By definition, I am a family man. I have a family, a family and a family. Let me explain.
I have a family, part 1: Those are my folks in the photo, David and Judy Jones. This photo was taken during their visit earlier this year, when Janie was still with us. Janie is behind the camera on this one.
I think mom and dad fell in love with Janie before I did. They were thrilled and excited the minute they met her all those years ago in Colorado. It’s a story I hope to relate here sometime.
Mom and dad walked with us as a couple through some very tricky times during our six years in the States from 2003 to 2009. They were parents and pastors, friends and leaders, sharers in both our burdens and joys. They wept with us when Janie miscarried, and rejoiced when Seanie and Sophie were born. Dad presided over our marriage in 2002, and dedicated both of our babies to the Lord. Mom was Janie’s mom too, a friend, a confidant, and one whom Janie trusted implicitly. She called them mom and dad, and never referred to them even to me by any other title. They were not “your parents.” They were mom and dad.
This is my big brother, Tomas. After meeting Janie back in 1999 during a short visit of her’s to America, he asked if she had any sisters. To him, Janie was the baby sister he always wanted. There’s a funny story related to that which I might relate someday, but suffice to say that he never treated or saw Janie as someone from outside the family.
When Janie and I moved to the States in 2003, we spent several months living at Tomas’ house in Newark. He was able to arrange a job for her at Toscana, and it was there where she eventually bumped into the inimitable Patrick Callahan from the Archer Group, where she embarked on a career in online media that stood her in good stead for the rest of her short life here on this rock.
The months spent at Tomas’ house solidified a friendship and love between them, all of us, really. We were a bit of a gang there for a while. Some of my fondest memories of our time in the States were formed at the little house on Brennan Drive.
This is Randy: brother, friend, best man at my wedding, pedant, spouter of dreadful puns, teacher of English to a generation of little emperors in China who firmly believe plagiarism is their birthright, and so much more.
Randy lives in China, and thus only had the opportunity to hang out with Janie and our little family sporadically over the years. Nevertheless, this did not stop him from inflicting grievous punnery on Janie at every opportunity. His quirky humour and interesting insights were something she always cherished. Their long conversations on the couch at my parent’s house off of Kirkwood Highway in Newark, Delaware stand out in my mind. I love my brother, and my brother loves to talk. As do I. As do all Joneses. Janie was such a good listener. She listened and listened and listened to us over the years.
She was us. We were she. We have lost so much.
I have a family, part two: those are my folks in the photo to the left, Al and Sue Spence. These two people are responsible for the single greatest gift of my life: Janie. I owe them everything. My parents gave me life by bringing me into this world on 27 November, 1975, in Porto Alegre, Brazil. My mom and dad Spence gave me life by allowing their 18 year old daughter to travel to the States to attend a YWAM [Youth With A Mission] DTS [Discipleship Training School] in April 1998. These two events are, without a doubt, the most important of my life. While their gift to me in the form of Janie has left this world, they continue to give me hope and a sense of calm on a day to day basis that without would leave me careening against the rocks and boulders of my grief.
Mom and dad Spence are also responsible for bringing two of history’s most fantastic young women into the world: my sisters Philippa and Andi.
This is my big little sister, Philippa. I have often joked that we should have gotten married, and then we would Phil and Phil Jones. Silly and serious in equal measure, Philippa is among the most competent and compassionate people I have ever met. A nutritionist by trade, she dispenses knowledge on all things food related with a confidence and authority that are informative and engaging at the same time. Her devotion to her family, her husband Will Barnard, and Seanie and Sophie are a testament to the calibre of person she is. I admire, love and like her all at once. She is a my big little sister, younger in age but an old, wise soul. The world is a better place because of her.
This is my baby sister Andi. As any big brother to a younger sister knows, I feel a tiny bit protective of her. She’s off in Korea right now, teaching English and experiencing the Far East. When I first met Andi, she was just a weedly little snip of a girl, awkward in her Standard 5 [translation for my American friends: seventh grade] uniform, and unsure of who this loud yank was. Over the years she has flourished into an accomplished, intelligent and creative young woman. While not known for her organizational skills, from the maelstrom of her personal environment she conjures art, beauty and meaning through her singing and mosaics. Like a deep, old well whose depths have never been measured, you can know much and almost nothing at all about her at the same time. A joy to be with and talk to, my baby sister is one of my favorite people in the world.
The Spence Girls Three are a force of nature, and when coupled with the indefatigable optimism and can-do attitude of their wonderful parents, form the warm, beating heart of a family that can quite literally overcome any obstacle. The Spence’s took me in all those years ago when I was just a young man who had chased the love of his life out to South Africa. They accepted me, earrings, funny accent and all into their family, and have poured wisdom, kindness and bucketloads of silliness into me. I could not fit have fitted into any other family, anywhere, ever. Of this I am convinced.
I am them. They are me. We have lost so much.
I have a family, part three: These are my gorgeous children, the lights of life, my precious gifts: Sean Callum and Sophie Renee Jones. There is much to say about them: Seanie is sweet, slightly shy and very sensitive. Sophie is brash, loud and hilarious. She is also one who is deeply concerned with others. Both inherited their mother’s best qualities while also managing to be completely unique little people in and of themselves. They are exceptional human beings, worthy of the Jones and Spence pedigree from which they came.
Janie’s devotion to her children is, perhaps, the thing I miss the most about her. I have said other things to other people that are all the things I miss “the most.” These things vary in degree only inasmuch as to when I say them. At one moment, I miss her steadiness. At another, I miss her humour. At another, I miss the feel of her body next to mine in bed. But when you boil it all down, two people become one, and from that love springs forth life. Metaphorical life, in the sense of the combined experiences of two people that become a combined narrative, an inextricably woven tapestry of memory, which gives meaning to both lives in unison. It also gives birth to real, literal life. Our love brought forth Seanie and Sophie. Two lives, two individuals whom Janie devoted her life to. Her every thought, every effort, every sacrifice was for them. When I say I miss her devotion to our children most of all, I miss what its absence has caused: an impoverishment. Seanie and Sophie are the poorer for losing their mother because her love for them was a powerful, life-giving thing.
They are us. We are they.
We have all lost so, so much.
To separate family, family and family is an exercise in expediency since, in reality, these are not separations of scale or importance. We are a family. All of us. We are each other in a very real sense.
A vital component has been lost. We have all lost so much, all of us, every one. I do not believe any one has lost more than the other, but the loss means slightly different things to each of us in our large, loving family.
Thankfully, there is love. So much of it. We grieve a massive loss, but despair will not camp out in our midst like an invading army. The love that from which we all sprang into this world, from our different streams and different places of the globe is still there.
That is the rich legacy of the Spence-Jones clan: love. I love my family. Every one of them. From here I came and from here I will launch into this next, if unwelcome stage of life. I weep every day. I will for a long time still. But every day I see my mom Spence and receive one of her life-giving hugs, I stand in the middle of the river of that love. Every time my mom Jones writes me an email to express her sorrow, there too I stand in the middle of that river of love. Every time Tomas calls me at 11pm (check the time zones, bud), I stand in the river. Every time my dad Spence explains the financial spreadsheet he’s drawn up for me, I stand in the river. Every time Philippa wells up with tears of longing for her sister, I stand in the river. Every time Randy emails me with another stomach-churning pun, I stand in the river. Every time Andi emails a link to a song that reminds her of Janie, I stand in the river. Every time my dad Jones prays for me on Skype, I stand in the river.
It washes over me and cleans out the wound that threatens to close up and infect my soul.
Love cleanses, love heals.
We have all lost so much, but love is the great balancer of the books. Thank you, my family. I love you all.
Originally published August 12, 2011