A friend passed away yesterday. Her name was Jean. She passed away exactly one year and one week from the date she first experienced symptoms.
When we moved to Little Rock a few years ago, Jean and Claudine had taken a liking to me and had invited me to join them for their standing lunch date every Thursday after Jean finished her volunteer work at Camp Aldersgate. I could not always be there, but when I could, I enjoyed their company. We shared what was going on in our lives. One Thursday last spring, Jean was looking forward to having company at her house that weekend and then traveling with them to Branson. She never went on that trip, for she began having symptoms similar to those experienced with a detached retina — odd lights in her vision.
Her diagnosis was shocking. Brain tumor!? Jean was energetic and vivacious and gracious and interested. She was a magnificent hostess, a wonderful cook and a talented singer. She would get treatment and be okay. That’s how it would surely be. However, as the months went by, the doctors began to say there was nothing more they could do. Remaining strong and courageous, Jean only wanted to console others and assure everyone that she was not experiencing fear.
Then came the day just last week when she began to utter words about Heaven. A few days later, she died peacefully in the middle of the night. Her husband sent an email from her email address telling everyone the grim news and ended by saying, “The love of my life is gone.”
Her physical presence has departed, but her legacy lives on in the lives of those who knew her. My personal story is that she was very interested in my writing “career.” She wanted to read the manuscript I had told her about — A Month of Sundaes — my “baby” — a short, light-hearted devotional book for women. I had received a lot of positive feedback and encouragement from friends, in spite of five rejections from publishers. I had shared with Jean and Claudine during one of our lunch dates that I was now ready to print it myself and see what happened. They both wanted to read it. Claudine read it first and told me she enjoyed it. The following week it became Jean’s turn to take it home and “enjoy” it.
The very next week she called and said she wanted to come by my house and talk with me about it. It is difficult to confess this, but I felt very flattered. She was making a special trip to see me about the book. Maybe she was so impressed that she wanted to help me somehow. I knew she had a writer friend whose manuscripts she proofread. She had even done some professional proofreading. Maybe she knew a publisher. I admit that my mind raced ahead into these avenues before I could stop it.
I saw her get out of the car, go around to the other side and retrieve some books in addition to my manuscript. What was all this stuff? Addresses? Contacts? What was so important that she made this extra effort to see me? I was excited.
Always gracious, Jean entered the foyer, looked around and made some complimentary remarks about the house. Then her demeanor became businesslike as she walked through the living room to the dining room table, where she proceeded to lay out the books she had brought with her — a couple of style manuals. She then very tactfully but firmly began to tell me what she had thought as she had not only read but also thoroughly scrutinized the thirty-one pages in her hand. She had “taken the liberty” of marking with a red pen every error she had detected. What!? I was taken aback that this was the street we were going down. What about those other avenues I had imagined in my head? My ego had to shift abruptly into student mode because she was definitely the teacher!
The main point of contention was my use of ellipses. Carelessly, I had not spaced between the dots. I had just plunked them out hurriedly and, according to her well worn Chicago Manual of Style, that was unacceptable! Besides, they were probably overused. And what about all those commas I had so lazily placed outside the quotation marks? Some go inside; some go outside. I had been willy-nilly with their placement. Every page had some sort of red mark — a circle, a question mark, an underline. A few pages had positive remarks written in the margin: “I like this” or “Clever.” Like a punctuation tornado, she came and went and left me with many repairs to make.
I remember the mixture of both amusement and bewilderment that I felt in my dining room that day, along with a bit of embarrassment. I should have taken greater care to have every jot and tittle perfect. “Editors fix all this stuff if they like your content,” I consoled myself. ” What about that? Doesn’t that count?”
As soon as I could catch my breath, I began to make the tedious corrections. I admit that my manuscript was, of course, much better for them. Shortly after that day, we had lunch again; I returned her style manual and thanked her for sharing her proofreading expertise. Then, that weekend, she saw those odd lights flickering.
When I finally produced the finished book, all spit-shined and polished, I sent her a copy. When she phoned, I was not at home and she left a message on the answering machine in a very weak and trembling voice: “I love it! It’s just so clever and well put together.” I saved that message for a long time before I finally erased it. I decided I would rather remember her voice as it had been that day in my dining room — polite but firm, framed with her trademark smile.
Jean made A Month of Sundaes better when it left her hands than it was when she received it. She was not afraid to “speak the truth in love” to someone who needed to be more careful. As time wore on and Jean began to realize the end might be near, she said, “I am not afraid.” I believe that to be true, and it is both remarkable and inspiring. That statement is etched in the pages of my consciousness . . . just as surely as those red marks are etched in the pages of my manuscript!
Thanks, Jean! You had all the marks of a true lady.