Saturday, December 08, 2007

Big Jill and Kate

Author's apology:
I haven't been wanting to write this. I can't think of it as anything other than a eulogy but you're not supposed to do these when the person is still living, or are you? I don't know. I don't suppose it will hurt, to get things out. Please understand it's out of an overwhelming need to express grief in more constructive ways than crying and/or drinking too much. I'm useless when it comes to these things.

I mentioned earlier this week that we needed some cheering up around here--what I didn't mention is that last week Sam and I both got the news that two women who played a huge role in our lives were not likely to live out the week or much longer than that. In Sam's case, it's his grandmother, Kate, who he loves very much. She's one of those women you just know you would have wanted to be buddies with when she was your age. Sam has huge respect for women and their intelligence and I know that Kate, as tiny and frail as she is now, is one of the main reasons for that. I am grateful to her for nurturing such a strong family and for instilling such character in everyone she had a hand in raising. She's 91. I last saw her the day after our wedding in August. She was a little confused, but not so much that she couldn't crack a joke or two. If this woman was southern, you'd call her a Steel Magnolia. We just call her Gram, or Kate. The meaning is implied.

The other is much harder for me to talk about: Big Jill, or Mrs. Mac. I should point out that Big Jill did not give birth to me. So, I guess, technically, she isn't my mom. Thankfully, that distinction doesn't really make a whole lot of difference. I have been best friends with her daughter from the very beginning of high school, continuing through today (that's over 20 years, if you're counting). High school was rough enough, but half-way through it, my own family went through some tough times with my parents' divorce. I made my peace with all that stuff a long time ago and I don't direct any hard feelings towards either of my parents. I only tell you this so you understand that there was a time in my life where I was pretty lost. Simply put: Mrs. Mac gave me a map. She took me in at a time when I was going to either be lost or find my way through things and with her help, I made it, relatively unscathed.

But I've made things too simple--you're probably not getting it. This wasn't just a "mentor" thing. When I say she took me in, I mean it. She made me feel like a part of her family. I was over at the Mac house probably every weekend from ages 14 to 18--no exaggeration. It was a good place to be. There was lots of laughter there, always friends coming in and out. Mrs. Mac knew everyone and everything that was going on--with adults and kids alike. I got most of my gossip from her. Suffice it to say: the Mac kitchen was the central hub of my teenage years. There would be a two-pound bag of M&M's on the countertop and a crockpot full of Rotel Cheesedip. If the problem couldn't be solved in the amount of time it took for Mrs. Mac to scour the kitchen with a sponge and a can of Comet, it probably wasn't worth solving.

I remember her laughing. I can't really even recall what her face looked like in repose. She loved wine, always had a glass in her hand if it was late in the day or on the weekends. She had this laugh that was more of a whoop that turned into a giggle, but it was never mean-hearted, even if it was directed at you.

Big Jill was famous for her mangling of common phrases. See: "Miles to rest before I go" Or "You should go out and ski while the lake is smooth as a pickle!" It was all part of the charm, you see: she wasn't stupid. In this, as in most things, she took the things around her and made them make sense in her own way. Sometimes I catch myself attempting something like that--making up a word for example-- and I know I got that from her.

We talked A LOT. There are so many things I am grateful to her for, but chiefly among them is the fact that she talked to me like I was an adult. She patiently listened to my problems which, at age 15, I can only imagine were eye-roll inducing to say the very least, but she made me feel like I was worth listening to. She didn't always give me the advice I was looking for, but I needed to hear it anyway. She had the talent of arguing with me without quashing my ability to make a point. She never made me feel dumb, but I always knew I had a lot to learn from her.

She taught me that your family is FAMILY--you don't have to like them every minute of every day, but you must always love them-- even if they sometimes break your heart. You don't get a lot of second chances to love them, so do it while you can. Her love for her own family was evident in everything she did.

Several years ago, Big Jill started showing signs of what was--for a long time--not really understood--in terms of whether it was an illness or some type of injury that affected her brain. All we knew was that bit by bit, she started leaving us. It started with forgotten words, inability to finish sentences or to hold conversations, then later progressed to more physical manifestations--loss of motor skills, etc. It was a lot like Alzheimer's in elderly people, only they weren't yet calling it that and she was only in her 50's. In some ways, I've been grieving her for years. The loss of the Mrs. Mac I once knew--not being able to sit at the counter in her kitchen and shoot the breeze with her or drink a glass of wine on a sunny afternoon. My loss.

She's really leaving us now. It will be soon. It's an awkward thing because, though I don't want her to die, I want her to know peace. I want her family, my second family, to be at ease with her passing and to find some sort of comfort. There is no way to make it easy-- there's only the choice to accept it now, and nothing makes getting through the next few days any more tolerable.

I realize that even though I could write ten more paragraphs, I'd never really be able to explain to you what she means to me or the influence she's had over who I am. I feebly hope that if I live by her example (and I always try to)--then you understand. If I can be half the person she was, I'll be happy.

It's too early to say goodbye to her, so I won't. I'll just say I love you and thank you. For everything.


As I was writing this, Big Jill passed on. Godspeed.


Keith said...

Oh no! That is horrible news! I've regrettably lost contact with Meredith and the rest of the Mac's so I had no idea about this.

I only knew her for a small fraction of the time that you did but she was a special person in my life. She showed me incredible kindness that I will never forget.

Anonymous said...

This is beautiful and overwhelming and the world has lost a WONDERFUL WOMAN. Courtney

Mel Francis said...

Hugs, Lee.
This is a beautiful tribute. Thank you for sharing.

Robyn said...

I'm at a loss for words over all this. I bet Big Jill would've had some good ones though! I'm so sorry, we can raise a glass of wine for her when you come in.

Steph said...

I'm so sorry.

Maria said...

Lee, I did not know either women, but I know they must have been really special individuals to instill such love and respect. And how could we ever let go of any of these magic people even if their time has come? I've had and have magic people in my life and unfortunately recognize exactly how this feels. That means that I know that words mean nothing and pretty much anything anyone says means nothing. But know that even though I and other people who feel for you cannot touch you or make this better, you are not alone.


angie said...

I'm so sorry to hear this Lee. Damn, Meredith looks just like her.