Monday, January 13, 2014

The Long Slow Walk Through the Valley of the Shadow

Jean Evelyn Montgomery (July 8, 1932--January 16, 2013)
holding her great-great-niece, Brielle, on New Year's Day 2013

A year ago tonight we got the phone call you never want to get. The call that comes after everyone in the house is sleeping peacefully. The ring that jars you. The news that really is as bad as you hoped it wouldn't be.

A year ago tonight we learned that Aunt Jean had fallen. She was eighty, but the news wasn't of the typical broken hip that comes with old age. Just as my husband's aunt was preparing for bed, she had found some reason to go down to the basement one last time. And this truly would be her last time. The impact from the tumble to her head was so severe that upon arrival at the hospital she was put on life support just long enough to allow the family to gather from around the country for their goodbyes.

Aunt Jean's death has stung for a surprising number of people over these past 12 months. This woman--who never married and therefore had no children--lived large. Oh, it wasn't that she made an impact by the world's standards. She never finished college. She never had a title greater than secretary. The largest piece of real estate she ever owned was a tiny two-bedroom house in a humble neighborhood.

Instead, Jean Montgomery lived large by loving large. Her lavish affection enfolded all those in her path. Her arms were open. Her life was open. Her heart was open. She was a woman without an agenda. She simply delighted in being with those she loved. As long as fellowship was possible, she didn't care what the day's activities would include. Aunt Jean loved to learn and was willing to try anything. She a rare individual capable of enjoying her own foibles. She could laugh at herself and didn't mind when others laughed at her.

Aunt Jean loved those God placed in her life--no matter their flaws. She just had this way of being satisfied with who you were. Aunt Jean saw God's giftings in those she loved and delighted in watching talents blossom. She had a way of seeing what was...exceptional...about you, no matter how deeply buried. In turn, her love had a way of making you believe that maybe you could be...exceptional. She left you feeling that maybe you could leave humanity a bit better for having passed through. The broad brush strokes of her affection built others up. Lifted us up, really.

Aunt Jean was openly grateful to God for the gift of the family and friends. And her gratitude to Him spilled over into action on behalf of others. She was willing to listen... really listen...and to care about what was important to you, just because of its importance to you. She spoke kind words. She had a caring touch and a comforting, enveloping hug that made the big bad world go away for just a little while.

Perhaps, however, the greatest legacy of Aunt Jean's love was her service to others. When her sister's husband was killed in an airplane crash in January 1969, she came alongside and helped raise the three boys who were left fatherless. Several years ago, that same sister, Jane, began the slow slide into the abyss of dementia. Aunt Jean, who had shared a house with Jane for over a decade, uncomplainingly picked up more and more of the chores until the full load of running their home fell on her 80-year-old shoulders, all the while maintaining her 82-year-old sister's dignity so well that no one truly knew the depths of Jane's decline or Jean's service. To her last day, Aunt Jean was loving large.

I think the words of her oldest nephew, Dave, may have summed up Aunt Jean's life best when he wrote, "AJ, your unselfish life is an example that will be spoken of to future generations. Your constant love and devotion to your parents, your sister, my brothers and me, and, in fact, everyone with whom you came into contact was a life-changing force for good in a broken world."

May Jean Evelyn Montgomery's love live on! 

You are deeply missed, Aunt Jean, by so many.

No comments: