue my calling as a Relief Society president. I want people to know they can make a difference in someone’s life even when times are hard and they don’t think they have the energy.”
Edwards has more surgeries and preventative work ahead, but her hair is returning. “When I feel a little better, I am going back to Yale and hope they allow me to decorate the children’s cancer IV poles. Can you picture them with lollipops, trees with little animals, or big flowers?”
She is writing and illustrating a children’s book about cancer, and she would like to get a master’s degree in art therapy to help people express themselves with the arts.
“We all have our own original ways of bringing a little happiness to our circumstances,” she says.