The world is a less beautiful place now.
On 07 December, 2007, Jil Jensen Winters made her transition. You'll notice in her obituary that she was a psychotherapist; she was mine. She stood with me, as a magnificent witness to the unfolding of my personal story. She just sat with me in my grief, not offering words of comfort, when there was no comfort to be had. She just sat there; she was present, sometimes the greatest comfort a person can offer. Jil laughed with me whenever there was a reason, but she never laughed at me. She celebrated with me, and often for me, when I couldn't find cause -- or more likely, the emotional energy -- to celebrate myself. We were together for over three years and had a deep affection for one another. We occasionally talked about the unusual therapeutic dynamic between us; had we met under any other circumstances, we would have been the closest of friends. We talked about how unfair it was, for both of us, that she got to know me, deeply, and I didn't really get to know her.
But I realize now that I did know her. I may not have known that her middle name was Maree, or that she, too, had lost a brother, but I knew who she was. I knew that she was a woman of deep faith and a woman who loved -- who cherished, who treasured -- her family. I was surprised to read that her oldest children were her step-children; she never referred to them as such. To her, they were nothing less than her son -- her soldier -- and her daughter. I knew that she loved her husband, deeply. In fact, I hoped to sustain my excitement about my husband as well as she had sustained hers. Once, I asked her how long she'd be married and she replied, "It doesn't matter." I took that to mean that it didn't matter how long they'd been married, but how well they'd been married.
I've experienced those eyes, locking on mine. She didn't stare, she observed. She made eye contact. Sometimes, she would just look at me, really look at me, no words. It wasn't awkward; it was actually very comforting. I was being taken in. And the hugs! Oh! Those hugs! They weren't just cursory pats on the back. She was really present, as I always knew her to be.
The last few times we met, we talked about my involvement in the 37days project. That led to conversation about the concept behind the 37days website. In a nutshell: What would you be doing if you had 37 days to live? Of course, I did most of the talking; Jil did most of the listening. We agreed that our lives should be lived with intention and deliberation, that they should be lived "on purpose". Jil celebrated with me, as I had an art moment that was the kind of profound experience I had always hoped that art would be for me. She counted my blessings with me. She helped me find my joy. I saw that, should I be living in my 37 days, I was happy. Ironically, she was living in hers.
I am so proud to have known, to have loved, this magnificent woman, and to have been known and loved by her. She was passionate about her work and she loved her patients. She said we taught her so much. I feel humbled by that, as I have learned so much from her. Although I don't feel particularly strong right now, I am stronger for having worked with her. I know more about my illness, about its dynamics. I'm not so afraid of someday being hospitalized (though, of course, I hope it never comes to that); Jil's told me so many stories of working in the hospital, that it's not a scary place anymore. She's done so much to make me more comfortable with my illness, without becoming a label. For that, and so much more, I'm grateful.
Yes, the world is a less beautiful place right now, without Jil ... although she wouldn't want me to see it that way.