Jean was love personified.
Pretty and petite, her frail build belied the courage and strength that lay within. Her oncologist, Dr. Marina Chua Tan described her as brave and selfless warrior until the end. She was, in Dr. Tan’s words, “Jean was truly selfless, she poured her concerns over others before herself. She took each treatment with faith and good stride, amazing many of us how she lived the most of her life.” Jean, she says would text her now and then to ask if she had gotten enough sleep or rest after a long day in the hospital. But that was typical of Jean who loved and cared for family and friends in a truly sincere and exceptional way.
Jean fought hard for two years but in the end, it was COVID19 that would take care. But right until the very end she was her kind, beautiful, and courageous self.
I met Jean in college in the early 1980s. Many of us were naturally drawn to Jean because she had a smile that could warm and light up any room. We were both business management majors but she was in the honors program. Jean was bright, bubbly, kind, and even back then, brave. The eldest of eight children, she always spoke her mind and said her piece but never in a way that would be offensive. She was funny and very wise. Because we both spoke the Cebuano dialect we always got an occasional kick from speaking Bisaya in a room where no one else understood us.
Jean had the gift of making you feel like you were the most important person in the room. When she listened, you knew that she was all there. Her generosity of spirit and compassion came from a very deep well. When you were her friend, she would go all out for you, and find a way to contact you even if many years had passed. Mike Alcazaren, her co-parent at Keys said that Jean was always checking on the other children school. “Not a cursory “hi”, “hello”, “how are you?” but she knew their stories not because she was nosey but because she was genuinely interested.With me she was always asking about what I did as a director. She was also very supportive. When she found out my film had a limited run in SM cinemas, she made sure to watch it. I know she dragged her daughter Sofia to watch it even if during that short run, it had been flooding in Metro Manila. When she found out that I was publishing a series of comic books, she made sure to get copies of them. When I would see her in school, she’d always ask when the next volume would be coming out.”
My friendship with Jean was solid and deep but there were years when we would be out of touch. But as it is with many good friendships, the absence doesn’t matter. We would often chat on Messenger these last couple of years and true to her nature, she would often refer friends to me who were either grieving or having a tough time. She like to call me “guapa” and would always admonish me to take good care of myself “because what you’re doing is not easy.” We would talk about common friends who were sick and join forces to help get them the best care possible. All this while she was already battling cancer.
Jean was godmother to my eldest son, Migi who passed away at the age of four in 1998. In 2018, on one visit to her home while accompanied by my younger son who was born the same year that my other son died, Jean said to him with a huge smile, “Ok now, you’re going to be my godson. I’ll be your adopted ninang!” Jean’s heart was one of the biggest I have ever known, her love all-encompassing.
Since she passed away last May 8th, I have been reviewing all the messages we sent each other through the last few years. Thank God I did not erase them. In typical Jean Marie fashion, every correspondence was laced with love and care. Each time I re-read them, I can hear the joy in her voice and imagine the twinkle in her eyes.
As a wife, daughter and sibling, she was very caring, and loved everyone in her family fiercely. Her husband Mickey, and her only child Sofia, were the center of her world. She took both her parents under her wing in their golden years and would often tell me how grateful she was to Mickey, and how proud she was of him for loving her entire family. Her best friend Rosky de Guzman said, “The thing I will never forget about Jean was how she loved and enjoyed being Mrs Miguel Paterno.” One of the last projects she completed was the history of the Paterno family during the Spanish period. She was so well loved by the clan that even Mickey says, “She’s the more popular Paterno.”
Prior to her cancer diagnosis, she had taken excellent care of her sister, Marilou, who died a few months before Jean began her own battle with the big C. You would never think that Jean was ill when you saw her, because even at the most difficult points of her journey, she would always still manage a beautiful smile and engage you in conversation.
Her good friend, Diana Que says, “Jean taught me that whatever illness or adversity we have we do not need to be defined by it. We can choose to live and love life to the fullest.” Her college group mates will never forget the lessons she taught them. Beng Abella-Lipsey says that Jean taught her equanimity. “She always exhibited mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.” Hilda Kapauan-Abola says that Jean taught her to have the courage to be honest with herself and not to fear showing the world who she truly was. Cecile Solidum-Oreta, describes Jean as the “perfect steel magnolia, gentility and fortitude in one package.”
Her couple friends, Griffith and Mary Go, will never forget Jean’s radiance, wit, kindness, and frankness. “Jean taught me not to fuss over the small stuff and to be more straightforward with people. She was petite yet with the biggest of hearts, delicate and fragile yet so strong.”
In one of the eulogies, her youngest sister Vange, shared that in one of their conversations while she was in the hospital battling COVID19, when she asked Jean if she was ready to go, without hesitation, Jean said, “There are no regrets. Everything in my life was beautiful.” Thank you Jean for leading the way, and for teaching us that the best way to live life fully is to be love, just like you were to all of us. I pray that you felt and took all the love everyone had for you in your last days. We find comfort now in all the memories you left us with, and the great love you left behind to enfold us.