Jennifer Sutliff, 30, was born with a smile that lit up the room. Her grace and tenacity inspired everyone she met. She was fiercely independent and refused to be categorized. Her family and friends sang and prayed over her in the final hours of her life and she died gently, surrounded by love and light. She was not a saint, but she was the closest to it that any of us have seen, and we are all better people for knowing her.
Neurofibromatosis Type 2 changed her physical abilities and curtailed some of her plans, but she explored the limits to focus on what she could do, and she shared freely of the gifts – yes, the gifts – her illness brought her. She counted these as some of the blessings: her illness enabled deeper and more meaningful conversations that brought her closer to her family, she learned firsthand of God’s steadfastness and to rely on God to provide her every need, and her experience enabled her to connect with anyone who was hurting.
She was more than her illness. She ministered to youth at Canyon Ferry Baptist Church and in Brazil, and completed training to be a peer minister at Colorado Christian University. She used her artist’s eye for photography and pottery and her works are treasured by her family and friends. She put hours of time and effort into gift giving; if she didn’t make a gift herself, she bought it from a charity fundraiser or from the artist in order to widen the circle of giving.
She insisted on going on her missionary trip to Brazil, though she was recovering from a round of whole brain radiation and needed help getting around. She said God would make the way straight, and she was right. She navigated Brazil with the help of friends and fulfilled her purpose of spreading God’s word, even if she had to be carried on and off buses.
Jennifer helped other people put their own struggles into perspective by sharing how she had learned to see things differently. She often didn’t listen when she was asked to slow down and use her walker. She travelled to Washington, DC, every six months for years and submitted to extensive testing by the NIH in the hopes that such research would help society to find a cure for NF2. And she never, ever gave up.
She was born June 20, 1985, in Helena, Montana. She attended Central Elementary School and graduated from Helena High School in 2004. She attended Montana State University-Bozeman, Helena College, where she was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society, and Colorado Christian University. She worked for a brief time for High Country Growers and for Albertson’s on Eleventh. She treasured her family.
Jennifer’s grieving family includes her mother, Michelle Harrer, father, James Sutliff, and stepmother, Debbie Sutliff; grandmothers Barbara Sutliff and Ruth Ann Massey, and a grandfather, Jack Burgess; brothers and sister Patrick Flanigan, James Sutliff II, April Barnes, and Zachariah Bliss; aunts Debbie Willoughby, Tammie Frimodig, Anne Bauer, and Jeanne Massey; uncles Bill Massey and John Sutliff; nieces and nephew Juliana Gonzalez, Jemma Rose, and Jamison Collins; and cousins Thomas Kendall, Sarah Howard, Riley Sutliff, Bon Frimodig, Amanda Sutliff, Beau Lake, Olivia Bauer, Paul Bauer, Tammy Massey, Sierrah Massey, Katlyn Massey, Brianna Massey, Tanner Bakke, Travis Bakke, Brittany Bakke, Jennifer Bakke, and Billy Massey.
She was joyfully greeted in Heaven by many people, but her grandparents, William A. Massey, Thomas Joseph Sutliff, and Marie Benjamin (Granny Goose) were first in line.
A Celebration of Jennifer’s Life is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. Saturday, April 23, 2016 at Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church, 3384 Canyon Ferry Rd., with a reception to follow the service at the church. Please visit www.aswfuneralhome.com to offer a condolence to the family or to share a memory of Jennifer.