On Wednesday, November 28th, 2013, sitting in the same room where nine years earlier we had celebrated the marriage of Jess and Steve, and now where we were celebrating the life of Jess after her sudden death was a strange, unnerving, and sad experience. There was hope, but it was mixed with grief. Many of the people who were in the youth group and in Steve’s worship band around the time when Jess and I were finishing high school were there, so it was reunion-like, but the reason to gather was not happy. Many people at the funeral knew Steve more than Jess, so here’s a bit of about this beautiful lady who is now peacefully with Jesus:
When I started attending the youth group at Calvary Church when I was sixteen, I was hesitant to fully jump in until I felt the welcome of many wonderful folks. One of the people I connected with was Jess Gelso. She had a bright smile, a gentle voice, sparkling eyes, and this wonderful dark, curly hair. She played soft-ball, and loved playing with kids.
We must have connected at the Intense Discipleship Training program Calvary offered during the summer. I remember helping out at the King’s Castle outreach that Jess was deeply involved with, so I think that’s where we connected, and it was over art!
Jess would drive an hour out to where I lived on a farm with my family, and she would hang out with all of us, but she and I would usually make something creative. I think she was the one who introduced me to using acrylic paint, and she taught me how to use hodge-podge glue to make collages of bits of paper.
Life moved on, but Jess and I would connect often at church and then occasionally hang out. Jess went away to college and came back, she fell in love with Steve, and then had an amazingly sparkly diamond on her finger. I had her over and we were making something at my parents’ kitchen table when she said, “Steve and I would love to have you be in our wedding!” I accepted and was SO excited to be part of their big day.
Jess chose an amazing bridesmaids dress for all of us bridesmaids to wear: It was the shade of eggplants, it was elegant and fun because it had a bit of netting underneath that made its long skirt to puff out just a bit. She gave each of us small silver crosses to wear. I’ve worn that dress and necklace multiple times since then.
Jess was the friend that helped me get started wearing make-up. She didn’t require me to wear it for the wedding, she just gave me some tips, and I was finally ready to learn.
Being with Jess and Steve on their wedding day was an honor. My favorite part was after they were married, we went outside into the chilly, clear October day to take photos on the hill next to the church. We were all so happy. It was freezing, but the photos turned out stellar. Jess told me one time that one of her favorite things about Steve is that he made her laugh.
After Jess became Mrs. Andres, I hung out with her every so often, but life picked up speed for both of us, so our visits got farther and farther apart. Many Christmas Eve services I would run over and say “Hi!” to her as she sat with the Andres clan. I would call and leave voice mails for her and we would occasionally text. The last text I had from her was on August 12th and she was letting me know I accidentally left a message for the Jess I work with on her voice mail, and she wanted me to know–she ended it with “:) hope you are well! Good night!” I texted her back letting her know I was well and with a photo of my nephew.
Even though the last season of my friendship with Jess wasn’t close, I always knew she was my friend. Now that I know I will never see her again, there’s a gap. How do you process losing a friend unexpectedly?
Here’s some things that are helping me:
My first response to the news was just to cry, so let yourself just cry and be sad.
I’m grateful I could attend the funeral and receive love from so many people that knew I had been friends with Jess. Hugs help a lot.
At the funeral I let myself feel the sadness, and when the casket passed by I said my final “good-bye.” The funeral was filled with photos, video, memories of her smiling, so that’s how I will remember her–her eyes sparkling and her wonderful laugh.
Talking about Jess with people who knew her has helped, and writing about her helps too.
I’m so thankful that Jess was part of my life. She gently loved me, encouraged me, and I’m so glad we created things together. Jess is missed, and I will not forget her. I’m glad she can now create with colors none of us have ever seen, and she gets to be with Jesus.
Jess, give Jesus a hug from me, and let Him give you a hug from me. I’ll see you later, Jess.
Heaven is richer now.
P.S. A book that has helped me process grief is: