On the Sudden Passing of a Good Friend

On the Sudden Passing of a Good Friend

Jill McKean

My dear friend Jill unexpectedly passed on last night. She will be heartily missed. We knew each other primarily at church, both taking leadership roles there and prioritizing church membership in our lives. In that capacity we saw each other twice a week, religiously (as it was) on Sundays mornings and Wednesday evenings. But as with good friends, we saw each other much more than that.

We spent summers at the quarry together – sun worshipers too – basking in the glory of the unpretentious outdoors. We hiked together, mostly at Huntington Park; Jill liked best the early spring just before the leaf cover obscured the sky. She was patient with my pace, as I stopped often to take photos. When my daughter’s New Pond Farm Junior Staff was in session, she’d meet me there during that, and we’d walk out to the bench on the far hill, sitting in that late afternoon splendor in all kinds of weather, returning to the barn to visit adorable baby lambs, gawky newborn calves or fluffy squawking chicks. In the winter, when it was chilly and dark, we’d meet at 7:30 in the morning to walk at the mall. Our birthdays were at the same time of year, so we’d celebrate together with an Empress’s bunch – quietly elegant occasions cooked by me at my house, after I sent my family off ice skating. (see here)

All the time we’d talk. We’d talk of reading and family, of church and Christian Science. We’d talk of being entrepreneurs, of website creation and of self-help strategies. We swapped recipes, book and movie recommendations, and travel sagas. We’d share ideas, frustrations, hopes, dreams and challenges.

She was a genius with organization, time management, and prioritization, spurred to such height allegedly by a second grade teacher that told her that “a messy desk is a sign of a messy mind.” Her favorite fairy tale was The Princess and the Pea, and likewise, she noticed the slightest thing out of place. Her favorite synonym of God was Principle, which was an odd companion to mine as Soul. We were good for each other that way. She helped me clean my office, and will forever continue to be a role model to my family of streamlined order and precise appropriateness. You’ve heard the phrase “what would Jesus do,” well, “what would Jill do” almost reaches equal proportions to my children and me as we strive to emulate her good qualities, more foreign to us than maybe Jesus’. But I loosened Jill up a bit, and she came to see spontaneity not as a thing to be avoided, but actually to be embraced on occasion, even initiating it at times, which was like a miracle for her. Once she even rolled down the hill at New Pond Farm, getting herself covered with goose poop, laughing the whole way! We had her to our house for art days where we’d create, and paint and be free all day; she was just as incredulous of these times as we were of her pristine house. I started a box-a-day art journal, and shortly after, she started doing a daily art journal too, finding much benefit from doing it. Then we’d get together at intervals to share what we had put in the journals, and some entries overlapped in both volumes in distinctly unique ways. She once gave me a lovely gift of a leather CD holder, and my next gift to her was it returned filled up with carefully hand selected playlists of burned CD’s just for her to her taste. This epitomized our relationship, her the order of Principle, me the spirit of Soul, both necessary and somehow synonymous in the biggest picture.

As she was childless, I shared my children with her and she took them on. She was a Sunday school teacher to all of them. She was the one we’d always put on forms when they asked for contact information for someone other than the parents. She graced our Thanksgiving and Easter tables. She gave a lovely baby shower when my youngest child was born. She read and discussed difficult classic books with my oldest homeschooled daughter ranging from Robinson Crusoe to Dante. She was my son’s mentor for his National Leadership Council, when no one else would even consider that task. She taught him that, “90% of life is showing up and filling out the forms.” She sparred with him through his most awkward belligerent moments and came away with his devotion and respect which is not easy to obtain. His repeated refrain was (and is) “Jill’s awesome!” (When asked if he didn’t have her on a pedestal, he replied, “Pedestal nothing! She’s on top of the Washington Monument!”) She helped my oldest daughter redo her closet at age 13, a valiant deed for which we had Jill knighted in a ceremony complete with a sword touched to her shoulders, bestowing upon her a million dollar bill. When I did learning styles assessments on my kids, she’d do them too. (And she even babysat our pet frog, Tom…) She was nurtured by the hugs of my youngest, appreciating the soft skin and the enthusiastic affection. Jill attended her piano recitals, and joyously sat with her at her little child’s table while we slipped off to a wedding. As each child grew, the test of when they could ride in the front seat of our car was when they were taller than Jill. (And admirably, by the time my youngest reached that triumphant landmark, she never mentioned it to Jill out of deference for Jill’s feelings…) Jill would offer to take my kids to the quarry so I could get work done in their absence, and a couple times when I was stuck, she picked them up somewhere for me. They loved having her all to themselves; to them it was like getting the attention of a celebrity, only better. Her example of preparedness, follow-through, immaculateness, and willingness to make continuous effort, lives on for my whole family.

Beyond being active in our church, Jill took on a longtime leadership role in AAUW, regularly attended a book club spanning decades, as well as taking on roles with the National Association of Professional Organizers (NAPO), and Entrepreneurial Woman’s Network (EWN). She poured herself into these things, thriving on board work and often enjoying the rocky roads of spearheading respective presidencies in them. However privately, she wondered if any of that was meaningful.

The quintessential professional, Jill always supported herself financially. Ultimately, she left her job for Deloitte and Touche where she did logistics and event planning, to become her own boss as a professional organizer. This precipitated much growth in her, and her nonjudgmental thrill of bringing order out of chaos, did her much credit. She had found her calling and was pursuing it! She was a speaker on the Seven Steps to Office Productivity, on how to Pare Down & Simplify, and most recently, on Getting Things Done. She has helped countless people get closer to their dream of being as orderly as her. And one of those people is me (see here). Anytime, ever, in an organizing job, I’ll hear her voice at my shoulder and her silent pleasure at my progress.

Jill was healed of Polio through Christian Science at the age of three and earnestly strove to give back by being genuinely faithful to God. She was First Reader when we joined the church here seventeen years ago, and has held most other posts as well. But the thing I’ll remember most was her regular attendance at our Wednesday evening meetings, usually with a healing testimony to share. Christian Science was something she was using in her day to day life and it was our joy to hear of her many triumphs. She often also expressed gratitude for what she called “the bad that didn’t happen,” so I see her passing not as a failure of Christian Science to protect or resuscitate her, but as her prayers answered: she would not go by way of a prolonged illness as she had seen her mother do, and that was important to her. God has always supported Jill’s unfolding identity and is doing it still. And what an eye-opening lurch in understanding she must be undergoing as she graduates from this experience to the next!

When Jill married Robert (who she always thought of as her Prince charming and continually marveled at her good fortune in getting to be with him) she had no matron of honor and no bridesmaids. She told me once that she’s not good at friendship, since once people are emotionally needy, she wants to run and slam the door. She said she could handle hanging out with me because I got what I needed directly from God, so she was off the hook. But I have to say, if she wanted to do something meaningful, she did it well by being my friend. She is dearly loved. I am grateful for and honored by her friendship. She showed up for me and will keep showing up, only now in my heart instead of before by eyes. My daughter called her an immortal icon – it is impossible to ever think that all the good qualities Jill embodied could ever die. It is true that we’ve shared so much that I’ll always have, that in her passing, as in Jesus’, she gives me proof of eternal Life.

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I work to amplify good wherever I find it. I love color, texture, beauty, great ideas, nature, metaphor, deliciousness, genuine spirituality, and exploring new territory. I encourage authenticity, nurture creativity, champion sustainability, promote peace, and hope to foster a new renaissance where we all are free to be our most fulfilled, multifaceted, and terrific selves. Read more here.

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