Two weeks ago (October 17), I received a text that I never wanted to read -- a dear friend, Marilyn Jager, had passed away on her birthday, at age 53, from liver cancer that had been discovered a mere six weeks before. It would be wrong to have this blog (neglected though it may be) and not post about it. Here is what I said on Facebook that day:
"No words can ever convey how deeply grateful I am and always will be for my friendship of forty years with Marilyn Jager, or how distraught and heartbroken I am that it will not continue for another forty. She passed away today, on her 53rd birthday. She was kind, funny, incredibly intelligent, wise, positive, loving and uncannily calm and even in the face of every circumstance. A truly remarkable woman, who leaves a hole even Texas would call massive. I will miss her so very much. A sad, sad day in Baileyville today. Paul Jager, our deepest prayers are for you and your sweet, wonderful children."
I was and still am depressed by the news. The Jagers are our fast friends -- our last trip in California, in Big Sur, we took with them (photo above), and have faithfully visited them about once a year since leaving. Paul called the day after she passed and asked me if I would speak at her funeral in Mission Viejo, along with another dear friend, Paul White. A huge honor, for sure, but also an incredibly daunting task, one that comes with the deep weight of needing to do the very, very best you can to honor your friend.
I was overwhelmed and still deeply sad, but I immediately began to receive small tender mercies in the four days that followed. They buoyed me up, and helped me tremendously. A friend at work brought a huge gift basket to me, filled with Diet Cokes and other delectables, for no real reason (he had no idea of the news I had received). My nephew, on a mission to the same area of Peru I served in 35 years earlier, found by amazing circumstance Alfredo Maza Salinas, someone I love and whom I had baptized all those years ago. They posted it to facebook, for me to see. It made my heart glad for the first time since that dreaded text. Keegan spent an afternoon cheerfully doing chores, including many he does not have to do, because he knew I had been having a hard time. The following morning, another dear friend, Fred Greener, called for no reason. His wife Gaylene was in the car with him. She also has liver cancer, but has, through no small miracle, been able to live for more than two years after her diagnosis. (Marilyn's liver cancer was discovered a mere 6 weeks before she passed, with no prior symptoms.) I was able to tell Fred and Gaylene how grateful I was that they had had so much time together--it made for a nice moment of highlighting blessings in the face of adversity. Small things all, but each seemed to say that someone was trying to help.
When the time for speaking came, there were over 800 people present to honor Marilyn, filling a stake center all the way back to the stage. It was a real tribute to her. She touched so many people, members of our faith and non-members alike. It was impossible to capture what she meant to all those people, but here was my effort:
Talk At Funeral For Marilyn Jager
Good morning everyone, my name is Brett Bailey, and a lot of you probably don’t know me. But I want to say it is such an honor and privilege to be with so many wonderful people, the colleagues, friends, ward members and family of someone I hold so dear.
A friend of mine once told me that men don’t cry, but their eyeballs can sweat something fierce. Today I am about to demonstrate that I have really sweaty eyeballs to a lot of people that I have just barely met. I hope you can forgive me that, but when you speak from deep in your heart, tears follow, and that is as it should be.
I have known Marilyn for a very long time, since we were about Clare’s age. That is almost 40 years. We became close as members of the Bountiful high school debate team. My first indelible memory of Marilyn is from a team trip to Phoenix Arizona for a tournament. We were packed into a school bus and proceeded to drive all through the night from Bountiful Utah, just north of Salt Lake City, to Phoenix. At about 3:00 am, somewhere around the Grand Canyon, there was Marilyn, wearing sunglasses and dancing up and down the aisle, with a full sized boom box on her shoulder that was blaring AC/DC’s Highway to Hell. I am pretty sure the poor Bus Driver couldn’t have agreed more at that point. I don’t know if that is how any of you think of Marilyn, but truthfully, that is still how I picture her at times. There was never a dull moment when Marilyn was around.
Thinking about Mar this week, I read through our senior yearbook, and found a note from her, telling me that we should be law partners, because when my arguments inevitably failed she could win the case on her looks alone. She quickly followed that with “of course I don’t really need looks to win any case, but it is a nice finishing touch.”
She always wanted to be a lawyer. I remember a long conversation a few years ago after she helped win a case. She gave me a blow-by-blow recount of her devastating cross-examination. It made her so happy. She was living the dream she’d held as a 17-year-old high-school kid, and you could tell it was such a great thing for her. Paul tells me that the week before last she actually spent some of her time filling out time sheets. You know she loved being a lawyer if she was willing to fill out time sheets under those circumstances.
That may seem like a really odd thing to do, but it also tells you a lot about her. She finished what she started, and did not like to leave things undone. She was honorable, a hard worker, and loyal to her partners. Morris, Polich and Purdy was lucky to have her. And she was a fighter. She had this quiet, but seriously intense competitive streak and was determined not to lose. No way was she ever going to give a single ounce of concession to cancer. She was going back to work. Period.
And she had so many other great qualities. She loved life and the people in it. Kim and Paula told me yesterday that when they came down to visit a couple of weeks ago, she insisted they go to the beach, because they were from Utah, and you just can’t come to California from Utah without going to the beach. She went with them, even though she could barely walk. That was vintage Marilyn, wanting to make sure that everyone experienced life to the fullest and had a good time. She was just so positive about things, always looking forward with optimism and interest. She was so kind, so funny, incredibly intelligent, engaging, loving and uncannily calm in the face of every circumstance. The only exception I ever saw to that calm quality was if she was hungry and you stood between her and something with a really yummy sauce. Then you were done for.
But there are two qualities I think of most when I think of Marilyn. The first is that she was just such a great friend. To know Marilyn was to always be welcome in her home, to be given all the time she had, and to have great conversation, usually over food and full of love and laughter and interesting and engaging things. It was such a joy to be with her.
The second quality is how dedicated she was to family, and how much she loved being a mom. Nothing was more important to her, and it was her greatest joy. Whenever we talked, the subject always turned to her family. After many years of such conversations, I think I have some idea of couple of things she would want me to tell you today. This might be the sweaty eyeball part.
To Lauren, you should know that you were the apple of her eye. She would light up like a tree at Christmas whenever she talked about you. You could hear it in her voice, and see it in her eyes. You were the light of her life. Please, don’t ever forget how you made your mom feel. You were and are her little miracle. That makes you very special.
Clare, you are amazing, and your mom knew it. You have all of her considerable talents and then some. She would call me and just marvel at how driven you were, how smart, how kind and how strong. You are a chip off her block without question. But I want you to know, without a shadow of a doubt, she would love you every bit as much if you weren’t any of those things. You could never disappoint your mother. She wants nothing more than for you to live your life in a way that makes you happy and fills you with joy. She loves you so very much.
Cole, you changed your mom’s life. Sometime after you were born, we were chatting and I remember her saying that being a parent was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to her. There is just no explaining to anyone who hasn’t been through it what it is like to hold your first child, but I think it is the most profound experience you can have on this planet. She shared that experience with you. There is a bond there unlike any other. You of all her kids inherited her love of life, you are just like her that way. She was and is so very proud of you.
Paul, I simply can’t picture her without you. You helped her live her dreams in a way that no one else could have. You have been selfless, devoted, supporting and loving in a way that very few people can. You gave her such a huge gift, letting her be herself and giving her the freedom to pursue her dreams. You were and are her perfect partner.
I know it is a time of tremendous sadness for all of us. The magnitude of losing Marilyn so young is so great and so hard to bear. Undoubtedly, there will be many days of sadness to come. But I also hope, in the days to come, that we can all think about how, of all the people in the world, this amazing person was our friend, or daughter, or sibling, or wife or mother. In this crazy world of billions of people, and that can be so full of sad circumstance, how lucky is that? Can you think of a greater blessing? I can’t. I am so grateful to have had Marilyn in my life.
One of the Apostles in our Church, Elder Russell M. Nelson, said that the only way to take the sadness out of death is to take the love out of life, and that mourning is our deepest expression of love. As you feel sad in the days ahead, I hope you can remember that it just shows that there was and is a deep and beautiful love in your family. That is a really special thing to have.
There is a scripture in Psalms that Dr. Martin Luther King used to cite, which says: “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” (Psalms 30:5) Right now, it is the heart of the night. But I promise that there will be joy in the morning, one morning, some day.
Among all her many qualities, Marilyn had one that I haven’t mentioned yet: a deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ. I think that was her most important quality of all – it made her into the person she was and continues to be. You can’t understand Marilyn or why she had the qualities she did without knowing about her faith. She believed in Jesus Christ, and believed that this is His Church, led and guided by Him. That belief was fundamental to her life, to who she was and the qualities she had.
The Prophet Isaiah promised that Heavenly Father would send a Messiah, whom we believe to be Jesus Christ, “to bind up the brokenhearted, *** to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.” (Isaiah 61:1, 3.) When Christ was on the earth, to a grieving Martha, who had just lost her brother, he declared: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26)
I want all of you, but especially Marilyn’s family, to know that I have a personal testimony, born from very sacred experiences, that we have a loving Father in Heaven who watches over us, and that Jesus Christ is His Son. I know that if you will turn to the Lord, and trust in him, you will find strength you never thought you had, and you will come to know that the world is full of angels, including the very many good, kind, caring and wonderful people here. Paul has told me, that he never would have survived without the help he has received from his ward. Thank you for taking such good care of my dear friends.
I want Cole, Clare, Lauren and Paul to know, that the Lord will extend tender mercies to you when you are sad, and that if you will look for them, you will come to know that you have a loving Savior, and a Father in Heaven. None of that will ever truly make up for losing Marilyn at this completely wrong time. There is just nothing that could ever make up for being without Mar. But it will help, and one day, there will be a very joyous morning, when, as Isaiah promises, “death will be swallowed up in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces.” (Isaiah 25:8). I know that we will see our dear Marilyn again, and that we can be together as families for all eternity. Of this I testify, in the sacred and holy name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
I am really going to miss you until that day, Mar.