Showing up can make all the difference
The Rev. Jeanne Marie Pupke (1955-2022) modeled what it means to show up for the big things and for the little ones.
NJeanne is one of three women I’ve written about who died after I conceived of “Accidental Mentors.” A couple of years before she died, I told her about my idea to honor women who had shaped my life. She expressed her usual enthusiasm about my writing projects, “That’s sounds just great! When are you going to start? How can I help?” She always asked that last question, even if she figured I’d say there was nothing she could do.
“Maybe later,” I replied. “Once I get something written, I’d love for you to be an early reader.” Jeanne, a Unitarian Universalist minister, was a person who served others in whatever capacity she could, and I knew she would take this on with gusto.
A few years before, I had told her I planned to offer a women’s writing retreat at a campground in the area. Not only did Jeanne ask how she could help, but specifically offered to handle the food for the weekend-long event. I’m not a fan of meal planning, even for myself, as Jeanne well knew, so I jumped at this offer. But before she committed to doing it, I wanted to be certain she knew what she was volunteering for. “You realize I’m talking about the entire weekend, right—from a Friday evening reception through Sunday lunch?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’ll be fun,” she replied with her big laugh and wide smile. I could almost see through her baby blue eyes to that giant brain of hers, which had obviously already begun planning the menu. Jeanne loved to cook and as a former RVer, she knew the challenges of campground meals. This didn’t faze her.
By the time of the retreat, she had all the meals planned, shopping and food prep done, and was ready to serve them. I never had to worry about a thing, including the budget. With the help of her wife, Regina, Jeanne set up, served, and cleaned up after each meal, and on top of that, made sure snacks were available throughout the weekend. She even built a campfire and provided s’more fixings for everyone. Above all else, Jeanne knew how to show up.
Jeanne showed up in her professional life, too. When a minister in the area died by suicide, Jeanne responded by offering pastoral care to the members devastated by the death. But she didn’t stop there. For the next two years, while maintaining her duties as senior minister in her own congregation, Jeanne cared for the people in this one, guiding them and helping them heal. Jeanne’s steadfast commitment to aiding them through this tragedy taught the congregation that they were not only able to overcome it, but that they could accomplish great things because of their renewed connection with each other.
Within a few years after Jeanne started working with the congregation, they had sold their building, bought and renovated a new one, and called a new minister. I doubt any of that would have happened without the gift of Jeanne’s time and attention. She modeled what showing up means by returning time and time again until she knew they could hold themselves up.
When I asked her why she gave this congregation so much of her time, Jeanne replied with a shrug, “Because I thought I could help.” It was as straightforward to her as that. If she could do something, she did it. I’ve never known anyone who lived her commitments so fully, and for whom showing up when she thought she had something to offer was as natural as cooking dinner.
Jeanne’s sudden passing came much too soon. The world lost a bright light, and I lost a dear friend who taught me about so many things, but most of all about showing up for the people in my life. One ministerial colleague described Jeanne as someone who provided her with a “blanket of protection,” for whenever and however she needed it. That was Jeanne. To those who crossed her path, she offered a moral compass, a heart as big as the ocean, and some mighty fine mac and cheese.
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