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Jean Wells

(Jean Wells, my mother-in-law, died on March 7, 2015.  Among her wishes before she died, she requested that I do the eulogy at her Memorial Service.  This is the eulogy which I wrote and read at her Memorial Service.)


“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:  a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance….” These words from the Book of Ecclesiastes are a helpful reminder that our lives are never all good or all bad.  As much as we wish only for happiness and success, where everything goes the way we want it to go, that’s not how life works.  I would say that the definition of a life well lived is one where we are able to make the best of the cards that are dealt…not blaming the dealer, not blaming the cards; but accepting and making the best of what we have to work with.  As is true for each one of us here today, Jean Wells’ life was a combination of joys and sorrows, triumphs and failures, victories and defeats.  The true test of one’s character is what she has to show for the 85 years of her life.  David Brooks, the NY Times columnist, has just published his latest book, The Road to Character.  Brooks writes:  “Success is earned externally by being better than other people.  But character…is earned by being better than you used to be.”  He points out that in life, there are 2 sets of virtues:  the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues.  The resume virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace.  The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral—whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful.  Were you capable of deep love?  We are here today to talk about Jean Wells’ eulogy virtues, which were many.

I.    Jean Wells—wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, mother-in-law, aunt; sister in Christ, sorority sister, friend—roles that Jean lived richly and fully.  On my very first visit to her home here in Hood River, only the second time that I had ever met her, she gave me the biggest and warmest hug I had ever received; I had not even made it into the house, I got as far as the porch.  I felt loved, accepted, welcomed immediately into her family.  Jean’s home and heart were places of welcome and hospitality.  “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places…”  A daughter-in-law writes:  “I first met my mother in law in December, 2013, and she made me feel right at home.  I never felt a stranger.  She was never critical or judgmental.  She was kind and loving to me.  I will always remember her for accepting me the way I am.”  Another daughter-in-law shared:  “I’m happy to know you!”  These were the first words Jean ever said to me, and I actually believed her…and for the next 3 and a half decades.  I was lucky to know her.   We formed an instant friendship.  For years I either talked to her on the phone or went to see her in person, almost every day.  I had friends my own age, but I did, and still do, consider her one of the best friends I ever had.”  “I think the best way to describe my friendship with Jean was endurance—no matter what happened in our lives or how many times my boys and I moved she was there.”   And another daughter-in-law was deeply touched and appreciative of the time Jean encouraged her to use her walking poles for greater stability.  

II.    A long time, active member of this church, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, where she served in leadership capacities and volunteered many hours of her time working in the office and doing extensive research on the early history of this congregation, assisted greatly by her incredible memory, Jean practiced what she preached.  Her life was her faith.  We found these quotes she kept in her personal files.  And they capture and summarize what religion meant for her.  “Grace isn’t a little prayer you say before receiving a meal.  It’s a way to live.”  “Before you assume, learn the facts.  Before you judge, understand why.  Before you hurt someone, feel.  And before you speak, think.”  “Judging a person does not define who they are.  It defines who you are.”  “Being an atheist is okay; being an atheist and shaming religions and spirituality as silly and not real is not okay.  Being a Christian is okay; being homophobic, misogynistic, racist, or otherwise hateful person in the name of Christianity is not okay!”  And I could hear her praying this:  “Lord, give me coffee to change the things I can change; and wine to accept the things I can’t.”    You could understand and appreciate why these quotes were in her possession because these were the values she lived by.  Her life embodied today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans:  “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor…Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are…do not repay anyone evil for evil…”  Her ministry at St. Mark’s was very important to her.  In the end, her ministry did not stop at the church; the life she lived–at home, with her family and friends, the marketplace and the public square–was also her ministry.

III.    Jean’s family was the center of her life—her 60 years of marriage to Ted, raising her 2 daughters and 2 sons, her love for her grandsons and granddaughter, and great grandson.  And let’s not forget the family pets of cats and dogs.  Jean was sensitive to each family member’s needs, trying always to do what she felt was right and was best.  You may not have agreed with everything she did; but there was never a question that whatever she did, it was done out of love.   “Mom was always a positive influence to me and everyone I knew that met her.  She was ahead of the times when we were out in the neighborhood playing and she needed us home.  There were no pagers or cell phones back then, but mom had the whistle that could be heard for many blocks.  She was always there for me with my homework even though I didn’t figure out math until my twenties.  I will always miss mom and she will always have a special place in my heart.”   “Mom loved learning about new things and kept herself updated and pushed herself to stay with it.  She enjoyed challenges and people….  It was important to her that she brought her kids up with open minds, free of prejudices and fears of the unknown.  Mom was great about keeping perspective and working through personal struggles….  She was rarely judgmental and usually stayed compassionate and forgiving of others.”  “I remember mom doodling while talking on the phone—she made the best flourishes and ribbons and bows.  Graham cracker sandwiches filled with frosting, an after school surprise treat.  The time mommy let me stick my tongue out at the doctor from our front window as he left his office next door because he was mean to me while burning off a couple of warts.  Mom could chop celery and apples in the most perfect tiny pieces, all exactly the same size.  Her perfect handwriting…still perfect.”

IV.    Ted, Jean’s husband, describes their marriage of 60 years, as a great team.  To me, Ted and Jean were like a tag team, each caring for, supporting, and loving each other, providing the unique gifts and abilities that mutually sustained their life together.  As Ted described their marriage, “Everything we did, we came up with answers and solutions together.  It was a give and take relationship.  We knew how to defer to each other as appropriate and as necessary.”  When Ted was doing contracting work, it took him away from home.  So Jean took charge of keeping up the home front, which Ted really appreciated.  Ted shared with deep feeling how much they enjoyed their home, their life together.    

And here is what one of Jean’s grandsons wrote:  “All I can really say is that my grandmother was one of the greatest founts of warmth and steadfast affection in my young life.  She was the one who patiently tucked me in every night during those long summers I’d spend at her house in Hood River, where everything smelled like amazing potential for adventure, the wind never stopped blowing, and where the creek in the park next door was a world unto itself.  I’d come home after a long day trying to dam it up (and flood the park), and there she’d be to analyze my sunburns and feed me green noodles.  Later, she’d be at my bedside, reading me Dr. Seuss and the Berenstain Bears, or helping me locate Waldo.  All with infinite patience and care.  I didn’t know it at the time, but she was teaching me to read, and opening up one half of the most important duality in my life to me.  The other half of course being computers….. She was Green Eggs and Ham, sloppy kisses, rubbing sunscreen on my back, cans of Diet Coke, properly tied shoes, embarrassing clothes for Christmas…and later on she was sage advice for a young man who, clichéd enough, thought he knew everything already.  She was a forceful proponent of education, and a voice for moderation of opinion and action.  And later still, she was an example of the toughness and grace it takes to age with dignity and strength, still pushing for the best shake and advocating for the rightful.  She stayed current and engaged, rolling along with the world and its developments, rather than becoming resentful of its changing nature.  But mostly, she was Grandma, and there really isn’t anything that could transcend the importance of that basic relationship.”


In sum, Jean was who she was because of her deep abiding faith and trust.  She accepted her place in life; not needing to be more than she was.   The Psalmist surely describes what sustained her life.  “Lord, you have searched me out and known me…where can I go then from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I climb up to heaven, you are there; if I make the grave my bed, you are there also. If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast.”  The capacity to ponder the presence of God in all of life, trusting that nothing could separate her from God’s love, gave Jean the strength and capacity to live with humility, to live in awe and mystery through all the seasons of life.

1 thought on “Jean Wells”

  1. We hear ministers use the word “Grace” often in sermons and bible studies. Even Father Brown in the PBS Monday night program keeps saying, “God will forgive you.” Is that Grace? We utter the words in prayer. For me, it has blended in with the wallpaper and I ask silently, “What is Grace?” This eulogy to Jean Wells has enliven it once again.

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