We celebrated the life of our Family & Youth Initiatives superstar, Jane McCall Whitmer, a few Sundays ago, and it was a colorful fete with confetti, boogie music, party horns and stories of zany escapades.
Our FYI families know this Jane – the Jane who danced with your babies; the Jane who wore costumes for the slightest occasion; the Jane who assured you it’s OK if you felt broken. You could still be an engaging, loving parent.
Here’s another part of Jane. She was a scholar, a teacher and researcher, an early childhood and parenting expert who earned two master’s degrees in child development and educational administration.
She co-authored with Helen Raikes “Beautiful Beginnings: A Developmental Curriculum for Infants and Toddlers.” In Lincoln, Nebraska, Jane co-created the SRI/St. Elizabeth Child Development Center, which became Gallup Child Development Center. Later, she was appointed the early childhood consultant for Lincoln public schools. She loved teachers and was passionate about their development and renewal.
Jane was a seasoned pro who just happened to be sparkly. And she set the bar high at FYI with its evidence-based programs.
With every cell of her being, Jane believed in the sanctity of the family, no matter what it looked like from the outside. No matter how misshapen. No matter how seemingly perfect.
Anyone who knew Jane, knew that she gave so much to families in Chaffee County. But it wasn’t just one-sided. Our local families returned the favor because they handed Jane her life’s work. She could not do what she loved, what she did so well, without all of you.
A few weeks before Jane died, she told me: “I’m so happy. Everything is perfect.”
At first, I was stunned. She was on oxygen and had minimal energy. I wondered whether she was being true. But sitting there with her, it began to make sense. She talked softly about how she really did have everything. Jane so valued her life, her experiences, her relationships with her husband, Ron, and daughters, Ellie and AnnieLaurie, and their partners. And her devoted, sassy friends.
This doesn’t discount the fact that Jane had her own grief, like a deep river. Her last Mother’s Day was her daughter AnnieLaurie’s first. Sonny May is a year old. And what a hell of a grandmother Jane would have continued to be.
Beyond our FYI families, Jane was known in many circles – Salida Sangha, Salida Circus, the dancers, the teachers, the yogis and the boaters. All were represented at her celebration at the SteamPlant. Later that day, some vials of Jane’s ashes had their own adventure and ended up across town at a wedding.
Per her request, Jane’s ashes were mixed with mica, an organic yellowy, natural form of glitter. It was a colorful wedding and someone said, “We need glitter!” A worker spotted a shiny vial, not knowing its source, and the wedding-goers put Jane to good use. Actually, they put her in their hair and danced wildly. Just another way for Jane to celebrate with families.
I knew Jane for more than 14 years. We taught yoga together and she became a sister in silliness. Over lunch at Amicas on F Street, Jane dissected my crippled attempts at dating. “He did what?” she said and threw back her head, her laughter outsized for her petite frame. Soon, the giggles took over me, as well, and iced tea ran out of my nose. After lunch, when I walked outside with her, I left a heaviness behind.
I have a new request for Jane, our perpetual parenting expert at FYI. As I taped her picture over my desk, I asked her to be my guardian angel while I work with families. My angel with grit.
My prayer to her was this: Be near me while I help families identify and build their strengths. Guide me as parents implement new skills and see their value. Help me learn along with them.
Jane’s words, her mantras stay with me. Every misbehavior is a call for an unmet need. Every family is worthy of love.
Ann Marie Swan is a family partnership specialist at Family & Youth Initiatives in Chaffee County.