The value of encouragement

Friday, February 3, 2012
Murray Bishoff

Young people seldom think about what kind of impact they have on other people. They are keenly aware of being accepted or not in any given situation. But after that, most young people are too busy thinking about what to do next than wondering about what they've done, especially if nothing unusual is going on.

Jenny Garner, of Pierce City, who passed away unexpectedly this past week at age 17, was probably not much different than most of her peers in that regard. Yet Jenny made a conscious effort to have no regrets, because she was an encourager. She shared her smile and laughter freely, made a habit out of doing things for other people and being a friend.

When someone like that is gone, suddenly everyone knows it.

The line for Jenny's visitation at the First Congregational Church in Pierce City on Tuesday night extended for two blocks. The common memory was a warm feeling that lingered from Jenny's presence, how being around her from the things she did and said made others feel good.

The telling story was shared in the eulogy by State Senator Jack Goodman, a long-time family friend, during the funeral on Wednesday in the Pierce City High School gym. Goodman recounted how a fellow high school student had gone to Jenny's home to express his condolences. Asked if Jenny had been a close friend, the boy said "no," but what mattered was "she was always really nice to me."

Her parents said there were many things Jenny had done that they did not know about until classmates told them--so many little acts of kindness and friendship.

So it was very fitting that Goodman asked those attending the funeral to rise if Jenny had touched their lives, and everyone did. Then he asked those present to applaud her parents, Bryce and Julie Garner, for the good job they had done. The applause went on for a long time.

Experts say there's a big risk in using a public facility like a school for a big funeral. It leaves a lasting memory of hurt and loss.

In the case of Jenny Garner, like beloved coach Doug Weatherly, whose funeral was also held in the school gym, remembering someone who lifts everyone up has the opposite effect. Recalling them gives the place a warmth their memory left behind.

School board member James Barchak commented before the funeral that the Pierce City School District has had too many funerals like this. Losing two special people far too soon in a little over a year is too many. The little things they did added up to big memories. They challenge us to weigh the memories we leave with those who cross our paths.