July 6, 1930 – November 7, 2014
By Tina Sipula
Jack worked with us at Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen for four years. He was a very tall man, with the sweetest eyes and kindest face I have ever encountered. He had a smile and a look like he knew something pretty special, and when I really got to know Jack, I found out that he did know a lot of incredibly special things about life. Jack told me, not long before he was diagnosed with brain cancer, that he wasn’t feeling well and I should find someone else to take his place. He just didn’t think he could make it down every week, and I assured him that if he couldn’t make it down, we would come to get him. If he couldn’t work, we would make sure he was there just to hang out, as I knew he loved coming and I knew the people he served loved having him there.
When Jack could barely walk, he insisted on coming down to the soup kitchen to say good-bye to everyone. We all knew he had little time to live, and so all were waiting, and before he got across the dining room floor, he was surrounded with people hugging him, people crying, people patting him on the back. Words of love poured out of the hearts of those he had been serving for all those years. A chair was set up near the front table, and people took turns saying good-bye. Then he pulled out two ball caps and asked to see Darrell and Brian, and he placed them on their heads. “So you will remember me,” he smiled at them. Brian looked down and said, “We will never forget you, Jack.” Darrell cried. We all took turns weeping in the kitchen, holding each other that morning, that last morning with Jack.
Not long after that, Jack called me to come and see him. I later found out only a few people were allowed to see him in his final days, and I found our visits together to be some of the most sacred moments of my life. “You changed my life,” he told me, as I knelt by his chair. “I thought I was a good person that day I walked into the soup kitchen for the first time. Now I know what you know – that we are all the same. No one is better than anyone else.” I looked up at him, smiled, and said, “I didn’t change you, Jack, the people changed you.” He then asked a favor of me. He wanted me to invite all of our soup kitchen guests to his funeral, but even more, he wanted a few members to be his honorary pall bearers. He wanted to make a statement in his dying, that all of us are equal and that he loved the least of our brothers and sisters and wanted them there in positions of honor. He chose the most broken, those who had helped him hand out water on the hottest of days, those he sat and shared lunch with him every week for those four years. He chose the oldest person, the broken, both physically and mentally, he chose black and white, and then he asked me to help them walk up the aisle behind his casket and sit in the front pew of the church. “I want the least to have the seats of honor,” he told me. And so they did.
I have been with a number of people who were dying, and I can honestly say that Jack’s whole dying process was one of the most blessed I have ever witnessed. He was completely at peace with going, and got to spend quality time with his wife, family and close friends. He was ready to go, and when Fr. Ric came to bring him communion on his last day on earth, Jack decided it was then, at that very moment, it was time to go home.
It was not me who changed Jack’s life, but it was Jack who changed ours. I do believe that so often people die as they have lived, and that is exactly the experience of this blessed man. He was at peace in his living and generous giving of himself not only when he was fully alive, but also in his dying. I know he rests in peace, as he lived in peace. Now he watches over us, and every time Darrell or Brian don one of his hats, or Zilpha passes out water on a hot day, or Viola greets someone as they come in the door, Jack will be there.