Jean was love personified.
Pretty and petite, she had a frail build that belied the courage and strength within.
Her oncologist, Dr. Marina Chua Tan, described her as a brave and selfless warrior to the end. She was “truly selfless; she took each treatment with faith and in good stride, amazing many of us.”
Jean, she says, would text her to ask if she had gotten enough sleep or rest after a long day in the hospital. But that was typical of Jean, who cared for family and friends in a truly exceptional way.
Jean fought hard for two years, but in the end, she succumbed to the new coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
I met Jean in college in the early 1980s. Many of us were naturally drawn to her because she had a smile that could 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 spoke her mind out but never in a way that would be offensive.
She was funny and very wise. Because we both spoke Cebuano, we got an occasional kick from speaking Bisaya in a room where no one else understood us.
Jean had a gift for making you feel like you were the most important person in the room. When she listened, you knew 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 after many years.
Mike Alcazaren, her coparent at Keys, said that Jean was always checking on the other children in school.
“Not a cursory ‘Hi,’ ‘Hello’ or ‘How are you?’ but she knew their stories, not because she was nosy but because she was genuinely interested.
“She was always asking what I did as director. 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 even if Metro Manila was flooded.
“When she found out I was publishing a series of comic books, she made sure to get copies.”
My friendship with Jean was solid and deep, even if there were years we were out of touch.
We would often chat on Messenger these last couple of years, and she would often refer friends to me who were grieving or having a tough time.
She liked 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.
Since she passed away last May 8, I have been reviewing all the messages we sent each other 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 reread them, I can hear the joy in her voice and imagine the twinkle in her eyes.
As 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 Mickey says, “She’s the more popular Paterno.”
Before her cancer diagnosis, she took excellent care of her sister, Marilou, who would die a few months before Jean began her battle with the big C.
You would never think that Jean was ill because even at the most difficult moments, she would 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 groupmates 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 [us] 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 a eulogy, her youngest sister, Vange, recalled one of their conversations while Jean was in the hospital. 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 loved, just like you were by 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.