A year ago today, I got a text at 7:45 AM telling me one of my closest friends was gone. It was a rite of passage: the first death of someone I loved.
I didn’t tell very many people. Each time I went to tell someone, it felt like I was cheapening the news, & I didn’t like that. I didn’t want to use Jacque as bait for heart emojis, I’m-so-sorries, or let-me-know-if-you-need-anythings. But now that some time has passed, I’d like to tell you what my friend meant to me.
Jacque Girard had a challenging past. That was mostly all we knew. We caught blurry bits & pieces of the stories—she was a Wisconsin girl with eight siblings, persistent health complications, & too many emotional wounds for one lifetime—but the past wasn’t her playground. She only nodded to the past because it had been redeemed by God. It brought her here, with a broken but open heart, to us.
The “us” was dozens & dozens of young people like me who would come over to her house on Radford Drive to laugh at her jokes, eat her abundant snacks, borrow her books, & confide in her. My first day at Radford in 2009, I was a friend of a friend of her nephew; my next & every day, I was one of her kids. We’d all swap stories, talk about God, play music, gossip about our new crushes, & cry if we were going through something. Then we’d go to Perkins, where we’d hang around past midnight giving cheeky nicknames to our waiters & inviting them to share their stories, too.
She tipped those waiters extravagantly. She had the utmost respect for the hospitality sector, having won awards for her own leadership & management in that arena. In one of my warmest memories—this was maybe a month before she died—I was visiting her at the dialysis clinic when she upped & ordered pizza for the entire nursing staff. She was their favorite patient. Jacque was on a first-name, buy-you-pizza basis with the entire city of Madison.
She was the embodiment of the kingdom of God. I had never, ever met someone who so consistently chose joy & growth even in the midst of profound pain. While still keeping healthy boundaries (one of her favorite books was Boundaries by Cloud & Townsend, which she offered to lend me multiple times even after I told her I didn’t need help in this area), she held the door open for all of us misfits & taught us how to love each other. The example she set—of making sure that the dishes were clean, the drink fridge was stocked, the crockpots were on, the trash was emptied, the guest bed was made because you never know who might need it—tangibly changed the course of my life. Letting randos into your personal space is an art form, & it’s one of God’s favorite art forms, & without Jacque I wouldn’t have picked it up.
But asking for help is also an art, & she wasn’t so gifted in that one. I’d always hear her talk about how “John came over last week to help me take the Christmas lights down” or how “Juliana helped me take out the trash, & that was just so nice of her.” I’d always think, How did these people even know you needed help? Haven’t I offered a hundred times? I’ve told you that you can call me. But she never really did. My impression is that every volunteer who lent her a hand had to do so completely of their own volition.
She did ask one thing of me: to sing at her funeral, which we’d known was coming for years. I picked the obvious songs, “The Love” & “New Nation,” both written for her, & I organized a choir of Jacque’s kids to sing with me. One by one, the singers dropped out, spooked by the pandemic. Then the funeral itself, slated for March 15, 2020, was canceled.
I was livid, & I’ve never stopped being livid. Jacque’s legacy—that magical ability to bring misfits together—deserves commemoration in a physical space with physical hugs. To the day she died, for reasons tied to that shadowy & abusive past, she struggled to feel worthy of celebration. To not celebrate her in her death is an unconscionable mistake.
So even if Jacque’s funeral is never rescheduled, I will keep living my life in tribute to this amazing woman’s radical hospitality. The next time you come over & I direct you to a fully stocked mini-fridge, she’s the one you can thank for the drinks.
It’s a dangerous trust that drove you to take us as children,
Expanding your tent posts to fit a few more inside.