I met Jean McGrew in 1998. She was 14 years older and a retired kindergarten teacher. Some years before, she’d had a liver transplant (following hepatitis C). Jean wrote poems to her new life-saving liver, “Oliver,” among other things. We connected right away, in part because we both were poets writing about healing, in part because we were each on a spiritual quest and liked to laugh.
Several times a year we would meet for lunch at Hackney’s in Lake Zurich, IL and catch up. For the last few years, we were in contact more by email. She was always wonderfully upbeat and optimistic. I attended one of her extraordinary “Healing Basket” presentations where she used props from a basket to accompany her stories and poems. Lovely and moving. I encouraged her to get her inspiring poems out into the world where they could help others. She ultimately self-published four poetry chapbooks. She enthusiastically read my work and encouraged me to keep writing, not to get discouraged and give up. Really, we were mutual mentors.
Though our life stories were different in many ways, we were also kindred spirits. I wrote two poems for her when we first met. She was surprised by how different it felt to have someone write for her for a change.
In August, just a month after my Mom’s death, I got a call from Marcia, Jean’s daughter, with the news about Jean’s peaceful passing. (Thank you for the call, Marcia!) Here is a recent poem I wrote about Jean. It refers to Monet’s bridge at Giverny, France, which Jean used as a healing symbol during chemotherapy, eventually having her picture taken on that very bridge after recovery. I will deeply miss her.
Jean McGrew Crosses the Bridge
(Call from her daughter, Marcia)
So I did hear after all
when Jean heard the call
and left this life
as she lived it,
on her own terms,
with spunk and clarity,
family gathered round
for the last peaceful breath,
comforted by their mutual faith.
I miss her encouragement,
optimism, healing words, determination,
contagious inspiration, poetry, good humor,
writing to her heart or liver,
envisioning Monet’s bridge at Giverny
to cross over the ocean back to health,
her talks at the library, wellness, and senior centers
complete with healing basket of props,
poems, stories, heartfelt collections,
compassion, support, persistence,
lunches at Hackney’s in Lake Zurich.
Miss you, rare kindred spirit!
Inevitable I reach an age
where my mothers are gone
and gone and gone and
I am left
on my own.
“We are always close
in heart and spirit,”
she last wrote to me.
Margaret Dubay Mikus