One year ago Thursday, my friend Jean, passed away at the age of 87, days shy of her 88th birthday. I hear her voice within me all the time and wanted to share some of her wisdom.
As a little back story, her daughter, Marianne Asher Cain, Ash, and I grew up together and we lived within two blocks of each other. It was Jean and my friend who I cried to when I was dumped by my boyfriend and when office politics were just over the top for me. It was Jean who supported our little escapades, whether funding our chocolate chip cookie bake off or giving Ash the car for us to go out at night, always Jean gently threw her head back and laughed, saying, “You Girls,” trusting that in the end Ash and I would be fine.
One summer in my early adult years, we were both off, I as a teacher, Jean as a retiree, and we had many conversations. I am especially grateful for that time because I can see now that it refreshed the meaning of all of the conversations we had earlier in my youth. Jean has popped up in blogs before, but this is dedicated totally to her.
Here is a smattering of Jean Ackerson Asher’s wit and wisdom.
1. Life is coping with your problems.
No matter what we presented to Jean, this is what she told my friend and I. It was such a relief, I didn’t have to solve everything right then and there, all I had to do was cope. It was also a relief because, I grew up in the fairy tale land of the 1960s where people didn’t talk about problems. Jean normalized the concept of problems.
2. Girls, I’m gonna tell you, Monday morning always rolls around.
Jean would tell us this when we needed a pep talk, when we saw people who seemed to be dodging all of life’s bullets and having it “easier.” I can’t remember the specifics, but basically, it is the concept of Monday. Monday is reality, Monday is when you have to go to work because you have to pay your bills and because you have to be responsible. Jean seemed to me to be saying, no one can escape Monday.
3. There is no accounting for people.
This response was uttered by Jean after many a story when Ash, or I, would discuss some blatant misdeeds of our peers or people we knew. Today, one might call it the WTF moment…you are standing there, a scene is set, people interact, and much to your dismay, you are completely dumbstruck by the absurdity of what you are witnessing. Either some ridiculous utterance has just passed a person’s lips or they have done something just unexpected, and outside the range of normal.
We could analyze all we want, pull out Freud and The Ennegram, but in the end, there “is just no accounting for people.”
4. What happened to helping people in your own sphere of influence?
Jean and I talked at length about the cruelties of the world. We went one summer to a lecture series given by a Russian academic visiting our town, perhaps some of our conversations emanated from the stark reality this academic painted for us between Russia and the US.
Jean believed, I think, that you had to look around you and help your neighbor, literally. It was the little things we do to help one another that made all the difference. We weren’t going to Russia anytime soon, but we could help the people we came into contact with on a daily basis.
As evidence of this and to really show what I mean, this was left on Jean’s remembrance page. I am sure there are many, many more examples of her true kindness, Jean’s sense of giving and reaching out:
David, John, Marianne, & Connie…so sorry for your loss. I have such fond memories of many times spent with your mother many years ago. But most of all, I am so grateful to her for giving me the first book that I actually read from cover to cover. If she hadn’t given that to me, I would not be the avid reader that I am today. My thoughts & prayers…
Joseph Zawko, Bear River, NS
5. Oh Claire, come on in, but don’t look at this house
First of all Jean’s house was immaculate. Second of all, it was beautiful. I remember bringing my husband over for a visit in circa 2003 and saying, “Wow everything is just as I remember it.” There were touches of blue everywhere and it was set among large trees and a beautiful garden. At Christmas, every window had a candle. It truly enchanted me and nothing was ever out-of-place.
But the best part of those words were Come on in. Jean was exuberant with her enthusiasm for seeing people and she always welcomed me, and many others, into her lovely home…it was wonderful. Every time my husband and I left her company, my husband would say, something “She is really a joyful person, what a great spirit.”
6. Oh, don’t worry about it, you have just had a cat fight.
One day, I burst into Jean’s house after a fight at work, and she just put it all in perspective. Cats…lots of snarling, not much damage, usually.
7. Come on in and let me get you some Tea or something…
When Jean died last year, I felt sucker punched when I got home from her funeral. The funeral was just beautiful and yet I felt so sad. I put on my pjs and went to bed at 3 in the afternoon. But, as I drifted off to sleep, I kept seeing her, standing over a bin of Country Living magazines, saying, “Oh, come on, its ok, have a cup of Tea.” Unlike, other passages I have experienced, I felt so much peace.
8. Well, think about it, I’m 60 plus, my whole life, it was about what is next: marriage, kids, grand-kids, and now, the next phase, the end. Think about it!
Jean actually told me this the summer of our many talks, circa 1990. She had a long time to prepare but when she was 80, she wrote me and said, I am not slowing down and I don’t intend to either. Well into her 80s, I remember her saying in a phone conversation, “Well I’m so mad, I wanted to make a St. Patty’s Day dinner for Mike and Marianne and I can’t do it!”
9. What about you?
Yes, what about me…I was always worried about everyone…such a girl thing, and I must admit, a Claire thing. Often, in the center of some long diatribe where I would be going on about one thing or another, and this person’s needs and that person’s feelings, Jean would interrupt and say, “Well, what about you?”
I know I was raised during the Me generation, but honestly, it was a good lesson. And still is, for any woman who thinks the world just might fall apart without her.
10. It is very sad and very bad, but, you can not, you must not, let this ruin your life.
This was in response to a break up of sorts, a parting of the ways shall we say. But words I have chosen to live by and hear more frequently than I can say to anyone.
So here is to you Jean, to the wisdom you passed on to me, and to whatever we can all do to make someone’s life a little brighter. It may make all the difference!
Jean loved Blue, so here is a photo Jean just for you!