My friend Jessie died about a month ago. Though I had not chatted with her for over three years, I counted her as a much-loved friend and colleague.
I met Jessie in August 1984 when she dropped into my second grade classroom to introduce herself. I was new at the school, and she was a warm, welcoming, and experienced colleague, always helping in any way she could. Countless times she came through the door to chat, offering support and listening to me describe a problem or challenge. Actually Jessie was a magnificent listener, never ever jumping in too quickly with advice. And nearly 20 years later at another school, she played the same role with my daughter who was then a new teacher.
Jessie knew how to live and to age well. Despairing events happened or health issues intervened, but she coped with fortitude and then moved on with grace. When her husband died, she mourned, as did we all because he was amazing, too. Yet despite losing a soul mate, my friend got on by living her life fully with family and friends.
Even as she aged, she did not want to retire from teaching, so Jessie found a school, led by an extraordinarily wise administrator, where she could teach part-time and where she continued to work into her 80s, mentoring other young teachers, just as she had mentored me. Jessie knew exactly how she wanted to structure her retirement.
These past ten years I wanted to connect more often, but we were both busy. Actually Jessie was busier, always on the go. When I called and left a message she always got back to me, but we often traded calls back and forth because she was so busy with work, concerts, the theatre, lectures, travel, family, and her many, many friends. Sometimes she’d return a call late at night — she’d be wide awake and I’d be sleepy. Colleagues and friends, even her own children — some of them about my age — shook their heads in wonder at her unending energy, enthusiasm, and love of learning.
My world feels a bit emptier without her, but the lessons she taught about aging will live on in my life and in the lives of so many others that she touched.