Rest in peace

Neighbor’s life modeled compassion
The Northview

Jan was my neighbor.

You wouldn’t have known her because she and Dar didn’t get out much.

They moved here in ’07 on account of the veterans home. They were two retired army nurses traveling across the countryside when the home caught their eyes. So they stayed. They and three cats — Willie, Annie and Winkie.  

(It was Annie or Winkie that had no tail, I don’t remember which was which. And one of them was Willie’s mother, too, but I never got that figured out.)

I never figured out Jan and Dar either. Dar was older by about 10 years, but Jan looked older by about 30. Jan weighed 90 pounds dripping wet and followed the “smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em” school of thought.

They were kind and gentle in a “nurse” sort of way, but they packed heat and drank beer for breakfast, too.

Before Luverne they lived in Alaska. They caught their own fish. They hunted their own meat. They chopped their own wood and worked at the VA. (The only reason they would get a new truck in Alaska, Jan said, is when they hit a moose with the old one.)

Jan was the resident nurse on Northview Drive. She aided more than one neighbor through terminal cancer. She dressed wounds, cleared tubes and was the on-call consultant when we needed her.

She tended to us — all the while caring for Dar, who suffered a debilitating stroke in 2008 that eventually led to severe dementia. For several years Jan helped Dar remember where she was, reminded her how to use the microwave and made sure she didn’t get lost in the yard.

Dar died in the veterans home in October. 

Jan died last week at age 68 in the Luverne hospital from complications of COPD. I don’t know what the death certificate lists as the cause of Jan’s demise, but it might as well say, “smoking.”

After Dar passed away, Jan relaxed a little. For a few weeks she slept the exhausted sleep of someone who’s been on call for years. Then she went to the neighbors’ for coffee. She got out a little. Sometimes we’d go to The Bean. She loved to talk politics.

On a good day, Jan would call the White House and stay on hold for hours simply for the sheer joy of hanging up on whoever finally answered. “If the White House is The People’s House and I am ‘the people’ then I don’t want Al Sharpton in my house.”  (Slam!)

Ah, sweet victory.

Then Jan would check the bird feeders, the squirrel feeders, the cat food dishes and have a smoke.

I think when Dar died, most of Jan died, too. They’d been together for 40 years. Apparently they both came from “rough homes” and didn’t have too many family connections, but they had each other through thick and thin.

I don’t know a whole lot about Jan. She didn’t talk much about herself. What I know about her I learned through observation. She was a woman of compassion who cared for the sick, tended God’s creation and who dedicated her life to a friend long after the friend forgot who she was. 

Jan was a true friend and a great neighbor. 

Rest in peace, Jan Riggens. We miss you.


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