Jean was a member of my women’s church circle for several decades before I joined. Quiet, petite and very nice. She was also a Stephen Minister for our congregation. Taking a class consisting of 50 hours of training in the art of listening. Meeting one on one with someone going through a traumatic experience about an hour a week. These ongoing sessions sometimes lasted a few weeks, sometimes years. Loss of a spouse, job, illness, divorce etc. Jean was vibrant, active and busy. I was drawn to her immediately.
|My dear friend Jean. About 2005…|
She was in her mid-80’s when I met her. No reason to go visit her, because she clearly wasn’t on my Parish Visitor list. But I couldn’t help myself. There were maybe a dozen singles or couples from church with whom I cheated. They really didn’t need my duties as their Parish Visitor. Yet. But I needed them. Several people I routinely visited were not the most talkative folks. Most through no fault of their own. In nursing homes with health issues or worse, memory issues. There just wasn’t a lot of flowing conversations on some days when I went calling on folks. But these were necessary visits. Just checking on them, watching, observing, and advocating their needs were being met. Keeping track of their progress or decline, painful as it was at times, was part of my job. But group of few of these mostly non-verbal (at least on their part. I did most of the talking) visits together over a week’s time, and I’d get antsy or down a bit. That’s when it was necessary for me to get a cheaters fix in. Help for Denise’s psyche. Most were folks who were older, still fairly active, but didn’t need my services.
The first time I stopped at Jean’s house, I almost broke down and wept. She welcomed me and didn’t seem surprised at all when I just showed up on her doorstep. Ushered me into the living room as if I were one of her oldest, dearest friends. She said, “find a comfortable chair!” I admired her beautiful cat. The most unusual polka-dot, camouflage, black, white, cream and brown cat I’d ever seen. Then my eyes wandered a couple of feet past the kitty. And there it was. On the couch. A John Grisham novel. A recent hardcover one. OMG. She knew and read a top selling author. Be strong Denise. Don’t start crying for pete’s sake. Right then and there I pledged my life long devotion to this amazing, wonderful woman. We became fast friends. Soon enough it would be necessary this frail little woman would really need my visits. But until then, I needed her. She still cooked, she canned, she might have been playing golf for a short while before she started having health and balance issues.
|Jean, hip and reading best sellers, 2005…|
Jean had lost her husband a few years before I met her. She had 6 children. Where in heaven’s name had she carried those kids? In her apron pocket? I swear if she had swallowed a pea, it would have been noticeable. Most of her kids lived nearby. One living about a hundred miles away was having some health issues. (Maybe this was the real reason we needed to see each other) It would take a year of testing with various specialists at different clinics, but when the diagnosis became clear, the results were devastating. ALS. Every parent goes through 7 kinds of hell and anguish when serious health issues face their children. It’s bad enough that Jean was experiencing her own aging health issues. Ten times worse when it’s one of your kids.
Jean did slow down. Drove less, stopped coming to monthly circle meetings. And so I continued to visit (now visits were on the books, since she was added to my list. Sad that she now needed me, but the visits were cherished by both of us) and love her with my all of my heart. We’d sit in her enclosed back porch chatting. Watching the birds. Her yard had many mature trees (not many found in our yard, living on the lake). I spotted a new, different bird. “Jean, what kind of bird is that? I’ve never seen him before.” She followed my eyes near the top of a massive tree. “That’s a Rose-breasted grosbeak!” “Isnt he beautiful? Look at those striking colors!” Often with Jean, we might sit for several minutes in silence. It was never awkward or uncomfortable. We had the kind of friendship that didn’t always require yakking a mile a minute.
One winter night about 5 years ago, the phone rang about 10:30 pm. It was Jean. She said a couple of her children had just left the house. I could tell something was very wrong. But this was not the time to push this private woman. “Denise, the reason the kids came over tonight was to break the news to me that my 10 month old great-grandchild had a terrible accident tonight. Taking a tub bath and slipped under the water. Still alive but brain dead. They are going to keep him alive for a couple days to find recipients for his organs.” Well, what can be said at this point? Told her I was on my way over to spend the night with her. “No, I’m alright, but would you come over tomorrow?” “Of course Jean. Do you want me to bring the minister along?” “No that’s not necessary,” she went on, “I don’t even know him. But I would really appreciate you coming over in the morning.”
A week or 2 after the baby’s memorial service, I asked my boss, via email, to stop and visit Jean. He never responded. (Red Fish story. Interested? Blog post, Red Fish, Blue Fish, April, 2015. He was the third in line of 4 lousy bosses. Ministers all). And our discussion that followed. It wasn’t pretty.
Jean’s children were about the most devoted family I’ve ever encountered. As her health declined, they stepped up to the plate in a major way. It was easy to see how much their mom meant to each one of them. They took turns staying staying with Jean at her house. Not just a few hours at a time, but for days and weeks at a time. Making Jean’s house their home. Cooking, cleaning, welcoming guests and old friends. And not just her own children either. Jean’s in-laws and grandchildren took turns too. Not out of obligation, but out of love and sincere devotion to a woman they all clearly adored.
I last saw Jean a few weeks before she passed away. She still recognized me. Sitting up in bed, gazing out the window at her beautiful back yard. Watching the birds. Clutching my hand tight. God welcomed a truly amazing woman into His fold when she left us. I was one lucky gal who knew and loved her while she walked among us. Thanks for lending her to me God…
|Reminds me of my dear friend, Jean…|