My friend died. That happens a lot more regularly now that I've crossed the threshold from middle age into the "Why the heck are you still hanging around" phase.
The best way to describe my friend was that she was a firecracker, not a smoke bomb, all show and no bam. And she was definitely not a quarter stick, that complete brutal force of destruction that annihilates everything around it.
She was more like a Roman candle or a sky rocket. She had all of the qualities of a Fourth of July celebration, and when she decided that it was OK to move on to her next adventure, she selected the Fourth of July, Independence Day, as her Independence Day.
When, as a kid, I first met her, she was like a half dozen of her cousins: petite, attractive, and exotic. I later found out that she was a combination of Syrian, Italian and Irish. You see, her brother laughingly pointed out to me that the countries of their ethnicity all had roots in terrorism. There was La Cosa Nostra, the Irish Republican Army and Hezbollah. (That's why, he believed, that she scared people.)
Candidly, some people feared her because, as I said before, she was a firecracker. Yet, at the same time, once you became familiar with her bark, just like the native people from these countries, she was the kindest, nicest, warmest human being you'd ever want to know, and what a cheerleader she could be.
It's amazing how much of a difference one tiny lady made in so many lives. She not only supported ideas, she was often the one that absolutely made them happen. Heck, she made the Wizard of Oz look like a wimp. Her reach was virtually unlimited; she knew everyone everywhere and often called them into action to help her friends whenever or wherever she could. She was a real mover and a shaker, but always from behind the scenes, and on her terms.
After not having seen her for decades, we reunited in a quasi-business/political situation back in the 80s when I was running the Laurel Highland Visitors Bureau. Fayette County had broken away from the larger group, and Jackie stepped in to help us reunite them with the other counties. From there, we worked together on a dozen Laurel Highlands' projects.
Both of us were deeply involved with the Somerset Historical Society's Betty Haupt in helping Congressman Murtha create the America's Industrial Heritage Project. It resulted in tons of restoration projects including the beginnings of the Bike Trail from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. We also worked with Betty to have the town of Windber designated as a National Historic Landmark. It's a little ironic that even though she was from Connellsville, Jackie selected the Windber Hospice as her last stop on her way to her next adventure.
So, what did Jackie and I talk about over the past 30 years? We talked about my kids and hers, then my grandkids and her grandson. I'm sure that everyone in her life who ever needed medical attention was triaged through my contact list.
Conversely, everyone who needed any other type of community attention was circulated through hers. She used to have fun talking about the fact that nice people usually end up getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop, but in spite of that, doing the right thing for people was what we had to do. "Some people are givers and some people are takers," I'd say. She'd laugh and say, "Can't we just be the takers once?"
But she never was. Just ask her nurses and friends who were showered with gifts, food, and compliments the entire time she was a patient. In fact, the day before Jackie died, I got a mysterious gift from her in the mail. It just said, "Thanks, Nick, for being my friend." And I was.
(Nick Jacobs, Windber, international director for SunStone Consulting, LLC is the author of the blog Healinghospitals.com.)