Good-bye to Jiggs

May 5, 2019

He was Jiggy until he got into high school and felt he needed a more dignified moniker. He became Jiggs: my next older brother, three years older than I.

His given name was Hal. Hal Andrew Mitchell. But it always seemed like an affectation when he introduced himself that way.

Ours was a stressful relationship for much of my life. Mom always said it was because I displaced him as the youngest in the family, but I think it was more than that. My two oldest brothers were always best buddies, stellar atheletes and students. Jiggs was the third son and my father’s namesake. He was a good student, but never in the running for valedictorian. He was good, but not as exceptional as the older two. He didn’t realize that he was exceptionally intelligent until he was an adult. He was also an outstanding athelete, playing defense on the high school football team and even making the JV BYU team. But he shone brightest as a wrestler, even earning a scholarship to BYU. Our family, especially our Mom, had always revered football players and he wasn’t as much in the limelight as the eldest had been.

When I was born, Dad said to Mom, “You finally got your girl.” But what did that imply to the older brothers, especially the darling boy who was no longer the baby? Had Mom been yearning for a girl all along?

I think, as my sister Mary expressed it, Jiggs was looking for respect. As a young child, he didn’t know how to earn it with such stiff competition in my two oldest brothers and so he tried to extract it from the younger, weaker sisters. But giving in to that impulse left him feeling guilty and sometimes depressed.

Jiggy teased and sometimes even tortured me. The darkest time between us was probably when I was 11-13. His name for me was Fat-n-ugly and he applied it liberally. To me, he and his friends were glamorous and mature. I grew so self-conscious that I could hardly function. I remember wishing that giant sacks that would cover every inch of my developing body would come into fashion.

Through our teen years, thing got better between us. At the stake dances, if he saw me not dancing, he’d ask me to dance. I was so pleased to have him ask me! He generally treated me with courtesy. My school friends all thought he was very attractive.

I remember one day when I was a high school sophomore and he was a senior. We had a wrestling pep rally during the last 45 minutes of school that day. Jiggs was the star of the wrestling team and when he walked into the assembly in his wrestling penny, an audible gasp of admiration rose from the female students. One of my friends said “OOH la la! You have to introduce me!” Another girl nearby said, “I think I just became a fan of wrestling.” He looked like Atlas with broad, muscular shoulders and a trim waist. I always thought (and think) all my brothers are handsome.

I told him about it later and he seemed so surprised. I said “Didn’t you hear what they were yelling?”

“I was too nervous to pay any attention to it. Are you SURE they were talking about me?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.” I had the strange mix of feeling proud and embarassed at the same time. It was wierd to think of girls looking at him THAT way.

That was a window into his psyche that I had never seen through. He didn’t know how desirable he was. He later told me that he struggled with very low self-esteem and self-doubt throughout high-school.

Most people that knew him well, knew him to be exceedingly frank. One night on the way home from a stake dance, I was sitting in the middle of the front seat with him in the passenger seat and a few older kids in the back. He asked me if I had enjoyed the dance. I said I had. He asked me if I danced with anyone I particularly liked. I answered, “no one in particular.”

“That’s good,” he answered. “Because your breath smells like horse crap.”

Of course my mind raced to remember who I had danced with. But it was not surprising, considering that I always fasted the day of a dance so I wouldn’t look fat. I was 5’6″ and 124 pounds. The “Fat-n-ugly” image hadn’t completely worn off.

At least we didn’t fight anymore. He took to calling me by a gentler nicname. When I was very little, he called me ‘Buffy’, and then “Bethy” and eventually all my older brothers took to calling me ‘Beh’ (Beth was much too much of a mouthful.)

He served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mexico. It was a difficult, yet life changing and self-defining experience for him. He learned to love the people he served and he had great success. He also learned what it meant to to love selflessly as he worked and lived with his companions.

He was the king of nicknames. His youngest son, Patrick’s nickname is ‘Lavern” (?????) and his second son Ben’s nickname went from Ben to Bean to Frijole, (Spanish for ‘bean’.)

Jiggs married a smart, saintly woman named Julie. As intense as he has always been, it can’t have been easy for her. But she is steadfast, faithful and loving. I think he has always realized that he had extremely good judgement when he courted and caught her. She is a beloved prize of a woman.

I think they had been married only 5 years when they had four boys, age four and under. After the twins, number 3 and 4, they had a short break while Jiggs finished med school and then they added two more boys and two girls to their family.

Jiggs decided to become a doctor early in his college career. He buckled down as a student and earned his way to success. He was a cautious, thoughtful physicican that always seemed to have his patient’s best interest and well-being at heart. He was interested in getting at the causes of illness, not just symptoms.

Success seemed added to success. As his family grew, his own thirst for understanding grew. He loved to study and learn. He searched the scriptures and a wide range of books for truth and understanding.

He was always intense. But just as he had long ago applied himself to persecuting his sisters, he applied himself to becoming a true disciple of Jesus Christ. In the cases where he knew he had wronged someone or as in my case, where there was still underlying tension, he actively strove to heal those relationships.

He spoke often of what it meant to be a true disciple of Christ. He made changes in his approach. He began calling me regularly, just to chat or to discuss something (like Americian History) of mutual interest. When two of my granddaughters had life-threatening medical problems within 9 months of each other, he called regularly to check on their progress and follow their treatment.

Julie was in Virginia helping with new grandbaby, number 19 for them, and couldn’t get ahold of Jiggs. (She calls him Hal.) Even on Easter, he didn’t answer his phone. She called the neighbors on Monday morning and asked them to go check at their house in Oregon to see if he was all right.

They could see him sitting on the couch and called the Paramedics. Other neighbors had seen him running on Saturday, the day before Easter, in the early afternoon. He had been wearing a weighted vest.
He was still wearing the weighted vest, but his spirit had flown to heaven some time on Saturday afternoon. Other physcians in the family conclude that he overstressed his heart and a blood clot broke free, causing a heart attack.

Several years ago, he headed the hospice program for his county in eastern Utah. As part of that, he visited the dying and their caregivers. He often interviewed the dying to ascertain their expectations and what they thought about as the moment of death grew close. He told me about one woman who was a devout Christian. Her caregiver reported that as death drew near, she began to see angels. She saw family, smiling and welcoming. Then, she said “I see two hands, reaching out to me.” She paused and added. “The hands are pierced.”

The caregiver told her to take the hands and a moment later, she died.

Jiggs would have been surprised, I think, to see those pierced hands. He certainly wasn’t expecting it. He had gone on the Keto diet to help control his type-2 Diabetes and he took medicine for high cholesterol, but he exercised diligently and had lost most of the weight he needed to.

Jiggs was always full of questions. Now he has his answers. His life was in order.

We pray for Julie to have peace. She knows he’s fine. After the funeral, she said, “He’s having a great ol’ reunion on his side of veil, so he shouldn’t mind that we’re having one too.”

Five of his six sons have chosen medical careers. His daughers have grown into educated, righteous women.

Best of all, my brother is experiencing the full force of our Heavenly Father’s love. He finally comprehends the intimacy of the Savior’s atonement and nature of unconditional and complete love our Father in Heaven has for each of us.

He told my older brother Mark recently that when he stood before God that he could honestly say he had done his best. I believe him. Jesus will make up the difference.

His body is buried in the Orem Utah Cemetery. Mt. Timpanogus overlooks the green, quiet place. Pear blossoms drifted down over his flag-draped coffin.

Enjoy the peace, Jiggs. When I see you again, we will both be whole.

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  • Reply Wendy Bills May 5, 2019 at 5:10 pm

    Dear Beth –
    What a sweet, touching post. I’m so glad that you were able to mend fences and begin to develop a closeness with your brother before he was called home. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply Ray May 6, 2019 at 9:20 pm

    What a nice tribute to your brother. He was always nice to me when we were kids. And it sounds like he was a fine man. I’m sorry for your loss.

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