A friend of mine is in her last days on this earth. The news that cancer has ravaged through my friend’s body like a fast-burning house fire has left each of us who know her dumbfounded and devastated.
It’s obvious from the Facebook comments on Jean’s page that to know Jean is to love her.
I met Jean Vernon in 2005 when I started working at UMB Financial, leading Corporate Communication. As our office manager, she’d been the first person to greet me – and her warm smile and welcoming nature put me immediately at ease. That’s probably why I got the job. I then had the pleasure of being her boss—even though we both knew who was really in charge —for those ten years we shared. Jeannie’d had more than 30 years already at UMB and knew literally everything about the place. I counted on her personally and professionally. She was hard working. Trustworthy. Smart. Kind. Helpful. Generous. And,
Jean’s first love was always her family and she’d eagerly show you the latest photos of her two grandsons, or her daughter, Lara. There were always funny stories about John, her husband. She’d go to weekend scrapbooking camps and come back, beaming, showing off her beautifully designed scrapbooks.
Jeannie had a motherly nature which she embraced. She cared about everyone she met and wiped away more than a few tears shed around her. But Jean also never put up with any crap – so we all knew not to mess with her. I think she’d like hearing that because it would make her laugh —and when Jean laughed, she released spurts of cackles with storm-like force. And she had a terrific sense of humor.
Once when I’d called an ambulance for her at work (blood sugar related), she’d lifted her head from the stretcher she’d just been strapped to and said, looking directly at me, “See, this is how you get really cute firefighters to take care of you.” Recalling this right now, I want to cry and smile at the same time.
It’s important to me that I share two things I learned from Jean.
–Jeannie is the best hugger I’ve ever known. She’d pull you in with her strong arms and hold you tightly to her beating heart. You wouldn’t be able to get away. She was a big woman, so you’d practically disappear into the darkness and soothing warmth. Jean’s hugs were passionately and freely given.
Jean – I will always hug people with sincerity and love, the way you did.
–She loved her birthday, and as it happens, we shared the same date of March 12. When I told her early on in our friendship that I didn’t ever want attention on my birthday, that I disliked having them, she’d stared at me with those big blue eyes framed by elegant eyeglasses. She’d frowned and looked baffled. But then she’d leaned in to tell me something I’ll always remember.
“Not me,” she’d replied. “I want all the attention I can get on my birthday. I love it. Balloons, cake, presents – all of it. Every birthday I get is a gift and I want to celebrate it.”
I’d learned then that Jean was a two-time breast cancer survivor. Her perspective, her appreciation of life, renewed my own. She absolutely did do birthdays well; you could see the joy on her face and a spring in her step. So, for her:
Jean – I will always celebrate our birthday. I promise.
Jean won’t know I wrote any of this because she’s heavily sedated. Her family is already grieving a loss we all know is coming too soon. I, too, keep crying when I think about her, because I’m angry. It just isn’t fair. Jean has been enjoying her life in Atlanta, happily retired and spending time with her family. Getting her nails done and posting shots of those gorgeous hands on Facebook. It’s not fair that a new kind of cancer is taking her down.
Yes, I know life isn’t fair. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. And if Jean were here, I’m certain she’d give me one of her bear hugs and tell me it’s okay, that she’ll get to see the daddy she’d told me about so many times, and her mother whom she still missed so much.
Love never dies.
Jeannie, my sweet friend, I wish I was there to give you one of your hugs.
What I can say now is that I will see you, one day, on the other side. May God bless you, and also give peace to your family and friends.