“The only way you’ll know whether or not you are having a heart attack is to go to the emergency room and get an EKG,” Jean told me. I called her three weeks ago, convinced I was having an allergic reaction to medications for a kidney stone I was passing. We then began to argue because she told me my symptoms were more like a heart attack than an allergic reaction.
Maybe that’s why she’s the doctor and I’m not. I’m glad I listened.
We are fortunate in our lives to have a few good friends who will tell us what they think and tell us when they think we are wrong. If we’re smart, we’ll listen to them and heed their advice at least some of the time. Jean is one of those friends.
We first met 13 years ago when our kids were in a Christmas pageant together. Somehow, I got the task of leading the kids’ singing. Her oldest 4 sons and my kids were in the same production. My most vivid memories from it are of my son (age 3) and one of hers playing angels. Their version of angels was a little different from the normal Christmas story. My son, on the front row, spent most of the performance lying on the floor, with his halo off, as he used the halo like a giant spyglass to peer into the audience. Then he decided to play target practice with his finger and pretend to shoot people in the audience.
At the same time, her three oldest sons (the oldest was probably a first grader) were the three wisemen. As they rushed in to see the Holy Family, they bumped into each other and accidentally crashed some chairs. I don’t remember who, but one of them whispered to the others, “That was fun. Can we do it again?”
Little did I know how our friendship would help my family. Twelve years ago, the night our home and business burned, the first person I called as we raced home, was Jean. Soon after we got home, she was there with her van, as were other family friends. Jean had put out a prayer alert and raced to help us. It turned out the firemen knew her and told her what we needed to do once the fire was out and we were cleared to quickly go in to retrieve a few things.
Jean helped us organize in our front yard for our fifteen minute dash to gather belongings. Once we were in the house, I remember telling her I wanted to save my vacuum cleaner. “To hell with the vacuum,” she said.
“It’s a Kirby,” I told her.
“Why didn’t you say so?” She answered and grabbed the Kirby as she raced back out of the house, “Make way! Kirby coming through.”
The next morning, Jean and her kids visited our church so we would have moral support at Mass. We went afterwards to a city park so kids could play and we could develop a battle plan for our survival. That afternoon, Richard set a temporary office up in a spare bedroom in her home so he could meet deadlines for clients. We stayed with her family that first week, until a temporary apartment was ready for us to move into.
I can’t begin to describe the ways she helped our family in the months after the fire. We were a homeschooling family, and she schooled my kids along with her own the first weeks after the fire, as I worked with the fire recovery crew and demolition. Later, after we returned home, my kids spent afternoons at her home as I took an additional afternoon job at a local school to help supplement our income. During her time with my kids, she not only helped school them but made sure they learned to ride bikes, swim, and ski. Her children became like extended family for my own and helped them continue a childhood despite tremendous loss.
It’s hard for me to remember all the Jean stories of our time together. There was the afternoon when Richard had worked nonstop on a client’s job for 24 hours without any sleep, I needed to go to work, and half a large maple fell on our house in a rainstorm. Jean came over after the storm, while I was at work and told Richard that sleep deprived people shouldn’t cut trees off their house. Then she recruited another friend and joined him on the roof, chainsaw in hand, removing the tree branches. I wasn’t home but heard that afterwards our neighbors stood in amazement at the mother of five who so easily handled a chainsaw and tree limbs.
She not only taught me how to bake bread but how to grind wheat for the freshest flour possible. And she organized several families to make bulk purchases of Montana wheat so we could get it at wholesale prices.
Then there’s the time one of my neighbor’s kids had an emergency during a summer theatre production for school. I got an urgent call from the school administrator that she had dislocated her kneecap during rehearsal, and no one could find her parents. They were taking the girl by ambulance to the emergency room. They found my phone number in her cell phone, so they called. We could not reach her parents and left large notes on their doors to call us as soon as possible. I raced to the emergency room to meet the girl when she arrived. When I got there, Jean was on shift, about to leave for the evening. After I explained what was happening, she stayed a little late to help my neighbor’s daughter. My neighbors arrived at the emergency room – they had been at a ballgame and couldn’t hear their phones. Jean quickly and quietly helped their daughter.
And as always, when she helped someone she stayed in the shadows, preferring to be the unknown Samaritan.
A few years ago, Jean’s family moved to another city. We’ve stayed in touch and I know that we’re as close as a phone call or a text message when needed. Thank God she was able to answer that phone call 3 weeks ago, just as she answered the call 12 years ago. I don’t know what would have happened without her.
Today is her birthday. Since my heart attack, I’ve resolved to do a better job of sharing with my friends why they matter and what they mean to me. And in this case, I’m blogging it.
Happy birthday, Jean. You’re very loved, and you’ve made a huge difference in our lives. Thank you.