Just spit it out: Snyder reflects and honors mother’s death, keeps her alive every day

By Lindsay Cameron

Jenna Snyder lost her mother three years ago and does what she can to help her mother’s legacy live on.

“They only die when you let them,” Snyder said.

Snyder’s mother, Vonnie, was notorious for her kind spirit and generosity. She threw baby showers for families and was involved in church activities. Over 600 people attended her calling hours. Vonnie Snyder died Nov. 4, 2007 from a bout of cancer after her breast cancer recovery.

“My ability is just to love people without being afraid to love them,” Snyder said. Her mother’s last journal entry was about Snyder’s loving nature and how God would use her to disperse His love into the world. Snyder said her mother saw what a sincere person she was before Snyder was practicing it.

Snyder has decided to major in psychology, hoping to become a children’s therapist. After learning how to manage her emotions from the loss of her mother, she wishes to help children who are suffering from tragedies of their own.

When Vonnie Snyder died, Snyder said she laid in bed with her until her passing, just as Vonnie did with Snyder many nights so that Snyder could fall asleep. Many times after Vonnie Snyder’s death, Snyder felt her presence through other motherly figures who held her closely.

Snyder was a foreign exchange student in Santa Ana, Costa Rica for a month. She resided with the family of Marlene Saborino Ramirez. Ramirez still keeps in contact with Snyder by having her daughter translate Snyder’s emails into Spanish.

Snyder said Ramirez had similar qualities that Vonnie Snyder had, and she could feel a motherly presence through Ramirez. Snyder was sad the day she was leaving, Ramirez recalled. When Snyder left Costa Rica, she felt like she lost her mother “all over again.”

“I knew about her mother’s dead [death]. I gave her comfort by trying to be a good listener and talking to her every day during our meals, breakfast or dinner. I tried to help her by giving her advice and just constantly having chats together. During her stay we shared our culture of Costa Rican food and even exchanged recipes for our typical foods. With every action we always tried to share our family values,” Ramirez said.

Ramirez said Snyder expressed great concern for others as a humble and loving person. This was demonstrated when Snyder spent time with Ramirez’s grandsons.

“I think she will be great as a psychologist for children, because she has good feelings and has a loving personality, hard to find in most people. I really think Jenna will be very successful in anything she puts her mind on,” Ramirez said.

On another occasion, during a church service, Snyder’s congregation broke into small groups for discussions of their personal anger. When it was Snyder’s turn to share, an unexpected rage poured out of her and she said she realized she had been angry with God for her mother’s death. A woman in the circle told her to “let it out,” and afterward held her while Snyder cried.

“I could tell you needed your mother’s hug at that moment,” Snyder said the woman had told her.

“I swear I could almost feel my mother through her,” Snyder said, explaining that when she has needed her mother, even though she is not physically present, her mother has still been there for her.

Snyder’s father, Mike Snyder, wrote a book on his family’s experiences, titled “Losing Vonnie,” which hit the shelves this September.

Mike Snyder said Snyder and her mother are similar because they are both strong, opinionated, and care for people deeply. He said they both “put everything into relationships, but if you cross them, it’s not good.”

He said Vonnie used to dance in church to the band and did not care what people thought. Her dancing was between her and God, regarded as her special trait. After her death, Snyder and another girl danced on stage in memory of Vonnie. Mike Snyder said he was amazed at the similarities Snyder shared with her mother at that point, with “that kind of a heart and laying it out there.”

Mike Snyder said Snyder was fighting between wanting to keep her mother longer and not having her suffer. At the same time, she knew her mother would not be around for her future graduations and wedding, as she had been for the other children.

Before Vonnie’s death, he said he had a bad habit of disregarding what Snyder would say-not listening to her fully. According to Mike Snyder, his wife had taught him something very valuable about Snyder.

“If I’m not here down the road, you’re going to lose that girl. You need to start listening to her and not assume that you know what she is going to say,” Mike Snyder recalled his wife saying.

Listening to Snyder allowed her to trust him and he felt as though he understood her emotions better. Neither of them needed to guard their emotions around each other.

“Sometimes it’s easy to deify someone when they die, and I think that’s something we tried hard to balance,” Mike Snyder said. He prefers to view his wife realistically, acknowledging both the good and bad qualities; regardless, she will always be seen as a special person.

Even though Vonnie Snyder passed unexpectedly, Snyder feels they were fortunate to share early experiences. Vonnie was able to see her daughter attend prom as a sophomore, and she witnessed a glimpse of Snyder’s college success through the postsecondary courses Snyder was taking.

Snyder has tattoos on her wrists in memory of her mother and always wears the ring her mother bought for her and her six siblings.

Even though Snyder tears up when she talks about her mother at length, she loves telling others about her mother.

“I guess with my story,” Snyder said. “I never know who I am going to bless with it.”