Remembering a dear friend

Last week, someone who was very close to me lost her long-time battle with poor health.  Her father called right after she passed and told me that she had requested that I give her eulogy.  I was honored, and a little confused why she wanted me to do it, rather than a member of her family.

In the days before the funeral, I contacted her family members for information and stories from her childhood.  It became clear to me why she wanted me write her eulogy.  A few of her family members wanted to use this event as a forum to air grievances and point fingers at others.

It made me sad.

I found it difficult to write the eulogy because I felt so depressed as I thought my friend living in a family full of resentment and hard feelings.   However, as I pondered on it, I was struck by the thought that perhaps it would be difficult to find a family that DIDN’T have a lot of lingering hard feelings festering just under the surface, waiting to burst out at the slightest opportunity.  And a death in the family is surely something that will bring feelings to the surface.

Finally, with just a few hours before the funeral, I forced myself to sit down and write.  I focused on how my friend had impacted my life.  I told about just a couple of the times when she sent my life moving in different direction, a better direction.

I left out the more personal stories, but I still feared that what I wrote was too much about me, and not enough about my friend.  So I asked my wife to read it and let me know what she thought (something that I almost never do, because I don’t like people knowing what I am going to say before I say it.)  She felt it was a nice tribute.  I printed it, and didn’t didn’t look at it again until I was standing at the pulpit. 

As I spoke, I left out a few things and changed some of the wording, as the Spirit dictated.

In honor of my fiend, I’m going to post most of what I wrote.  

This experience has inspired me to work harder on healing the relationships in my own family.  I challenge you to think about what might be said about you after you are gone.  But more importantly, think about what affect your passing will have on those you leave behind.  Have you helped them to live in a healthy environment so that your passing will bring them closer together, rather than tear them apart?

I have known Jacki most of my life. And even though I have the honor of standing up here today and sharing a few of the ways that she has touched my life for good, I know there are hundreds of others who could share stories that would equally or better illustrate the impact Jacki had on their lives.

 

I have found two great benefits of funeral services. First, we get to remember the life of someone who we knew well. Second, and maybe more importantly, we get to discover things about them that we never knew, and it feels like we are meeting them all over again.

 

Today, I get to share some things about Jacki that many of us never saw and only her family remembers. And then I’d like to share some ways that Jacki helped me. And those stories might be new to even her family.

 

Jacki was born in Sacramento on March 7, 1950. If you have had a chance to see some of her childhood photos, you might have noticed that she was a character from the beginning.

 

Her sisters always joked about her having “middle child syndrome”. Jacki teased back by insisting that her youngest sister was always the favored one.

 

Jacki loved to rollerskate. When Jacki was a little girl, she didn’t have the kind of skates children have today. She had the kind that she would clamp onto her shoes and then tighten with a key. And she would spend hours roller skating up and down the sidewalks in her neighborhood.

Normally, a little girl of 6 or 7 years old rollerskating wouldn’t draw much attention. But at this same time, Jacki had developed a burning desire to be a cowgirl. And she had already taken steps toward being a cowgirl by wearing western attire, including cowgirl hat and cowgirl gloves, which she insisted on wearing at all times.
So she made quite impact as the rollerskating cowgirl in the neighborhood.

Jacki got a nice new bicycle for her 8th birthday… at which time she turned into the bicycling cowgirl in the neighborhood, because she was still wearing her cowgirl outfits.

 

Jacki loved to jump rope with her Grandpa McDonnell turning the rope for her. She loved her grandpa very much and he would take her to the park for the pony rides (a big treat for a budding cowgirl).

She attended at Hollywood Park Elementary, Joaquin Miller Jr. High School and graduated from C.K. McClatchy High School in 1968. She completed her Bachelor of Science degree from CSUS in Computer Science.

 

Jacki loved computers, and she was skilled not only in computer applications, but also in programming. Jacki never had the problem of being intimidated by the compute, as many people are. She always saw it as a tool to do things better, faster, and connect to more people.

Jacki began her career at Rainbo Bakery, and she worked there for 23 years doing various jobs, including: company dispatch coordinator for bread deliveries, accounting, and company supply coordinator for many offices in Northern California. To these other offices in California, Jacki quickly became known as the “GO TO Girl” in Sacramento if you needed to get things done.

 

Even though Jacki was committed to her work, she never allowed it to consume her life. Her priorities were always firmly rooted in her family, her faith, and her own personal development.

She never stopped learning new things and practicing and perfecting her skills. Jacki loved to knit, largely because it was something that she could do for other people.

 

She wanted to make sweaters and hats and afghans for everyone. She especially loved knitting baby blessing blankets for her great-nieces and nephews. She had recently started one for her newest great-nephew and was hoping to finish by his blessing.

 

In the kitchen, Jacki was always cooking up something new. She loved cooking shows on television and she had her favorite chefs that she just had to watch. And then she loved trying the new recipes.

I was fortunate enough to stop in to see her one day after she had tried a new recipe for BBQ ribs. Her parents talked about how good they were and I just had to try them. But Jacki wasn’t having any of the ribs.

 

There were many foods that Jacki couldn’t eat, but it never stopped her from cooking for others, and she found great joy in seeing others enjoy her cooking.

 

One of her specialties was Lemon Meringue Pie. She learned the secrets of perfect pie crust from her grandmother. And soon, her family could never get enough of Jacki’s lemon pies.

 

She took great pleasure in making her family gourmet meals, and it was always exciting for them to find out what she had made for them to enjoy when they would visit. Jacki’s parents especially appreciated and loved the meals she prepared for them. They say they will miss that

Jacki loved acting. She appeared in a few local plays and church produced roadshows. Her family is very proud of her accomplishments in this area.

 

Another of Jacki’s many hobbies were her potted plants. I got to go water some of them a few times when she was out of town. She loved to see the beautiful flowers outside of her windows.

However, just like the meals that she prepared but couldn’t eat herself, she couldn’t fully enjoy her potted flowers because she was allergic to the fragrance. She found a solution to this problem recently, and one of her last projects was to plant cacti in her little blue and white containers.

 

Jacki was fully committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. She loved the words of the prophets. She studied her scriptures daily. She amassed a huge library of every church magazine and reference material. And she knew where to find information on gospel questions. Family members and ward members would often call Jacki for stories and scripture references when working on a talk or lesson. And Jacki always knew just the right place to look.

 

I teased her once about not needing her collection anymore because the church has it all online and she should just get rid of it. She got a huge knowing smile on her face and replied, “No, they only have the stuff AFTER 1970.”

 

Jacki loved to serve, and she has served diligently in many callings, including primary teacher, Relief Society Teacher, Stake missionary, genealogy indexing coordinator and name extractor, among many others.

 

Of all her callings, Jacki said she got the greatest joy from her latest calling as Secretary in the Primary. She loved the children so much and felt privileged to help nourish their testimonies of the Gospel that she cherished.

 

In October, our ward had the Primary Sacrament Meeting Program. I got to sit next to Jacki right on the front row and watch as she followed every word of the script on the edge of her seat, giving a happy thumbs up to the kids after they delivered their parts or sang a song. She would coach them or reassure them if they paused or seemed scared. When it was over, Jacki gave a huge sigh and looked exhausted. She had given all the strength she had during that meeting, and she looked so proud and happy.

 

Jacki also taught early morning seminary classes to High School students. I was one of her students.

 

This was the first of many times that Jacki was instrumental in changing the direction of my life.

 

There have been a handful of critical times, when Jacki Larsen was clearly a tool in the Lord’s hand to swoop in and dramatically alter my life.

 

This first time was when I was 15 years old. I was silently battling depression and I didn’t feel like anyone knew I existed. One morning at six o’clock, after I was dropped off at the church for seminary, instead of going to class, I went into the chapel to be alone. I vividly remember lying down on one of the pews in the darkness alone and feeling the tears fall into my ears as I pondered taking my own life.

 

After about an hour, I heard the groups of laughing teens leaving the building. And I then I heard Jacki turning out the lights in the rest of the church. I expected that the next thing I would hear was Jacki locking the doors and leaving, because there was no reason that she would come into the chapel.

 

But then a stream of light shined across the ceiling of the chapel as she opened the door and looked inside. She shouldn’t have been able to see me lying there, but sure enough, I heard her footsteps approaching. I quickly tried to dry my eyes and Jacki seemed surprised to find me in there.

In her wisdom, she didn’t ask me any of the questions I expected would follow: “why weren’t you in class?” “What are you doing in here?”

 

In fact, she didn’t ask me any questions at all. To my shock, she sat down on the pew in front of me in the dark and just started talking about her own life. She just shared herself with me. She even made me laugh.

We sat there for an hour, and she was probably late to work, but not once did seem rushed or even to care what time it was. I left there feeling like there was someone who cared about me. That’s when Jacki became my friend. And that’s exactly what I needed at that time in my life.

 

Jacki was extremely proud of her nieces and nephews. She was interested in every part of their lives, and wanted to be a part of their activities.

 

She loved to travel. She was a wonderful travel companion for her mother and they traveled around the country, and Europe, and Australia.

 

When her parents went on their mission, Jacki took care of their house. She continued to do this when they moved to Elko, NV for 19 years.

During this time, the First Ward became her family in Sacramento. She loved her Ward family and was grateful to be a part of it.

 

While I was on my mission, Jacki wrote me faithfully to keep me updated on what was happening in the ward.

 

In later years, I fell away from the church. But Jacki wouldn’t leave me alone. She was a nag and she was stubborn.

 

She was also very tricky. She kept calling me up and telling me that she was hosting a Family Home Evening group and she needed me to be a part of it. I always refused.

 

One time she called me and said her group was going to meet and they were going to share stories about their missions. She needed me to come and tell about some of the spiritual experiences that I had.

 

I told her that I was not going to go to some family home evening with a bunch of desperate singles. She assured me that it wasn’t like that and it had nothing to do with setting up couples.

 

I finally agreed to go. When I got there, I discovered that Jacki’s “group” consisted of three people. Me, Jacki, and a girl I had never met before… And whom I ended up marrying.

 

Over the years, other people would come and go in Jacki’s group. Some of these people became my closest friends. Jacki’s home became the center of activity for many of our ward’s singles.

 

One evening while we were hanging out with Jacki, she mentioned that her house was right in the flight path of airplanes landing at Executive Airport. She said she was sure that someday something was going to fall from a plane and crash into her house. She said she heard that sort of thing happened all the time. She was very serious about it.

 

Naturally, the rest of us had a lot of fun over the next few months, sneaking over there in the middle of the night and sticking things in Jacki’s front lawn that looked like they could have fallen from an airplane, or a spaceship, or even a meteorite. Jacki was always fun to tease.

 

Jacki always had a positive outlook about her health problems. Even while having cancer treatments, operations, and dialyses. She always felt she would get better. And she almost always did, until her heart just couldn’t pump anymore.

 

Her philosophy was: “You will always have pain but suffering is optional.”

 

Even up until the very end of her life, Jacki was helping other people. Me included.

 

Recently, I was going through some difficult things. Jacki could tell something was wrong. I got home from church a couple of weeks ago and I had an email from Jacki saying simply: “Spill it. I can tell something is wrong.”

 

So I told her. I would like to read part of an email that she wrote to me just four days before she passed away.

 

She wrote: “So what can I do? How can I help you? Can I make dinner for you and Dorene? Or can I make some meals for your folks? We should go to breakfast or lunch sometime soon so you can have someone to talk to. You know, with all I have gone through this year, I feel blessed to have seen ALL the blessings Heavenly Father has given me because of what I am going through! So someday I hope you will also be able to smile and be at complete peace, no matter what difficulties happen! I KNOW the Lord will help you in the form of a miracle! You are a faithful son of our Heavenly Father and I know He will help you. Maybe not right now or in the way you would like – but in the end you will see this is all a blessing!”

 

This is the kind of faith that Jacki had. We are all better for having crossed paths with this choice Sister. She was always an example to those around her.

 

No matter how sick she was, or however much pain she was in, she didn’t let it show. One thing about Jacki that many people will always remember is that whenever you asked her how she was feeling, she would smile and say, “Just Peachy.”

 

And that’s exactly what she was.

 

 

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Remembering a dear friend

  1. Just stumbled on your blog and this post, and I wanted to say that this is a beautiful and inspiring tribute. I never knew Jacki, but just reading your words remembering her has inspired me to want to be a better person and better servant to our Heavenly Father. Thank you for sharing your memories of her.

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