Jacqueline Kahn

My friend Jacqueline Kahn (pictured here with her husband Laurie, on their 60th anniversary trip) died yesterday morning. I want to tell you a little bit about her, and what she meant to me.

First, you have to know that in the 4th grade, I broke my leg. I broke it by hitting a moving Ford Pinto. Technically I was at a cross walk so I was not at fault, but there was a parked car directly in front of me and I ran out into the street, and the poor man who hit me couldn’t have possibly stopped in time. Regardless, my leg was well and truly smashed up, and I was in a cast and wheelchair for a big chunk of my 4th grade year.

The folks at my school decided it was not a great idea to have me tooling around the playground in a wheelchair, so for recess and lunchtimes I was carted into the school office, where Jackie was working, I believe, as a receptionist/secretary. I was ten and very very very chatty, so naturally I spent a lot of time blathering in her direction. Jackie, to her credit, was kind to me and talked back, rather than just genially ignoring me. Later, when my leg healed, I in my ten-year-old egotism thought that she would be sad that I was no longer there, so every day after that, as I headed to the bus to take me home, I would stop in and tell her a joke before I left.

I did that every single day through the end of my sixth grade year, my last year at elementary school. Most of the jokes were terrible. Jackie, bless her, continued to be kind to me.

And more than that. My mother went through a terrible divorce early in my sixth grade year, after which my mother, sister and I were briefly homeless, and then moved several times in the course of that last year, to cities other than Covina, which is where my school was. When we moved out of Covina, I should have no longer been able to attend Ben Lomond, the elementary school I was in. But of course I didn’t want that, and my mother didn’t want that, and I’m pretty sure that my mother didn’t go out of her way to tell anyone we had moved. But sooner or later it got out, and I think there was some question about whether or not I would be able to continue at Ben Lomond.

What happened then, as I understand it, is that Jackie said that if I was made to leave the school, she would quit her job.

And that was that. I stayed.

I didn’t know any of this at the time, of course. I learned about it much later. But I can’t tell you how important it was. As I said: Rough divorce, homelessness, and shuttling around to several houses, all in the space of a few months. We were terribly poor and because my mother had to find work where she could, when she could, I and my sister were left along to our own devices a lot of the time. What stability I had — honestly, the one place I could depend on not suddenly changing — came from my elementary school, where I had Jackie, my teachers (particularly Keith Johnson, my 6th grade teacher) and my friends. If I were to have lost that, among everything else I lost, I couldn’t tell you how I would have dealt with it. I suspect I would have dealt with it poorly. So I think I can say without exaggeration that Jackie’s act saved me, in ways I wasn’t aware of at the time, but am aware of now.

Jackie’s kindness to me didn’t stop once I left elementary school. We became friends and she was someone I depended on. She stayed in contact with me in junior high and high school. She took me to movies — a lot of movies, and good movies because she was a film buff — and let me visit her house, where she kept Corgis before Corgis were cool. In many ways she made me part of her extended family. I knew it and loved it, and thought of her in so many ways as another grandmother, equal to, and in most ways one I was closer to, then my own actual grandmothers.

In high school she read my stories and came to all the plays I was in. When I went off to college I would come back on holidays to see her and say hello. When it became clear Krissy and I were a serious item, I took her to Jackie’s house so she could meet her (she approved). She was there for my wedding. When I moved away she kept in touch with me through e-mail, sharing her own writing (she was a playwright, and a pretty good one) and keeping me up to date with her family, as I kept her up to date with mine. When my very first book came out, in 2000, I co-dedicated the book to her. She liked that. I knew she was proud of me and the life I’ve made.

And now she’s gone.

I had advance warning of this day, so I was able to prepare for it, which I think in many ways was a kindness. She was so important to me that having the news cold would have come like a hammer blow. Instead I had time to think of her and the totality of her life and everything I owe to her, in ways obvious and not so obvious, so that when this final door closed I could feel, not pain, but joy in a life that was well-lived and was generous enough to encompass me in it.

Jacqueline Kahn was a woman who was good to me as a child, a friend to me as an adult, and always, a home spirit — someone I knew cared for me, no matter what, and with whom I felt safe, and cherished, and loved. I love her, and will miss her, and will carry her and her kindness in my heart all of my days.

All my love now goes to her family, and to all of those who knew her and cared for her, and for whom she cared. May her memory be a blessing to each of them.

And thank you for letting me share a little bit of who she was with you. When you see me, you see a little bit of her in me. I’m glad of that. She was the best of people.

132 thoughts on “Jacqueline Kahn

  1. Incidentally, if you are someone who in reading about her life is moved to commemorate her in some way, her family tells me that the best thing you can do is make a donation to the local ASPCA or some other animal-related charity. She would have liked that, and her family and I would be happy to see her memory honored in such a way. Thanks.

  2. Thank you for sharing Jackie’s life today, John.

    Just heard that a dear friend passed in her sleep and was trying to process the sorrow. Your post is helpful.

    The timing of the Universe is a deep mystery. I’m glad that one thing available to us humans is the presence of each other to share with.

  3. Thank you for sharing her with us. Reading this brought me images of a couple of people in my own life who were “family of choice” and very important during troubled times. Condolences to you, and peace to everyone who was touched by her.

  4. John, Our condolences to you, her family, and friends. She sounds like an incredible and amazing woman and glad that you had known her. It is a sad fact of life that as we age, more and more people that mean much to us are taken away. No person is “self” made. We are all affected by others and may we live to effect others in as positive a way as others have done to us.

  5. She sounds like a wonderful woman. It is so important that the people in the world like her are around to help fill the gaps that through events, luck, or neglect open in the lives of our youth to help them turn into fine and worthy adults like you did.

    My thoughts are with her family and you.

  6. Deepest condolences for her passing. She sounds like a wonderful person and I’m sure she’s at peace, knowing how many people still remember her.

  7. My best wishes to you and the rest of Jackie’s family. Definitely focus on the good memories — but allow yourself some tears, too.

  8. I’m sorry for your loss. It sounds like she was a wonderful person. Another example of the impact that everyone at a school, not just the teachers, can have on students. Just one thing, Corgis have always been cool.

  9. My sincerest condolences for your loss of a wonderful woman in your life. Everyone should have a champion or two (or many) like that when they’re a child, and she sounds like she was a fantastic one.

  10. This is beautiful, John.

    So many people pursue celebrity and wealth to make their mark on the world, but the older I get the more I realize that basic kindness to those who need it is the mark of a life well lived. She sounds like a wonderful woman, and I hope she’s an inspiration to everyone who knew her.

  11. I have noticed, in my 51 years on the planet, that there are people who act like angels in my life. They are there when I needed them most, often in unexpected ways that aren’t obvious until later, when you look back and say, Huh, that could have been ugly, but thank God for… It sounds like she was an angel.

  12. From what you’ve just told us about Jackie, I’d be willing to bet that she lives on in many others as well. To possess empathy and pass it on like that is the best kind of legacy. Thank you for sharing with us.

  13. John, my condolences to you and to Mrs. Kahn’s family. I have a similar story of a “Jackie” in my life, and even though I know this day will come for me I can hardly stand the thought because it breaks my heart to even think it. Thank you for sharing these moments with us, somehow it seems like our shared sadness makes the loss somewhat bearable.

  14. Thank you. A dear friend to our family died yesterday, and I understand both your joy and grief.

  15. Lovely, and heartfelt, and poignant, and reflective, and thoughtful. Three cheers to a well-lived life. Thank you for giving us a glimpse of Jacqueline.

  16. My sympathies. She sounds like a remarkable woman, and my life is richer for having heard about her kindness.

  17. Thank you for sharing this about Jackie. She sounds like someone I would have loved to know. I will raise a glass to her tonight.

  18. What a lovely, lovely lady. And a beautiful tribute, sir — both what you’ve written and how you live, knowing that much of how you live comes directly from her. I’m so sorry for your loss but am glad you’re letting us share in the joy of Jackie’s life. Thank you.

  19. Jackie sounds like the kind of woman I would like to be. Truly compassionate and caring. You were blessed, John, and I know you know it.

    But do you have any idea how much I hate to cry at work?

    Thank you for sharing.

  20. So sorry to hear about your loss. It sounds like she was a wonderful person for anyone to know.

  21. *hug* It seems inadequate to say but please accept my condolences for you and all those she touched.

  22. I am sorry for you and her husband’s lose. Your article was very touching and she sounds like she was a wonderful person. It goes to show that the kindness we show children and young adult can have a lasting impact, more that we may ever know. Fortunately for her, she was able to see that impact within your own life.

  23. We should all be so blessed to have someone like her in our lives. Thank you for sharing this moving tribute and her affect on your life.

  24. She sounds like a wonderful and good person. I’m glad you two found each other. Condolences on your loss.

  25. I have known Jackie since 1998, she has always spoke kindly of you. I even read all of your books because of her. Thank you for sharing. She will be missed

  26. I am deeply sorry for your lost John. It is very fortunate that you at least had the time to prepare for it.

  27. So sorry for your loss, and for her other friends and family. She sounds like a really amazing person.

  28. Tears, and deepest condolences.

    She sounds like a remarkable human. Thanks for telling us of her!

  29. That is a moving and beautiful tribute to a true force of nature. I suspect that I am not alone in sharing your gratitude for Jackie’s intervention in your childhood, because without her influence, who knows whether any of your writing would have seen the light of day for us all to enjoy?

    I share your grief at Jackie’s loss, Mr. Scalzi, but I also celebrate the huge mitzvah she gave the rest of us in helping to nurture you through those rough early years. As it happens, I just returned from attending the funeral of a relative who had asked for memorial contributions to a pet-food pantry and vet service geared specifically to pet-owners who are homeless or otherwise financially unable to adequately care for their critters. I had already sent in a donation in memory of our departed family member, but you know, I think I’ll send them another check in celebration of Jackie Kahn’s life as well. Seems fitting, particularly in view of the circumstances of your being able to stay at Lomond Elementary.

    My sympathies, sir, and thank you for sharing her story. Peace be with you.

  30. So sorry for your loss, John – but thank you for sharing her with us and how she touched your life. That was really meaningful to read.

  31. Thank you for sharing this. Your friend sounds like an amazing woman, and I’m sorry for your loss.

  32. I’m so sorry for your loss. What an amazing person she was, and it’s wonderful you remained in contact over the years. This is a great reminder how a caring adult can make a huge difference in the life of a child who is going through rough times.

  33. Thank you for sharing that with us. My sympathies to you and her family, and all else who mourn her passing. May they all find similar ways to celebrate her life.

  34. Someone is slicing onions in my house. And it’s so dusty in here.

    What a wonderful person. I bet she helped a lot of people over the years.

    And now we know John owes his career to a Pinto.

  35. She was obviously a remarkable woman who took great joy in living life to the full, and in turn passed on that quality to those who love her. RIP

  36. “What happened then, as I understand it, is that Jackie said that if I was made to leave the school, she would quit her job.
    And that was that. I stayed.”

    Wow. The world lost a good one. Strength and peace to all who knew and loved her.

  37. Curse you, Scalzi! I’m working on a system design that is making me hate life so I came here for a snark break. But no, instead I find something heartfelt and beautifully written that brought a few tears to my eye (literally, not metaphorically: I just wiped them off).

    She sounds like a wonderful and giving person. How good that you had her in your life when you needed her. And how good that you kept her in your life and let her know your appreciation for what she did.

    Reading this makes me think of a couple of people who were nice to me as a kid who I never thanked properly as an adult. And now I won’t have the chance. Something to ponder for the self-made people out there.

  38. My thoughts are with you in this time of grieving.

    It sounds like you had a wonderful friend, and that the world is just a little dimmer in her passing.

  39. Sorry for your loss John and I’m too sorry for Jaqueline’s family and other friends loss. I’d like to think that your precocious presence as a kid genuinely charmed her.

  40. My wife has worked in an elementary school long enough that she has had kids drop by to tell her of some kindness she had shown them that made a difference in their life. That is a hell of a thing to know & not many people get that feedback. You were extremely lucky to have found her and it was a blessing to you both that you got to let her know what she meant to you.

  41. What an amazing, amazing woman. Thank God for people like her. So sad that she’s gone so soon (any time one of the good ones leaves, it’s too soon). Thanks for sharing.

  42. A lovely tribute to a lovely woman. May her memory be a blessing to you and to the others whose lives she lit.

  43. I’m truly sorry for the loss of your friend, John… and also happy for you, that you had such a person in your life. She sounds like a wonderful human being.

  44. I’m sorry for your loss, John. And thankful to be reminded that wonderful people like her are doing quietly heroic things every day. She sounds very special.

  45. My sympathies for your loss. She seemed to add a great bit of love to the world, and at the end of the day, that’s all any of us can do.

  46. I’m sorry for your loss, and for everyone else who loved her. She sounds like a fantastic lady and an inspiration on how to be.

  47. I have an image of you sitting in the office as a young boy, talking because…well, talking, and Ms. Kahn taking a breath and chatting back with you. And in that small moment, lives get made, over and over again.

    May she rest in peace and love.

  48. I’m so sorry, John. A part of her will always live on in your life, nature, memory, but that does nothing to soften the blow. Only time can help with that. I’m glad you got to know her, and that she was part of your life.

  49. This made me smile. I hope that you were able to see her one last time before she passed, given your fair warning of her declining health.

  50. I’m glad you had someone like that in your life, and I’m sorry that she’s gone. I wish you comfort.

  51. Thank you for sharing your remembrances of a remarkable woman. Through you, unbeknownst to us, she enriched all our lives, and we owe a debt of gratitude to her. Thank you for allowing us to share your sorrow.

  52. Your wonderful tribute to a wonderful woman made me think about the people in my own life who weren’t related to me and didn’t have to take an interest, but did any way. How lucky we are to have those people.

  53. Thanks for sharing, John. In a world revealed to me, via the news, in dollop after dollop of petty indignities, terrible behavior, violence and petty hate–not to mention atrocities ranged from the intimate to the gross, it is affirming–no, not just affirming but invigorating to read an account spilling over with kindness and love. Ms.Kahn is a epic hero, and your eulogy strikes a particularly resounding note to another guy with a fetched up childhood. Salute!

  54. My condolences, John. She sounds like a person of great love.

    You might be interested to know that, thanks to people like her, the law in California now says that homeless children do not have to move to a new school when life happens to them.

  55. My condolences. She sounds like a great lady, and will live on in the memories of those who loved her.

  56. Your tribute moved me to tears. I’m sorry for your loss. She is the kind of person that the world needs more of. The world is made a lesser place with her departure. Thanks for sharing this.

  57. I am very sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your memories of this special person. Her kindness is inspiring, and I don’t doubt its memory and the good deeds that result will be a fine legacy.

  58. You paint a helluva nice picture here of a kind, wonderful woman. Somebody who showed true empathy to you when you were younger. The world is not so good without her, I think.

  59. Strugglingwriter:

    No, I disagree with that. The world is better for having had her in it, and because she was a kind person. Her kindness remains, placed in other people, who will hopefully add to it with their own.

  60. Beautiful story. Beautiful woman. Perhaps hope is not completely inappropriate after all.

  61. Your blog is my almost always my first read of the morning. I’m not sorry it was my first read today; learning about someone who touched you so deeply and provided such stability and love is not a bad thing, and makes me feel better about humanity, as well as inspiring me to be a better human. I am very sorry for your loss, and for Jacqueline Kahn’s family. Thank you for sharing her story with us.

  62. What a lovely tribute. And I couldn’t help but think that she served as a horseshoe nail in your life, which made me wonder how many others out there are lost, all for the want of a horseshoe nail in their own lives, or who are separated from those who would support and hold them as she held you. Thanks for sharing this, John.

  63. So sorry to hear this. Glad you had someone who made such a difference in your life.

  64. Beautiful post remembering what sounds like a wonderful woman. You were lucky to have her in your life and i am sorry for your loss.

  65. Sorry for your loss, but glad that you had such a wonderful friend. Thanks for sharing a little bit about her with us.

  66. It’s suddenly very dusty in my office.

    I have known a few people like that in my life, but I’ve ever become as good friends with them as you did. What a tremendous gift. As you say, I’m sure a lot of her lives on in you. I hope Athena got to know her at least a little.

    Thank you John. I will go through my day sadder but somewhat uplifted.

  67. What a wonderful tribute. The world needs more Jackies. I’m glad you had yours.

  68. Condolences, JS. People like her help save so many kids who are otherwise thrown away. May her memory always inspire you and help you through this difficult time losing a friend.

  69. You had an amazing friend there, John, and I’m am so happy for you to have known Jackie for so many wonderful years. I’m very sorry for your loss.

  70. I’m sorry, John. Thank you for telling us about her.

    and thank you, Jackie, for having helped John become who he is.

  71. Condolences for your loss, Mr Scalzi. She seemed like a remarkable person to have in your life.

  72. I am so sorry for your loss, John. She sounds like a wonderful person to have known.

  73. I almost feel like I knew her too, now. I imagine her listening to a bright, lonely boy with a broken leg, and I can imagine her standing up to school officials! Thank you for this wonderful portrait.

  74. I’m sorry for your loss. It is wonderful to read about her kindness, and the friendship that developed between you. I believe that the world has so many of those kindnesses and we just don’t hear much about them, so thanks for passing this one along. Love to her family, too.

  75. I’m sorry for your loss. That was a beautifully written tribute. She sounds like an amazing woman who was very influential in your life. Thank you for sharing her with us.

  76. Dammit, John, you made me tear up a bit. She sounds like a wonderful woman and I’m saddened by your loss (and her family’s loss).

  77. Thank You. Thank you for sharing who was obviously an amazing person and a huge part of your life.
    She lives on in you. We see parts of her is so many of your posts and deeds.
    People like Ms Kahn help make us better people.

    Thank You again for sharing.

  78. That was an amazing memorial for what sounds like an amazing person. My condolences for your loss, and my gratitude for what she gave you in life, so that you are here now to write these blogs and books and the rest of your work that we all so enjoy. She must truly have been an exceptional person.

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