In the past few days, as I reflect on Jill’s life, I keep thinking of that phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.” That is never more true than with a special needs child. Jill had many villages, many communities of support throughout her life. We of course had a large family. My mother, as you all know, was her steadfast supporter and caregiver. Jill had aunts and uncles and cousins that through the years brought her joy. Jill was famous for remembering everybody’s birthday. I mean, Everybody. Cousins got cards. Cousins’ children probably got cards. I joked the other day that Jill owned stock in Hallmark. And Jill took pictures, lots and lots of pictures. As we went through Jill’s boxes of photos on Tuesday, there were pictures of her with aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, friends, family. People gave her joy.
She loved working at APA, and that was one of her villages. The people who worked there looked out for her. They were her family, too. And after work, she loved going to ceramics with Aunty. For those of you who were with us yesterday, you saw some of her ceramic handiwork. There were statues of hers around the room. We all had large collections of ceramics from Jill.
We won’t talk about the times that Jill insisted on going to ceramics even when Aunty didn’t go, when Jill had no ride home. Yes, Jill was also famous for her willfulness.
Another of Jill’s villages was the neighborhood we all grew up in. The adults looked out for her as they looked out for all of us. And there were the girls on the block, Eileen, Rosa, Diane, and our cousin, Lori, who were her community of peers as little girls. Eileen still joined her for coffee occasionally. Jill would always call to tell Kathi and I when she saw Eileen.
Then there was Friendship House, her workshop. She was proud of her participation there. She worked in the kitchen. She relied on her counselors, Jean and Tina, to whom we are eternally grateful. They are our village as well. And from all the care that Jill received, she learned to give. Jill would buddy with a blind woman at Friendship House, being her eyes, taking her for walks.
And then, there is NIPD, her extraordinary community of peers and caregivers, her home over the past eight years. There is her Best Buddy, Susan, who she loved as a sister. There is her Tea Buddy, Jeanie, her Guy Buddy Gerard, and Kate, and Danny, and Joe—her friends and housemates. Then there was staff, her extraordinary staff: James, who made her laugh; Carole, who took her shopping, the Jens, Nikki, Nikia, Leticia who kept it all going, Ursula who helped her with the lovely scrapbook you all saw, Jill’s own memory book of her life. There was Ari, dear Ari, John, William, Andrew…and I know I am forgetting names. Forgive me. And Ralph who along with Carole, stood vigil with us at the Hospital on Monday.
It takes a village…
I can’t help but think of Jill as joyous right now, as free. She had limitations in her life, in her body, as we all do. But hers were more obvious. She has no limitations now. Jill lived in a compromised body. As a young person, that upset her. She knew she was different. When she was older, especially since she has lived in community at NIPD that no longer troubled her, because she found her place, her family, her home.
Yes, she lived in a compromised body, but through her gifts of tissue to the Sharing Network, recipients will live less compromised lives because of Jill. Two people will regain their sight from her corneas. She may help up to seventy people with other donations. It seems a fitting tribute that Jill will help other people live more freely.
In closing, I want to share an email I received yesterday from my dear friend Steve, who is quite emotionally astute. He writes:
Thanks for your email about your sister Jill. Though I had spent only a few moments with her, I found news of her passing very emotional. As I type, the feelings are just below the surface and easily touched. I’m thinking that Jill registered something in my heart that didn’t touch my mind or eye. The world that we live in is truly a strange one, full of mysteries, complexities, and things that will forever baffle us.
Lives such as Jill’s and the effect of her passing are obviously incomprehensible. I’m thinking that the day you were faced with decisions dealing with her and the heart attack also revealed to you more than what our rational mind can understand. Please share my thoughts with your family in their time of grieving.
He signed it:
“With incomprehensible love, Steve.”
With incomprehensible love… Perhaps that is what Jill can teach us still. Incomprehensible love. Because, while we can all see her handiwork of pictures and photo albums and ceramics, Jill’s real legacy is people. Kathi and I joked the other day, that in a family of introverts, Jill was the extrovert. She was always social. In the past few years, whenever anyone asked how Jill was, I would always say, “Great. She’s the happiest one of all of us.” And it was true.
—It takes a village. She was happy because of that village. You were her village; you are our village. Thank you for bringing joy to her life.