Giving Thanks-For People!

I lost my Aunt Jenny on Sunday. For the last three years, she has suffered with Lewy body dementia. This disease not only makes one forgetful, but it also comes with tremors and hallucinations. Medically one has to choose between controlling the tremors so one may feed oneself and mental clarity. There is no known medication that does not require this compromise. The last year has been particularly difficult for Jenny. The hallucinations were the most troubling. When I left her in September, I wasn’t quite sure she realized I was really there or if she thought I was a mere hallucination.

Jenny was not really my aunt. As I have said to you before, my family is all mixed up. Jenny’s mother, Virginia, died in childbirth. Virginia’s sister was my grandmother, Lucille Smith. As an infant, Jenny was taken from her siblings—Marjorie, Edsel, and George—and came to live with my grandmother and grandfather, Posey. Regretfully, Lucille died when my mother was 14, and Jenny was still a young child. A couple of years later, my grandfather remarried, and Granny Guy would become a fixture in our lives. The Smith clan now exploded to include Smiths and Wilkins. On the Smith side, there was Posey Jr., Hubert, and Barbara, my mother. On the Wilkins side, there came John, Chick, Bub, and Eddie Wayne. Jenny’s mother had been Virginia Sprouse. Can you keep all that straight? Honestly, I never thought it was worth the trouble. we were just a big, mixed up family and how we were connected didn’t matter very much.

Jenny chose to be single for most of her life. She lived with Posey and Granny Guy, on her own for a time, and once for a few years with my family. She worked as a bookkeeper for the medical practice of Dr. G.B. Hodge. When Jenny did decide to get married, Dennis and she drove to Paducah and were married in our parlor here. Jenny and Dennis would live in my grandparent’s home they bought from the other heirs. Dennis died unexpectedly leaving Jenny alone.

These are some of the facts about Jenny’s life. It is a pretty ordinary life despite the circumstances that made a Smith of her rather than a Sprouse. Yet, for me, Jenny’s life was anything other than ordinary. Because my mother’s physical and mental health were compromised, Jenny was a stabilizing presence in my life. She gave me many of the motherly things my mother could not give me. She loved me unconditionally and made me feel good about myself. She believed in me when I barely believed in myself. She secured for me my first real job—a dishwasher at the Wagon Wheel Fish Camp when I was 13. Jenny took me places I would have never gone. She introduced me to people I would have never met. She loved me and then Rita, and then Chip and Rusty, and then Jenn and JuJu, like we were the children she never had. And if you polled all the cousins—Rocky, Rhett, Mary Cathy, Wylie, Doyle, Susan, Russell, Libby, Beth, Johnnie, Monte, Cheryl, Melissa, and Wayne—they would all tell you that she loved them in the very same way. More than an aunt, Jenny was our best friend. She celebrated life with us.

I guess if a psychologist had ever gotten Jenny into his office the doctor would have assumed Jenny would have had issues bonding to others. After all, her mother died when she was an infant. She lived with her mother’s sister who would die when she was quite young. She was thrown into a mixed-up family. She abandoned her name to become a Smith. I guess Jenny could have chosen to live her life disconnected from others given her circumstances, but she was the best friend anyone could have—and she had a legion of friends.

Well, I have lost Jenny. No one will be able to take her place. I deeply regret that since 1972 we saw each other only sporadically, but I am grateful her love never changed. Absence could not diminish it. In recent years, some of our grandest times were when she went on vacation with us each summer. During those vacations, Jenny helped me figure out how I had been shaped, wounded, and blessed by the family into which I came. She helped me understand my mother who never felt loved and thus could not love very well. Jenny viewed people and the circumstances of their lives in the most gracious perspective possible.

Jenny’s death has made me re-think Thanksgiving. I will be grateful to God on Thanksgiving Day for the blessings of life I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy. But, on this Thanksgiving Day, I will spend more time remembering and giving thanks for those folks across the years who have been gracious enough to care for me, to believe in me, to bless me, and to love me. So, on Thanksgiving Day, you will hear me call a litany of names in my prayers. I will wipe tears, and I will give thanks for the good gift of people I have been privileged to know across the brief arc of my life. And I will thank God too for you—my family, the Church Called Immanuel. With a renewed sense of the frailty of life, I will live each day knowing that I have less time than I had the day before to love others with a love that leaves an impression that lasts a lifetime. My memory of Jenny’s love will inspire me to love more deeply and freely for God’s love was made real through Jenny’s love.


Jamie Broome

Jamie Broome began serving Immanuel in 1993. He previously served First Baptist Church in Midway, Kentucky for ten years. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Carson Newman University, where he met his wife, Rita, and his Master of Divinity from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, where he also did a Th.M. and doctoral work in church history. He is a native of South Carolina, and the Broomes have two sons, Chip and Rusty.