Notes before Jean’s funeral

My sister Jean passed from this life on October 10th, 2010. On the way to her funeral onboard a Southwest Airlines flight to San Diego, I wrote about Jean’s life as part of an attempt to prepare my thoughts for giving a eulogy at the wake or writing an obituary. Here is what I wrote:

My sister Jean passed away early Sunday morning in San Diego. Her death was unexpected. Jean had undergone very serious back surgery to stabilize her spine and had begun to recover from the surgery. I had spoken with Jean the afternoon before her death and she was excited about getting back to her home, her beloved dog, her friends and the life which she had made for herself. God had other plans for Jean.

Mom, Jean and me

Jean had been a nurse for all of her working life – nearly 30 years. Jean had wanted to be a nurse even from childhood. She had earned bachelor and master’s degrees from the University of Arizona in Tempe. She had earned advanced certifications in Orthopedic, Neurological and Emergency medicine during the course of her career. Jean had held positions in the Neuro Nurse Association, a nationwide association of nurses who specialize in neurological nursing.

When Jean became disabled due to constant back problems, she continued to associate with her nursing friends and organizations, hoping to revive her career at some time in the future.

Jean also began developing her artistic skills, first with her counted cross stitch work and then with her handmade jewelry. Jean created many lovely gifts for friends and family and had placed her jewelry designs in local businesses.

Jean leaves behind three sisters, many cousins, an elderly aunt, many friends and business associates and a very spoiled Lhasa Apso, whose presence and antics both delighted Jean and kept her running.

Jean had been married briefly in her twenties to a young man who could not see her for the gift which she was. After a couple of years of physical and psychological abuse, Jean sought a divorce.  Jean never again found someone with whom she wished to share her heart and her life.

Over the years my relationship with Jean varied from warm to difficult and back again. At times Jean was very demanding of my attention which caused me to back away from a close relationship and friendship. At other times we enjoyed many interesting conversations and even visited with one another even though we lived in different states.

There were things about my sister Jean which I never understood. She was overly generous with her friends and yet her immediate family were given what seemed like “leftovers”. I don’t believe it was from a lack of love for her family. Perhaps Jean felt that she had professional obligations and after she had fulfilled them, there was little left to share with her immediate family. It wasn’t the cost of the gifts which she gave to her family; it was the haphazardness of them which so upset me.

I would like to believe that in the 62 years of knowing my younger sister that I understood her, but I didn’t.

Jean was a middle child, at least until our youngest sister, Jill, came along. I have read that middle children often feel left out. Perhaps Jean felt that way as she was always trying to prove that she was lovable and that she was accepted.

In high school the counselors suggested that Jean abandon an academic curriculum and focus more on a less aggressive course of study. The counselors thought that Jean didn’t have the ability to do serious, difficult work. Jean proved them wrong spectacularly.

Jean was a person who insisted on having the last word. Even with our father, Jean refused to be silent when it was demanded of her. That habit always caused Jean a lot of heartache.

Jean had a better relationship with her father than with her mother, perhaps because she saw her father as a kind of “Horatio Alger”, a doer and achiever. Jean never understood how her father’s success had a great deal to do with her mother and the kind of home life that mom provided for dad.

Jean could be bossy, especially about medical things. She could never accept opinions contrary to her own, most especially by her family.

Jean had definite opinions about art. It angered me when Jean tried to tell me about what constituted great art, though I considered art my “area of expertise”. I didn’t realize until she had passed away that Jean wanted to share something she loved with me, perhaps even express her appreciation of what I could do. I failed Jean in this area – we could have shared much if I had been open to her ideas.

After a period of several years when we barely talked after dad and mom’s death, I finally offered my forgiveness to Jean and accepted hers, even though I believed that Jean was the cause of most of the dissension. I thought at the time when I offered my apology that Jean and I might finally have an adult relationship, free of the usual attention grabbing behavior that was part of our childhood. That adult relationship never had the time to come to fruition as Jean passed away several months later.

After mom and dad’s deaths it was just the four of us sisters looking at the scary future without our parents or older relatives. Now it is just the three of us. Why God? Why couldn’t Jean be allowed to stay a little bit longer? Why does life have to be a series of “if only’s”, of misunderstandings, of unused opportunities, of stupid choices and even stupider arguments?

Why does it take so long to figure out how the world works, who we are or how to love one another? Why do we let such petty things bother us? Why do we push away people who care for us just because a relationship with them is difficult?

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