Sissy Jarrell

The Giving Season of Her Life

SissyJarrellSissy Jarrel
The Giving Season of Her Life

by Mary Hope Roseneau
Photography by Christian Lee

Sissy Jarrell’s street is like so many others. Huge piles of debris and massive cut trees block the view of the house, but I spotted her number and rang the bell. She opened the door with a big smile and a wonderful whiff of simmering chili.

“Excuse the onions,” she said, as she gave me a big hug. We first met 43 years ago, teaching school in Beaufort! It’s the first time we’ve met up again since retirement.
“I know, I know. . .” she said as we compared gray hair. Hers is actually silver—short, curly and cute, having grown back not long ago from breast cancer chemo.
“I understand you are quite the sensation here on the island with elderly folks who need rides,” I began.

She laughed, “Don’t call them elderly! I just have a new career of being available for ladies who are undergoing chemo, or need to get to appointments, and it’s no big deal. I don’t want this article to be about me tooting my own horn.”

Sissy retired as an administrator from the Beaufort County School District and went right to the Hilton Head Island First Presbyterian Church Day School as Director of its Reggio Emilia curriculum. Students from USCB go there to observe the relaxed, child-centered learning environment, and Sissy was well-loved. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of 2014 and retired the next year. “It was just time to leave,” she said.

Her treatments and surgery were “just a season” in her life, she said. She shared her notebook with all the paperwork regarding her cancer experience, along with quotes, pictures and scriptures. Ecclesiastes 3:1— “To everything there is a season. . .” is a favorite of hers. She realized this was a time for her to stop, reflect and listen for her next direction in life. Her previous days were a whirlwind of meetings, activities, children (her own two girls, as well as thousands of others), but being sidelined with a cancer diagnosis gives one time to think.

The new “job” as chauffeur to friends and acquaintances came about naturally. After her recovery, she heard about a woman who had just been diagnosed and needed a ride to appointments. Sissy said, “I can do that.” The ladies may or may not have a spouse available to take them, and most have grown children who live somewhere else. And, sometimes folks like to talk about their diagnosis difficulties and fears to someone who is not family. It’s been a couple of years now and she is as busy as ever. It’s a “word of mouth” ministry, and often, it is just about taking time to listen and talk.

Over the past two and a half years, Sissy has come up with some great tips for her friends. She brings them a big water mug to track the water they need to drink. She knows tricks with hair scarves. She gives them a notebook, like hers, to organize all the mounds of paperwork that come with medical tests and hospital stays. She takes pictures of their medications with their cellphones, so they easily have the answer to “what medications are you on?”

But Sissy emphasizes that it’s not just about what she gives to them. “I get so much more in return! Please emphasize that in the article,” she repeats. Her sister’s death from ovarian cancer affected Sissy deeply, and she feels that this is her way of honoring her.

“Don’t skip this part of your life,” she advises. Sissy has discovered there are lessons to learn in all seasons, especially that in giving to others, you receive so much in return.

Oh yes, that chili she was cooking? It was White Chicken chili, going to a friend who just had knee surgery. She’s a lucky gal to have Sissy in her life.


Is anybody happier because you passed his way?
Does anyone remember that you
spoke to him today?
This day is almost over
And its toiling time is through.
Is there anyone to utter now a
Friendly word for you?
Can you say tonight in passing
With the day slipping so fast
That you helped a single person
Of the many that you passed?
Is a single heart rejoicing over
What you did and said?
Does one whose hopes were fading
With courage look ahead?
Did you waste the day or lose it?
Was it well or poorly spent?
Did you leave a trail of kindness
Or a scar of discontent?
Sissy has this poem on the cover of her
cancer notebook. The author is unknown.


Up Close:

Sissy’s suggestions:
>> Don’t see a sick person as their diagnosis, i.e. “cancer patient.” See them as a normal person.
>> Just be available. Let people know you are there for them. Maybe it’s hair shampooing, pet sitting, or picking up someone from the airport, whatever!
>> Be open to what comes your way in life. Blessings are sometimes in disguise.