A Daughter’s Eulogy for Sarah Jane Jones [4-8-16 ]
A Daughter's Eulogy for Sarah Jane Jones by Serene Jones
Funeral Service April 5th, 2016
(Also the 58th Wedding Anniversary of Joe and Sarah)
Southern Hills Christian Church, Edmond, Oklahoma
It's wonderful to look out and see the faces of a lifetime’s worth of friends of my mom, Sarah Jane Jones, daughter of Peggy and Glenn Jones, of Oklahoma City.
There are so many of you here, including people who have loved her since her days in Sequoyah Elementary School and all the way forward to those who spent her final weeks with her in Epworth’s Household 4, the nursing facility where she lived her last days in hospice care.
You can read the facts and figures about her seventy-eight years of life in her obituary - and learn what a remarkable, self-determining, and vital woman she was. And in those obituary pictures of her, you can be rather startlingly reminded of how beautiful she was, extraordinarily so, not only on the outside but also inside; she glowed from within with the warm light of an intense, graceful presence.
This afternoon, however, I want to remember with you the things about Sarah Jane Jones that go beyond those facts and pictures, things that can’t be captured in print but, are just as true as prayer itself.
First, I want to say a word about my mother as a friend.
I considered her my friend, something children yearn for but don’t always achieve. It was a gift.
I also had the joy of learning about friendship, particularly friendship between women, by watching her with her dearest women friends, so many of you here today. As a friend, she had an unusual ability to listen carefully to the wonders and the woes of her girlfriends, and to be present to you all when you needed her. She loved that glass of wine over which you spilled the pains and promise of the day, and those spa days where the trivial and the tragic were equally important topics of conversations. In being such a friend to you, she taught my sisters and I how to develop and cherish deep woman-friendships, which sustain us even today, and especially now, in her absence.
Second, her ability to be a good friend is, I believe, a large part of what made her such a good teacher, guidance-councilor, and therapist - her chosen profession in Enid, Indianapolis, and Muskogee.
What was it about this woman that made people feel almost immediately that she was trustworthy, non-judgmental, openhearted, and willing to travel with them into the places of darkness and struggle? It wasn’t just a set of skills she learned in graduate school; it was her being. She was a natural comforter. She made people feel like they mattered, be it a high school football player, a dying parishioner, a divorcing, middle-aged woman. Even her friends from elementary school describe her this way, at age eleven!
This work of care is really hard to do. And in doing it, Sarah Jane Jones shone.
Third, these parts of my mom that made her a good friend and terrific counselor were undergirded by her keen wit and her sharp intelligence, and these things put all together made her a strong civic and church leader throughout her life – something people didn’t always see in her because she led so elegantly, quietly and humbly.
You know, we don’t think of leaders this way, but in reality, its her kind of leadership that keeps the world going and ultimately changes it. She led with kindness and a wise, strategic sense for what makes people tick and how people work. The list of organizations she worked with over the years is longer than this aisle in front of me. She once said to me, half in jest, that if she had been born today, she might have been a senator.
Its not hard to imagine Senator Jones, working across the aisle, opening doors in the middle east, finding ways to fix our education system, making us feel good about ourselves as a love-fired nation.
Fourth, there were those parts of my mom that made her, well, the amazing mom of Serene, Kindy, and Verity.
There is so much to say about this, I can’t even begin. She was always there for us in our various illnesses, births, divorces, life-events, cheering us on and pushing us into futures that she didn’t have the chance to fully grasp for herself. My sisters know I would be remiss not to mention the evil–eye that she could turn on us and the finger she could point when we got out of line. As a mother, she was fiercely loyal and powerfully present to and proud of the course of our varied lives.
Kindy, she loved as her wild child, windy Kindy.
Verity, she treasured as “the best one of all,” the one who carried her grace and lightness of being.
And her niece Krista, the one who stood before my mom as her own role model.
And she loved her grandchildren:
The youngest, Gracie, her namesake, whose goodness she marveled at.
Charis, my daughter, who carries Sarah’s feistiness and is, perhaps, the teenager my mom secretly wished she had been.
Cole, the salt of the earth, the one who gave more hugs to Nami than any of us and made her laugh and smile.
And Jess, her precious Jess, the one she treasured like gold.
And then, fifthly, there is the Sarah Jane Jones who was the wife, partner, friend, comrade, and life-companion to her beloved husband, Joe R. Jones. (This is where my words begin to fail me.)
They loomed larger in each other’s lives, over the arc of their 58 years of marriage (today is their anniversary) thaany other reality. At a “being level,” they were bound together deeply, grittily, profoundly, mysteriously.
As for my father, he referred to her always as “the love of his life,” his beautiful high school sweetheart, who to this day can’t believe that all those years ago she choose him, and that then again each morning for the next 58 years, woke up and choose him again.
And my mother, she did choose him, and fiercely loved him, and looked up to him, all those many years, as they grew up together. And not only did she dearly love Joe Jones, she was able to live with all the passion of “Joe Jones” – an unfathomable testimony to the sheer, stubborn, abundant strength of their love.
Their relationship and love are what I think of in my own life as the most vivid example and embodiment of what we call 'grace', the love of God. It was a grace-born bond that held these two fragile, beautiful lives together as they were tossed and turned by time, and it was grace that brought so many others into the light of their love.
There’s more to say that is not so “glowing” but true about my mother.
She grew up too fast as a child and she did so in a world where women were not yet allowed to unfold their wings and fly. She had to wait until she was forty for that, when she learned to actually fly.
She was probably too beautiful for her own good; people liked her too easily for her to learn what it meant to earn it, and because of that it was hard for her to trust what their “liking her” really meant.
There were mother-things she never taught her daughters to do: put on make-up, do our hair, shave our legs, go shopping for clothes, cook, clean. She hated these things. This failure may be partly to do with the fact that looking beautiful was so effortless for her. It may have been, too, that long before feminism was on the scene, my mother knew these things didn’t really matter.
Those who knew her well, knew she wrestled with demons, including her brother, Sam Jones’s suicide, but those demons are also what sent to her into counseling and made her good at it for others.
She wasn’t so good at embracing her own flawed humanness and her often conflicted feelings – maybe because she gave so much of her grace away all day long that at night when she came home, she had little left for herself or for her own closest loves.
And the most cursed thing of all is that she was struck down, too early in her life, by a tortuous disease that for more than seven years twisted her up inside and outside, and the last two of those year’s were nightmarish. PSP slowly pulled her into a dark, dark cave, and it finally killed her, there, in that darkness. And each day, my father cared for her, fed her, tended to her, and watched it pull her farther and farther in. She did not go gently into that good night.
But that’s not the last word about her. I have one more word to add to this list of her graces.
My dad is the theologian but my mother was the mystic in the family.
As one friend said last night, she was a Spiritual Director before it was cool.
Her bedrooms and offices in Indie and Fort Gibson were filled with prayer beads and poems by Emily Dickinson. She knitted prayer shawls for us girls, hoping we’d wear them and feel her praying for us. There were always candles burning, oils smelling, feathers, trinkets hanging, and strange sweet music filling the sacred spaces she created wherever she went, her alters.
At one period in her early fifties, she told me she felt she had been given, for a short while, the gift of tears. She would cry as the sun rose each day, for herself, for her loved ones, and for the world. She eventually became an oblate working with sisters in a nearby monastery, seeking silent retreat and a life of contemplation and prayer.
What did this mean in terms of her faith? Well, she was not a systematic theologian, that’s for sure. She believed that spirits lived in the woods around Anchor Point, that our life-force energy never died, that angels were around us all the time and the dead sometimes speak to us, that some people had the gift of second sight, like herself. She believed that time itself was a cycle that circled back on itself, that people had destinies and callings that were divinely given, and that the mystics from Hildegard and Theresa to Merton saw truths that we needed to listen to, for the sake of the world.
More than any place in the world, mother loved our family cabin, given to her by her lively, worldly Aunt Sissy, a home my mother named Anchor Point.
It was a place where friends and family could tie up their little boats and be assured, if only for a moment, safe harbor.
What that safe harbor meant was tables full of good food, vegetables she’d grown, flowers she planted. It meant lots of laughing – mostly in that great Jones tradition of laughing at yourself. It meant dancing the Grandsir hip-hop, and singing, playing monopoly and arguing politics and big ideas and any silly things you could think to talk about, always with intensity and passion.
It meant taking long bubble baths and at dinner, saying long prayers where everyone had to share what they were most thankful for and sing “Amen” with gusto.
It meant watching, with my dad, her blessed eagles perch on the lake house tree, seeing the sunset, brilliant and broad. Safe harbor meant deep rest at night under the bright stars of the Milky Way
I leave you today with this one last image of what Anchor Point’s safe harbor meant: it meant all of us Jones girls, on late summer afternoons, lying in the middle of that vast, vast Fort Gibson Lake, on big blue foam-floaters, mindlessly chatting and dozing, the water holding us up, rocking us, sun warming and tanning our skin. As we floated there, each of us would gently hold onto to a ski rope that, strung out on the water’s surface, kept us tethered to the family’s pontoon boat, where my dad would sit, in the shade, listening to the mayhem of our chatter and laughter.
On Saturday morning, April 2, 2016, at around 9:00 am, with my dad alone by her side, her hand still clenched, struggling to hold onto that rope, my dear mother took her last breath and was finally pulled free from that tether to this life.
Buoyed now by the grace of God, she is at rest, dozing, an eagle circling overhead, the waves of love rocking her, gently, amidst the endless blue of sky and water.
May she rest there in peace until again we shall meet.
Words offered by Serene Jones, Sarah’s eldest daughter
President of Union Theological Seminary in NYC