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PUFFER PLAN: Lombardi the Pufferfish

Written and Submitted by Jennie Harper.


It was a cold day in Green Bay … that’s how most stories about the Packers start.

This one however starts on a flight from Charlotte to my hometown of Milwaukee. I was given precious cargo, a small, sweet, yellow pufferfish, and charged with spreading “joy”. How could I do anything other than that? Seeing one of your dearest friends suffer the loss of a child is one of the most helpless feelings in the world. So, I took my charge seriously and spent the flight pondering exactly how to accomplish this mission.

For you see this little puffer fish is something very special. He is a duplicate toy of a very special boy named Jackson. Jackson left us on August 19, 2021.

Jackson was dear to our family. He and I didn’t ever exchange any words in the time we knew each other as he was non-verbal. So he relied on communicating with joy. With an all enchanting smile that made my heart melt. A hug or tackle - call it what you will - I would embrace them with joy each time. He made me laugh every time he outsmarted me and found the “secret” fridge to open and close … open and close.

Taking Jackson out on our boat and seeing him smile and feel the wind on his face - that is joy … it’s simple … it’s pure … and it’s true. He filled so many of our lives with his special kind of joy. So you can see this was an important mission! During that entire trip back to my hometown I wondered; “is this the right place to leave this little puffer fish?”

Wow, look at the trees - dressed in yellow just like the little pufferfish! Is this the place? Will someone find the note that I would leave with him? Will they understand how important this little guy is? Nope … not here. Keep looking and trust that you will find the place. My husband Greg and I felt so much joy that special weekend back home. We went to familiar old places, saw old friends, spent time looking out over a very cold and frosty looking Lake Michigan, but none of these spaces felt right. We even stopped by to see my Dad’s grave and left a bunch of yellow flowers but still … not the right place.

So, as the trip grew to an end I frustratedly said to Greg, “I’m just going to leave him with the note at the statue of Vince Lombardi at Lambeau field. What better place?”

“No way!” said Greg. “He will just get swept away. You can’t possibly do that!”

So, I took the little pufferfish to the Green Bay Packer game. Green Bay fans are the best. Green and Yellow all over; shouting, cheering, sharing each play with family and friends. The whole place is filled with JOY!! Now, I felt like we're getting closer.

As the game grew to an end, the Pack got closer to a win and the snow fell harder. I felt the clock ticking. There was a young boy in the row in front of us. “Him,” I thought. “I’ll give it to him. What little kid wouldn’t want a cute pufferfish?”

Suddenly, the cute young woman in front of me turned around to give me a high five on the most recent play. She and I started chatting and she asked me if I wanted a little bit of her “warm up” coffee with a peppermint spirit in it! The kindness of a total stranger sometimes catches me off guard!

Her name was Lexi and as we shared in the final moments of the game I knew where the pufferfish was meant to go. Into the hands of my new Green Bay BFF! And I knew what his name was supposed to be. Lombardi - of course …

So I awkwardly handed the little guy and the note to Lexi and she and her husband read the note. They learned about my friend Jax and the joy he brought to so many of us. They were both in tears and I shared with them all my funny stories of Jax and I hoped that they would take care of Lombari and remember to spread joy just like Jax did.

“Of course” they said through all of our tears. “We can’t wait to give it to our little son Caden.”

At that moment I knew that even though Jax was gone he was still here, swirling with the snowflakes in Green Bay; laughing and outsmarting me once again. Because if you haven’t guessed it yet; Caden is also the name of Jackson's younger brother and in a real plot twist the name of the delicious peppermint mocha spirit just happened to be Jackson Morgan!

Now fast forward through the days, the months, the seasons and here we are. Facing one year without Jax. This story has been in the tangles of my mind from that trip to Green Bay. It’s not easy for me to capture this incredible story’s magic, and I could never imagine that it will do the joy of Jax justice. But ever since we lost Jax, the magic and the joy that I have found always makes me smile and think of the boy who only communicated everything with simple JOY!

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