I only knew her as Jill, but for nearly fifty years, she lived as Jay. Just like Bruce Jenner, just like Maura Pfefferman in the series Transparent, it was a later in life transition for my dear friend. But it was something that she knew, and lived with for decades before she was able to live her true life.
Working side by side forty hours per week for over six years, we came to know each other well. She was my best friend, and my substitute mom. I spent more time with her than anyone. See, my father died nearly ten years ago, and my mother has had Alzheimer’s disease for longer than that. She hasn’t known me for years, or had the ability to “mother” for much longer. Jill was the one who started calling herself Mama Jill. I had felt it, but she put it into words.
By the time I met Jill, she was her true self. Parts and all. She even drew her own vagina for the plastic surgeon and said, “Here. This is what I want.” Jill was that bold and so sure of herself. It was amazing.
We had so much fun together. Outside of work she would grill perfect steaks by the poolside. We watched movies, and drank good tequila and laughed at each other. Her and her partner Julie would host perfect theme parties, and Halloween was her favorite. She would even make her own fabulous decorations to create just the right mood.
At their home, I had my own spot on the couch. She gave me a blanket when I was cold. I had my own seat at the table of our delicious meals. And the desserts…there was always, always dessert.
Jill was my confidant, my reality checker, and held (and still does) a very, very special place in my heart.
At work, we talked about everything. Politics, music, history, religion, everything. You name a subject, she had an opinion. She was one of the smartest people I have ever known. We didn’t always agree, but she adored debating an issue. Our lively conversations were the highlight of my day.
One day, just over three years ago, she started coughing. She didn’t really stop until a month later when her quickly advancing illness overcame her body. But I am so thankful I had one last wonderful afternoon with her before she went in the hospital, and never came out. She was sitting in bed with the nasal cannula feeding her oxygen, her precious kitty at her side, her white robe keeping her warm. It wasn’t supposed to be our last conversation, but it was beautiful. She was beautiful.
I was able to see her in the hospital twice, but she wasn’t awake. One time to pray for a miracle. The second time to say goodbye. I still believe she knew I was there.
Afterwards, I was so sad that I rubbed a blister-hole in my right palm with my left thumb. It was so hard to be without her at work. I did my best, and knew she would want me to be strong. I don’t know if I could ever be as strong as she was, but I made it through, and celebrate the amazing time we were able to spend together, every day.
All this to say, that I congratulate Bruce Jenner for the courage and strength that she has shown. I don’t think Jill would have wanted to be as exposed as what has happened during Bruce’s transition, but the admiration is still there.
I spent six years with the most courageous, stubborn, intelligent, creative, fun person I have ever known. It was a true blessing. Mama Jill was my best friend, and I still miss her every day.
We are who we are. I am thankful to live in an age where steps are being made to encourage compassion, and acceptance of those who are different than ourselves. I know we have a long, long way to go, but Jill taught me how important it was to believe in yourself, your talents, and the importance of celebrating life.
We are one world. Let’s continue to embrace the fantastically diverse people that contribute their unique talents all over the globe. The future, and the happiness of its inhabitants, depends upon it.