Every Tuesday, Jacquie Reed pulled into my driveway, shuffled up my steps with her blue canvas bag over her arm filled with scraps of paper, artwork, and her file folder, and spent an hour and half with me sharing both sorrow and beauty as we worked through her essays and poems. This past Tuesday, instead of greeting Jacquie on my balcony with a can of sparkling water, plugging in her laptop, and praying together over our writing session, I stood in the grass in a cemetery, weeping with her family and friends at her graveside service.
Jacquie was my writing client, but she was so much more than that. Her loving attention was woven into my everyday life. I was in contact with her multiple times each week beyond our weekly writing coaching session. As I led a women’s retreat a couple of weeks ago, in her usual way, she texted a blessing that she was praying over me. The day before the accident that would take her life, Jacquie dropped by my house to borrow a book about neuroscience, attachment, and the life of faith. At 10:59 am the next day, she texted me about a person I might enjoy following on Instagram. Right after that, she went out walking in her neighborhood and was hit by a car. She passed away the next morning.
The space she leaves in my life feels unfillable.
What others had not done for her she would begin to do for herself.
I find myself beaming over her like a proud parent for her endurance and achievements, all of it done with so much love.
THE SOUL OF WRITING
Season to season on the balcony, she and I have watched the leaves unfurl, change, and fall. In caution surrounding covid, we even met on the balcony through the winter snows. “We are hardy people, Darcy!” Jacquie would say. This spot has been our little tree house, a hideout for two friends from two different stages of life to ask hard questions together, share epiphanies, and play with words.
Jacquie grew up in an environment of harm and deprivation where her parents wouldn’t even let her use crayons; her creativity was either ignored or discouraged. She felt underdeveloped, like a seedling that didn’t have the proper conditions for growth. She had written poems from the age of 8 and believed if only someone had nurtured her along the way, she might’ve done completely different things in her life.
But what others hadn’t done for her, she would begin to do for herself. In recent years, Jacquie invested in herself through art classes, auditing a religion and arts program at a university, personal therapy, spiritual direction, and writing coaching. Even with the scars and setbacks that lingered from childhood, she never stopped learning, creating, or growing.
She appreciated the way our writing work helped her explore her thoughts and express herself in a deeper way, how it made her more mindful of what her senses encountered whether walking in a meadow or swimming laps in the pool at the Y, how we went beyond language mechanics into the soul of writing.
Jacquie said that her growth wasn’t only in her writing, but within her. She persevered through dry spells over the last few years and in recent months had written so many pieces that her essays are scheduled to publish on her blog every two weeks from now into February of next year. I’m thirty years younger than she was, and she mothered me well, yet I find myself beaming over her like a proud parent for her endurance and achievements, all of it accomplished with so much love.
Working through her words, we plumbed emotional and spiritual depths together.
Working through her words, we plumbed emotional and spiritual depths together. As she gave herself to the organic process in our conversations and editing, she was not only observant of herself, she was observant of me. She noticed the way God had designed me, the way I had grown through my own life challenges, and the way sitting with me helped her as a writer and a person.
Not too far into our working relationship, she began to feel strongly that I should pursue training in spiritual direction as she had years earlier. There were several other hints God gave me regarding this type of spiritual work, but it was Jacquie who said it out loud and clarified this new step for me. I’m now in my second year of training at Fall Creek Abbey and will receive my certification in June. Each time I would attend a weekend intensive for my training, Jacquie would text me her words of blessing over my time. When she and I would next meet on the balcony, she came with an excited curiosity about what I had learned in my studies.
Within the last month, Jacquie had come to a pause in her writing about difficult emotions. She said she was ready to move on to something fresh and new. And with her prompting at our session on the first Tuesday of November, she and I outlined a series of companion posts we were going to write together about spiritual direction to share on our websites early next year. She planned to use this series to refresh her long-time ministry as a spiritual director. I am sad I didn’t get to see her enter this new phase of ministry and writing. She was one of a kind in the way she attuned to God and people.
Life is risky, even a walk in the neighborhood, and it hurts that my dear friend bore the brunt.
Yet there is a deeper knowing: Jacquie could fall only into God.
“I CAN FALL ONLY INTO GOD”
On Jacquie days, as we called Tuesdays around here, my children would always make their way up to the balcony and peek around to say hello. They were drawn to the way Jacquie delighted in them, the way she would sit up in her seat and ask with excitement about their latest piece of art or their afterschool activities. She could never say no to whatever bracelets, slime, or other items they were selling in the front yard on any given day. And she blessed us with a frequent replenishment of her famous homemade biscuits in response to my son’s requests. She was a fixture in our lives and it was very hard to tell my kids that Jacquie is gone.
Early in my working relationship with Jacquie, I sent her home with a poetry book by Anne Porter. I marked the page featuring my favorite poem in the collection:
“Therese, your statue’s in our parish church,
But when you were a child you crossed these mountains
And drank the clear rock-shattered mountain water
And picked the daisies in the soaring meadows
And crept like us, over the black ravines.
‘I can fall only into God,’ you said.”
I don’t know that we go through the stages of grief in order when a loved one is hit by a car. Jacquie left us abruptly and it makes the questions swirl. It feels like futility to imagine why this happened or what it means. Life is risky, even a walk in the neighborhood, and it hurts that my dear friend bore the brunt. Yet after years of praying and communing on the balcony together, there is a deeper knowing: Jacquie could fall only into God.
As I go about my life, I imagine what you would say if you were looking over my shoulder.
I think of your deep wisdom as I sit in your seat on the balcony and ponder what to write next.
WHAT IS LOST AND WHAT IS LEFT
There is so much more I could say, so much I admire, so much I miss. The way Jacquie had a notecard in her prayer file for us, writing our needs and interceding for us in our difficulties or hopes. The way she brought me the previous week’s New York Times when she was done with it. The way she infused every task with prayer and love, even approaching baking as liturgy. The way I got to witness her daily ministry of kindness to both friends and strangers as we edited her essays. The incredible strength and resilience it took for her to keep moving and keep loving and keep delighting in beauty. The way she and I savored the nearness of God together.
Recently, she told me, “In our sessions over the past few years, we have workshopped close to a hundred of my essays and poems! Now, when I draft a piece, I imagine what you would ask if you were looking over my shoulder. What were you feeling when that happened? How did that feeling show in your facial expression or body language? How would you describe the color or texture of that item in an unexpected way? What else does it look like or sound like? What is the deeper thing you’re really wanting to say here? I appreciate your commitment to God, your understanding of human dynamics, and the way you help me deepen my experience of life and writing. I don’t think I could replicate what I have with you with anyone else.”
I have to say back to Jacquie…
After these few years of working so closely with you, as I go about my life, I imagine what you would say if you were looking over my shoulder. I had already begun to think like you while you were living. Your way of being in the world always has and always will deepen my experience of the world, God, and people.
As I parent my three kids, I think of how you have lavished your daughters with creative opportunity and loving attention, and how it shows in their emotional depth and creative pursuits as adults.
I think of your insatiable enjoyment of arts and crafts when I dabble in your paint and drag the paintbrush across paper; you would notice not just the surface color, but all the layers of texture beneath.
I think of your eye for detail in the natural world when I see large birds’ nests revealed in the tops of the trees that are losing their leaves.
I think of your affection for God when I lead a group through lectio divina or open a new book on spiritual formation that you would want to read.
I think of your deep wisdom when I sit in your seat on the balcony and ponder what to write next.
I cannot replicate what I had with you with anyone else.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments. If you knew Jacquie, what are you carrying with you from her life? If you’ve lost someone else, what has helped you grieve well?
PANDEMIC PRAYERBOOK STILL AVAILABLE
I can hardly believe this book of prayers isn’t obsolete yet. We are grateful for answered prayers and progress and the hundreds who’ve used this resource to pray over the many aspects of the pandemic, but we know it’s not all in our rear view mirror. Jacquie’s piece, “Hope Deferred: A Prayer for Those Dealing with Postponed Events,” is included in this collection. Download your free digital edition of Pandemic Prayerbook and join us in prayer.