my friend jack – and 99 balloons

jana lamberti silk art my friend jack and 99 balloons

one of the most important people in my life was named Jack.  he lived with our family for over 12 years until his passing.  we loved him and his crazy, sweet ways.  he was a football fanatic, loved castles, C-SPAN, the Pope, and Santa Claus (not sure who won out in his mind- the Pope or Santa).  he also had a thing for ladies…but i must say – i’m pretty sure i was one of his favorite ladies. and well, and he was one of my favorite gents.

when he first started living with us i was in the eighth grade and i wanted NOTHING to do with him. i couldn’t even imagine why my parents would want to give him a home in our home. i didn’t know him – or what it meant to have downs syndrome – and i didn’t want to know. after all, i was a cool eighth grader (at least i thought so) and i thought this whole situation was very uncool. until things started to change… his hugs, his laugh, his walk, his smile, his way of speaking to us.  he was largely nonverbal so we did some sign language with him but mostly we just started to understand “jack language.”

over time, he changed me, my friends, and the community at large. he made everyone happier when he was around. he came to almost all my sports games in 8th grade, high school and college – and LOVED watching them , especially because he knew “the girl” (as he referred to me) was playing somewhere on that field.  i remember once he walked through the “cheerleading” lines during a basketball game in high school and all the cheerleaders gave him high fives. he was sort of a celebrity. when i would come home from college to visit the fam, he would run to me with arms wide open, i would hug him as hard as i could, and he would lift his legs off the ground so that i was carrying him (and he was no small dude).  i have to say having him so excited to see me was one of the best feelings in the world. nobody gave me a greeting like jack.

it was an extreme loss for our family when jack passed. he was on the older side for a person with downs. some folks from his agency thought he lived a lot longer than he should have because he loved our family so much. but here’s the thing – we loved him just as much. i can’t even type this without tearing up because i miss him so much. if i could just have one more jack hug again…

he was my “bud”.

so all this to say…when a friend from virginia asked if i’d donate a piece of art in support of an event benefiting the non-profit 99 balloons, i was all about it. 99 balloons was founded in 2007 by two young parents to help children with special needs and their parents.  99 balloons refers to what was released at the funeral of their special needs son, with each balloon representing a day he spent on this earth — his life sparked in them a passion to to start the organization.  check out for more.   their rEcess initiative is pretty cool.

the event is tonight, and holy moly i wish i could go. my friend did a great job organizing it (love the invite).  anyway, i donated a piece that i’d kept in my studio because i liked it so much.  bright.  lively.  just like Jack.