My neighbor and friend Jean died last week. She would have turned 93 this November. Despite being that age her death took us all by surprise. Just a few weeks ago she was walking the 2 ½ blocks to 7-11 to buy a pack of cigarettes. Just a week before her death she was down in the basement doing her laundry, tending to her garden, checking on the health of her younger neighbor Ann, who celebrated her 80th birthday this spring, she was sorting and organizing all of our mail for us and she was ensuring the portico light was turned on.
Suddenly this fierce, funny and independent woman who loved the occasional vodka tonic took ill and within days died. Thursday morning she was talking her to her daughters and then she closed her eyes and let go. Jean died the way she wanted to at home and quietly. She had never been to the doctor’s or the hospital and she refused all care during her last days. The only medicine she had ever taken was a baby aspirin. There was no funeral and an obituary was not put in the paper, like I said she was fiercely independent and wanted to leave this world with no strings attached.
Every year Jean would ascend the 64 steps to our place for our annual holiday party an after dominating and charming the crowd she would announce it was time to leave all the men in attendance would vie for the opportunity to escort her back down the steps to her front door.
Jean would always gather our mail for us when we were on vacation, when we returned we would find it neatly placed in a little gift bag usually with a ribbon tied into a bow closing the bag. During our annual neighborhood yard sale she would get up early and spend the next few hours helping us drag stuff out and would invariably buy one or two things. We knew she did need the items but she just wanted be supportive of our efforts.
A couple of months ago I stopped Jean as she was about take her walk to 7-11 and offered her a ride. She said she enjoyed the walk, the exercise was good for her and she was going to do it until she could not longer. That’s pretty much how it worked out for her.
Jean was 2 years old when women were granted the right to vote. She was 21 when WW II started in Europe. She was 45 when JFK was assassinated and she was 90 when Barack Obama was elected President. Imagine the history Jean had witnessed throughout her life. Yet, I never heard her mention much about the past and she never really discussed the future either. She preferred to live in the present.
Our charming little building will never be the same without Jean Lillis and everyone who lives here benefited from having her live among us.