Sunday, March 3, 2013

Jean Lewis Memorial, February 24, 2013

Jean in our backyard
from Oakmont album circa 2008
As sad as it was, the memorial seemed to end to soon, as if we could keep Jean around as long as we kept talking about her.  And the occasion had some 21st century problems that would have greatly annoyed her: technical difficulties at the mortuary prevented showing the digital photo album on which Jean's sister Anne had worked long and hard, or playing the songs which Jean had selected when she went into the hospice.  However,  Oakmont did offer amends by putting some photos of Jean on their web site; click here to see them all:  Oakmont album
On vacation in Hawaii
from Oakmont album, March 2012
Anne and Jean enjoying themselves  on Maui
from Oakmont album, March 2012

The two sisters on vacation in Maine, August 2011
In contrast to the high tech problems,  the traditional music provided by John Gregorin and Susan Torngren worked wonderfully, especially "Two Rivers," the first waltz played at Matt & Jean's wedding almost 15 years ago.  And there was a magical moment at the end of the service, when the Unitarian chaplain, Nada Nelimirovic, led the assemblage in huming the Dick Van Dyke theme song.  It was a song Jean had learned last March when her sister Anne took her to Maui on one of her all-time great vacations, and she often hummed it herself over the next months when her spirtis flagged.  For those of you who only know the instrumental version of this American classic, here are the lyrics:

So you think that you've got troubles? 
Well, trouble's a bubble, 
So tell old Mr. Trouble to "Get lost!". 

Why not hold your head up high and, 
Stop cryin', start tryin', 
And don't forget to keep your fingers crossed. 

When you find the joy of livin' 
Is lovin' and givin' 
You'll be there when the winning dice are tossed. 

A smile is just a frown that's turned upside down, 
So smile, and that frown will defrost. 
And don't forget to keep your fingers crossed!

These were the speakers, in order of appearance. Matt, Yao, Derek,  Tara,  Pam and Mary Ann have provided provided written versions of their remarks, and we hope to also publish the eulogies by Greg and Phil.

Matt Pico  husband

Yao Louis  old friend of Jean since they were classmates  at Huron High in Ann Arbor [read by Nada Velimirovic]
Derek McCulloch colleague of Jean's at URS

Tara McCulloch Derek's wife and also a good friend of the family

Pam Cory  Jean's colleague dating back to their Dames and Moore days in the early 1990s.

Gregg Lowery rosarian and editor of Rosaumdi, the journal of the Heritage Rose Foundation.
Phil Cushway first folk danced with Jean when she was at Huron High.

Mary Ann Koory  led the novel writing workshop in which Jean was enrolled at the time the tumor was discovered in April 2011.

Matt Pico
Jean and Matt
from Oakmont album
At Feel Good Bakery, Alameda Market Place, May 2012
We're here to celebrate Jean's life, and a few people who knew her well will talk to you about what made her a wonderful person.  Remarkably, it will all be true.  Her family and friends did not decide she was intelligent, creative, and compassionate when it came time to write her eulogy.  And these were not qualities that Jean would ever brag about it in stories she told about herself. We had to discover them for ourselves, and once discovered, that understanding stuck. We showed what we thought by keeping close through the last difficult days of her illness.  Jean had a constant stream of visitors at the hospice, gathered around her bedside in what often felt like impromptu parties.  Her sister Anne was with her when she passed, holding her right hand while I held the left, making sure she did not suffer.

My debt to Jean is one topic I can't leave to the other speakers.  The short version is - I lucked out.  People tell you don't rely on someone changing just because they're in a relationship; count on the opposite.  But somehow we brought out the best in each other, and for 15 years we flourished, beyond any expectation I had of what the world could offer.

There's an anecdote I like that shows what our marriage felt like.  Jean the editor heard it often enough to insist I stop repeating myself, but hopefully she'll tolerate one more telling.

Soon after our wedding, we were working together in the garden, Jean troweling around a rose bush.  Suddenly she squealed in delight, and held a squirming something into the sunlight for me to see: she had discovered that earthworms were iridescent.

For me that image captured her, captured us.  Jean loved her roses, but she also found beauty in the everyday, the overlooked, humble creatures doing the work of the world.  To us we were two such creatures, quiet, undramtic, allergic to pretense, a good time often meaning a good conversation.  Always happy to be married.  The kisses stayed hot until the very end.

We're also here to mourn Jean's passing.  At times many of us will be pulled under by grief, but a few of use will need to struggle to make it back up to the surface.  That type might say "sure" when you tell them to take care of themselves, with no intention of doing anything so utterly pointless.  It was a type that marked Jean's life with some painful losses, and for whom she always had a special concern; they were the theme of the novel she was working on when her tumor was discovered.  For anyone here today feeling overwhelmed by sadness, I have something to say, especially for you, from Jean.

I want to recite one of her favorite poems, one that we always thought would be perfect to read when the occasion was letting go of grief. But thinking about it lately, it might help at the entrance to the tunnel too, holding out hope.  Whether it actually does, whether anything could, who can say.  But try to listen, it will be over quickly, and if you're saying to yourself "poetry!  forget it," you may be surprised.  This one goes down almost as easily as prose.

The Change 
  Denise Levertov

For years the dead

were the terrible weight of their absence,
the weight of what one had not put in their hands.
Rarely a visitation--dream or vision--
lifted that load for a moment, like someone
standing behind one and briefly taking
the heft of a frameless pack.
But the straps remained, and the ache--
though you can learn not to feel it
except when malicious memory 
pulls downward with sudden force.
Slowly there comes a sense
that for some time the burden
has been what you need anyway.
How flimsy to be without it, ungrounded, blown
hither and thither, colliding with stern solids.
And then they begin to return, the dead:
but not as visions. They're not 
separate now, not to be seen, no
it's they who see: they displace
for seconds, for minutes, maybe longer,
the mourner's gaze with their own.  Just now,
that shift of light, arpeggio 
in iridescence -- 
not the accustomed bearer 
of heavy absence saw it, it was perceived 
by the long-dead, long-absent, 
looking out from within one's opened eyes.

Note: In preparing for the memorial, I misheard two lines near the end, apologies to the poet.  The actual version that Levertov wrote was:

...that shift of light, arpeggio 
* on ocean's harp -- 
not the accustomed bearer 
of heavy absence saw it, it was perceived 
by the long-dead, long-absent, 
* looking out from within one's wideopen eyes.

Jean (in Monterey?)
from Oakmont album, circa 2009

from Oakmont Album
Yao Louis

I have been friends with Jean since high school. We reconnected in college and have been close friends ever since. It was Jean that had the idea to take a month and hike on the Appalachian Trail, and to form a rock band, learn how to play instruments, and have a party to showcase our talents. We also became known among our friends for giving dinner parties that included homemade ice cream and champagne. She was so smart, with many talents. She loved music and we fell in love with various bands, and got to see some of them in person - The Clash and Boy George among them. I have so many wonderful memories of Jean.  But the remembrance I treasure most is her compassion for me. During a tragic time, she seemed to know how I felt and supported me through it. I would have been adrift if not for her. Thank you, Jean, for being the best friend that I could wish for. I love you very much.

Jean and her mom Sylvia.  Sylvia entered deep old age
around 2007, and Jean often went back to the family home

 in Ann Arbor to help

Oakmont album
Jean with Will and Millie Thomas, two old friends of the Lewis family. Starting in the early 1950s, the Lewises and the Thomases had dinner together every Christmas. At a time when few women went to college, Millie Thomas and Sylvia Lewis both had Masters degrees.  Oakmont album
Derek McCulloch

Jean and I worked together at the same company for a long time.  So long I’m not even sure how long…we went away and came back three times between us, so it’s hard to figure out all the overlaps.  But more than 15 years, fewer than 20.  And in that time, we made the transition from work acquaintances to family friends.

If you don’t know, Jean worked as a technical editor at a multidisciplinary consulting engineering firm.  What that means is, she took prose written by engineers and planners and scientists – written, often, by people who would tell you themselves had no business writing prose of any kind – and she would help make that prose comprehensible to the lay public, or really to anybody who relies on such niceties as verb-subject agreement.

Jean was very good at her job.  She would untangle illogical constructions and disordered thoughts, and take poor, abused, misused words and restore to them their clarity and purpose.  She improved every document she read.  Or more simply, she made things better.

I’ve been thinking about Jean a lot lately, and it’s struck me that “she made things better” is a pretty good summary of a recurrent theme.  She would take plants that wouldn’t grow, and make them thrive.  She’d take in lost and sick animals, and care for them, and as much as possible she’d make them well.  If her friends were in difficulty, she would try, however she could, to help make things better.

I’m hardly the person here most qualified to comment on this, but Jean always seemed to me to be an extraordinarily sensitive person.  I think the troubles of others weighed on her more than they would a less empathic person.  If her friends or family had pain and unhappiness, it caused her pain and unhappiness.  And she would try, however she could, to make things better.

Jean set an example I know I, for one, don’t live up to.  But my feeling now is that the best way to honour and keep her memory would be if we were all—all of us—resolved to always try, in the ways we know how, to make things better.

Jean in our kitchen at 1853 Wood St, April 27, 2011. 
She had the operation to remove the brain tumor the next day. 
The dot on her forehead is a surgical marker.

After the operation, friends responded to a call for help to put up

a gardening shed in our backyard. May 15, 2011. 
Top row: Jean, Ted Hayes
Middle row: Dan Hakim, Pamela Michaud, Sherry Weise, Ira Weise
Bottom row: Karl, Charlie, and Guille Freschl

Jean's berry patch in our backyard, designed and implemented

with the devoted help of John Gregorin and Susan Torngren, summer 2011. 
Jean often used found elements, such as pieces of concrete,
in her garden constructions.

Tara McCulloch

The poem I will read was written in the late 18th century by Scotland's national poet, Robert Burns, who is known for writing in Scot's dialect.  It is simply titled Jean, and is a tribute to Burns' wife, who bears the same name.

This poem reminds me of our Jean Mary Lewis because of its vivid imagery of flowers and plants -- things that Jean loved very much.  It is also meaningful to me because Jean and Matt were regular guests at our annual Burns Night parties, held in late January, where everyone would eat haggis, drink Scotch, and read Burns and other poetry.  Jean was always a wonderful presence at Burns Night.

I feel so blessed for having had Jean in my life, as a close friend, over many years -- we had grown especially close in the months since last July.  Jean's love of life, her unending optimism, and her gentleness have taught me so much about love and life, as well as about pain and suffering.  Thank you, Jean, for being my dear friend.  May your graceful and loving spirit live on in all of our hearts forever.

And now, the Burns poem:

JEAN by Robert Burns (1759-1796)

Of a' the airts the wind can blaw,
I dearly like the west,
For there the bonnie lassie lives,
The lassie I lo'e best:
There wild woods grow, and rivers row,
And monie a hill between;
But day and night may fancy's flight
Is ever wi' my Jean.

I see her in the dewy flowers,
I see her sweet and fair:
I hear her in the tunefu' birds,
I hear her charm the air:
There's not a bonnie flower that springs
By fountain, shaw, or green;
There's not a bonnie bird that sings,
But minds me o' my Jean.

At the Oakland Museum, June 26, 2011
contemplating a whimsical kinetic sculpure
purporting to cure health problems by turning 
the handle 13 times on odd numbered days.

In a cornfield near Ann Arbor, October 2011

Pam Cory

For over 22 years, Jean was my friend, colleague, and mentor. She was one of those rare people who talked softly, but carried a big mind. There was no limit to her interests: she enjoyed Telemann and Buffy the Vampire Slayer; classic Russian literature, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Jean had a wonderful sense of humor, delighting in the absurd and the campy. Her Halloween costumes were legendary: who can forget Jean as a Maypole, or the Pied Piper?

Jean exploring nature
from Oakmont album, circa 2010
But the one thing Jean was always rock-solid about was her dedication to crafting the perfect sentence. She would spend any amount of time getting just the right words. She also loved to do research. If someone asked her a question and she wasn’t sure of the answer, she would research the heck out of it! I think the Internet was invented specifically for her. And lest you think that editing is not a glamorous profession…Jean and I worked in Yosemite on the Yosemite Valley Plan. One holiday weekend, we had to work—as was often the case—so our families drove up to join us for the weekend. We all had brunch at the Ahwahnee, and afterwards, Jean and I went outside to the patio to continue our work. We felt we had arrived!

Another time, Jean and I were walking back to the office, and a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk yelled: “that man just took your wallet!” We lit out after the guy, and when he saw we were on to him, he tried to drop Jean’s wallet into a mailbox. We got him to stop, and he said he had “found it,” and was just trying to return it. Jean rewarded the man who tipped us off with a 20-dollar bill. Then, being an equal opportunity Good Samaritan, and despite all my advice to the contrary, she decided to give the thief a 20, just in case he really had been helpful, and not the bad guy!

Jean and I collaborated closely on countless projects, and while we didn’t finish each other’s sentences, we did rewrite them! Jean, you will be greatly missed, and always remembered!

At UCSF neuro-oncology, June 8, 2012, awaiting the results of

her latest MRI.  She looks so relaxed because we were  expecting good news. 
Jean  was coming from the Bear River writer's workshop, where she had 
made good progress on her novel/memoir.  But the MRI showed 
that the tumor had returned. 

At our polling place with a helpful neighbor Alessandro Latini,

November 6, 2011.  Alessandro drove us to the polls, and helped steady 
Jean on the walk to and from his car.  An ardent Obama
supporter, Jean was pleased by the election results.

New wheelchair ramp at 1853 Wood St, built

Saturday November 24, 2012.  Jean had been discharged 
the day before after being hospitalized
for brain swelling.  Design and labor by Ira Weise, 
Sherry Weise, and Marc Krizack.   

Phil Cushway

Phil read Dirge without Music by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, --- but the best is lost.

The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

Mary Ann Koory

Jean joined the first novel class I taught, almost exactly 4 years ago. It was a small class of rather flamboyant personalities. One was Joan (sitting there in the back) a former actress, a painter, a foodie, working on a spectacular urban fantasy novel– the youngest, Monica, an investment broker, remodeling her house with Japanese toilets and living in a Brazilian time zone while we met in Berkeley, she was writing a historical novel based on Herodotus – I remember some rather spectacular scenes involving crocodiles – Jon, a screen writer, recent fugitive from LA, tall, charming, high impact – and Kent who, somehow, not once in ten weeks, on the walk from his motorcycle to the building, during the elevator ride from the first to the 2nd floor managed to get his motorcycle helmet and motocross jacket off before he walked into the classroom. Kent was always ready for the author portrait they take for the back cover. He looked dashing.

And finally there was Jean.

She rolled her wheelie pack in behind her, sat quietly, took notes, listened, and smiled; she encouraged everyone. She was always prepared with the assignment, but firmly believed that someone else’s was bound to be more interesting and ought to go first.

It was easy that first class to underestimate Jean. It might have taken me until the third class to stop underestimating her; I plead nerves, as that was my first novel class, but really there was little excuse.

Her comments were constructive, specific, often brilliant, in spite of their being offered diffidently. She was generous as a colleague to the other students, as Joan will attest; she was generous, too, as a student. I continue to use an excerpt of dialogue from Jane Austen that she found and the opening scene from a mystery novel set in 1930s San Francisco. That doesn’t even touch the range of her reading: She read all kinds of things, and appreciated them on their own terms.

That was how Jean was in class: unassuming but indelible.

I thought you might be interested in on how she was a writer, at least from my perspective.

Reading Jean’s work, at least in terms of style, was easy. Smooth and clear. No special effects, no hanging on to the last plot development like an ace up your sleeve; she trusted the reader and she cared a lot about telling the truth, fictionalized or no.

Reading her memoirs in terms of content was not easy. Most of the time I remember wishing it was fiction, but that was my reaction, not hers. She bore witness, without judgment, to the lives of the friends she loved. I think she felt that she had failed to save John and Sandra and that writing about their self-destruction might be a way to save what Jean loved about them, posthumously.

Or to use a different metaphor, in her memoir, she might cultivate their memory, like a beloved rare rose and let them grow again, and flourish, and be beautiful, again, without pain.

Her story was not an excuse for self-display: her descriptions were judicious, nuanced and occasionally really quite beautiful, just like Jean, but never because she was striving after that effect.

In one email she complained to me:

when I am working on my own scenes I don't seem to be able to analyze what’s not working . . I find myself rewriting everything instead of being able to tweak it . . I remember that it’s what characters do that shows who they are, but I have trouble developing actions that build on or relate to each other. (My characters tend to just want to sit around and think look things up on the computer. It can be discouraging. Surely this reflects my overly sedentary life.)”

Her trouble was a complete commitment, in fairness and compassion, to every detail of the story she was writing: she couldn’t cut out details because her own mind had such a broad capacity for seeing the importance of every detail. This is a saintly philosophical Buddha-like position for a person in life – it is not, however, a particularly strategic way to write a story. Writers need to be ruthless.

One scene from the memoir she was writing about her friends Sandra and John stands out in this way.

Jean and Sandra wait on Sandra’s porch drinking gin and tonics waiting to hear confirmation of Sandra’s husband’s suicide. I don’t remember much of what they say or do; they are just waiting with a sense of inevitability. But I remember her description of the roses that grow around that porch.

I am not a gardener; in the usual way of things, I’d be more inclined to remember the gin and tonics. Jean’s intense appreciation for the blooms, their color, their size, how the vines grew, rendered them vividly for me.

The roses were alive and beautiful while the gardeners waited to hear terrible news about death and self-destruction. The roses were not waiting; they were living.

Jean the gardener, the steward of endangered roses and imperiled friends, Jean, the rememberer, the story-teller, the finder of the right words, the fixer of sentences, could offer no false comfort. She rendered those roses blooming around the porch. They were real, alive and a kind of grace for the women waiting there.

I want to share a passage from Annie Dillard, A Writer’s Life, a book I recommended to Jean at some point.

Dillard offers this instruction to writers. I think you can hear Jean’s method in it:

Push it. Examine all things intensely and relentlessly. Probe and search each object in a piece of art. Do not leave it, do not course over it, as if it were understood, and instead follow it down until you see it in the mystery of its own specificity and strength . . . . Admire the world for never ending on you – as you would an opponent, without taking your eyes from him or walking away.”

Jean followed those instructions closely. She bore witness to her own life and her friends’ lives and her parents’ lives with intensity and admiration and did not flinch.

Dillard ends with an exhortation that I never heard Jean say in so many words but that I watched her live out, even as her family, her health and her work made heroic demands on her.

She kept writing.
She kept playing music.
She kept gardening.
She bore witness.

Her life says to us, keep looking at life closely, and see what the secrets of its beauty are; keep writing down each clue as you find it out; keep playing the tunes that you know and learn the reasons for the intervals and the flourishes.

I’d like to end with the rest of this passage from Dillard, an exhortation which today I hear in Jean’s gentle voice.

One of the few things I know about writing is this: [writes Dillard] spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better.”

At the Samovar CafĂ©, near the Zen Hospice, 

December 18 2012.  Jean rallied after arriving
 at the hospice, going on outings, editing documents,
and doing some writing.  With her at the Samovar
were  Sophie (volunteer),  Chris (fellow guest), and Matt. 
Texting at the Zen Hospice Christmas dinner,

December 25, 2012.  As Pam Cory pointed out 
in her eulogy, it seemed like the internet was made for 
Jean, and she enthusiastically adopted other 
technologies too.
Our cat Clark came to stay at the hospice on 

February 5, 2013.  Jean was always a great cat lover, 
and Clark was a great comfort to her over the
next two weeks.

Jean's ashes were interred February 25,
the day after the memorial

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