There is a difference between all other moms and our mom, Jean Navitskis. You see, when she was first diagnosed with a terrible and rare cancer, the world came crashing down. We felt our world stop, but something happened. As we shared this painful news with others, we could see just how much she meant to everyone; we could see their worlds stop. Because our mom is different. Our mom is, quite simply, the best. It was all too often we would hear, “Oh you’re Jeanie’s daughter?! She’s so nice ... I love your mom! She’s the kindest person.” Now, depending on the ages we were when we heard these statements, our reactions would have been varied. Our ever-so-brief teenage years would have elicited a sigh or an eye roll.
But, as we all know, those teenage years don’t allow us to fully appreciate the most important people in our lives. And that is why it didn’t take much longer for us to learn to appreciate those words of “Jeanie Praise.” Those words were more than just compliments. For anyone who came into contact with our mom, those words of praise came easy and often. And as we grew older, these words gave us an appreciation for the kind soul she was. Those words of kindness showed us how beloved and truly wonderful our mom was because she was Jeanie, Jean, Jeanie the Weenie, String Bean, JVN, Mrs. Navitskis, Mom, Grandma, Aunt Jeanie. She was all of these and more. But however, you knew her, she was our mom, the one person we won’t forget.
“What Would Jeanie Do?” is the question that always comes to mind. The answer is simple. When it comes to the greatest loss of all, we would simply carry on. Jean was too practical to let a silly thing like death be a deal breaker. Process the information, learn from it, accept it, and move on. Or as she would say, “Make good choices and shut the door.” (A funny response by her oldest grandson answering her question “What do I always tell you?”)
Jean Frances Vecchiarelli Navitskis was born June 30, 1953, to Frank and Antoinette Vecchiarelli. She was the middle child. The only one with blonde hair and blue eyes in a sea of dark-haired and dark-eyed Italian family members. From an early age, Jean declared to her siblings, “You’re not the boss of me!” From the beginning, she knew what she wanted to do. Always. To the end. As a first-generation American, she learned the ways of her family’s Italian roots through the stories of her wonderful, adored, and greatly respected grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles and many cousins. She was a graduate of the Academy of Notre Dame in Washington, D.C., and Montgomery College in Takoma Park, Md. She worked with amazing individuals whom she would always give great respect to at the Secret Service, Gino’s (more on that later), Cedar Elementary School and Fidelity Investments until she retired, which moved her into a life of extended breakfasts filled with sudoku and crossword puzzles.
When young Jean was working at Gino’s, she met Anthony Navitskis. He was her boss. She didn’t want to date him, but he was persistent. And so, on Oct. 12, 1974, Jean and Tony married and with that, they started the best married life together. Tony’s work moved them away from the life they had known in the suburbs of D.C. They moved from Silver Spring, Md., to Harrisburg and Exton, Pa., to New Brunswick, N.J., and then to Hanover, Mass., before finally retiring to Lewes. During their 46-plus years of marriage, they became so synchronized with each other, it became very clear that Jeanie was the one who would keep everyone organized and Tony was the one who would keep everyone laughing. Together they would raise two daughters who didn’t know they hit THE PARENT JACKPOT until they were parents themselves.
Jean is survived by Tony, who truly represents the definition of adoring and supportive husband; daughters Gena Dant and Angela Smith; son-in-law Nate Smith; and grandchildren Lucia Dant, Eri, Leona, Torsten and Aleksas Smith. A special prayer for Jean’s late son-in-law, Darius Dant, Gena’s husband, who we lost just last month, far too soon, and miss dearly. Jean also leaves her siblings and in-laws Marie and Dennis Sharpe, Nancy McNally, James and Cathy Vecchiarelli, John Vecchiarelli, loving Navitskis in-laws, many nieces and nephews, and beloved friends who are just like family.
Always mistaken to be far younger than her actual age, Jeanie was frequently questioned if she was Tony’s daughter, which would elicit a big laugh. Or when having drinks with her daughters she would often be carded and was assumed to be another sister. Let’s not forget that lead foot she had while driving her Porsche. She enjoyed the act of driving. It wasn’t just a mundane action, but an event to enjoy. These reasons alone deepen our knowledge that heaven took an angel too early. She was just too young and too good. Perhaps you just cannot have both.
Don’t get us wrong, Jeanie absolutely did “old people things.” Retirement was good. She loved her grandkids, she loved writing to them and asking them questions of how they would solve problems. She loved cross-stitching. And while her prized Christmas stockings were a unique gift for those who received them (think Limited Edition), she completed her final goal of finishing the last full-size Christmas stockings for her five grandchildren just days before her passing. Once again, Jeanie knew what she was doing, and she was going to see it through. Jean loved sewing. Her prized sewing machine, a gift from Tony, has been used so much to make such wonderfully creative jumpers, skirts, dolls (remember the Cabbage Patch craze), reusable bags, comforters, and more recently face masks. To have one of Jean’s creations is an honor. Her creativity, ingenuity, and problem solving came out in her crafts. Her desire to reuse and recycle and her ideas of “I know what I can do” to simplify a situation were always motivating her to try new patterns.
Jean often managed her day, not by the hour, but by mealtimes. “We’ll leave after breakfast and arrive by dinner.” Yet she was an eat-to-live kind of gal. While everyone else ordered unhealthy food, she always opted for the healthier option. Jeanie loved sitting on the beach with her toes in the sand enjoying the waves. She enjoyed bike rides on the trails near their home in Lewes. She loved to go on walks. She collected sea glass on the beach, and once she collected all she wanted, she crafted a beautiful glass frame to hang in her kitchen window. Every morning from her usual spot at the kitchen table, she watched people walk by. She would drink her coffee or her water with lemon and work on her old-people brain puzzles.
We cannot forget that while we know she was taken from us far too early, she did her life her way and always to the fullest. We cannot be saddened by this. Because “you’re not the boss of me” would always ring on for Jeanie. She did what she wanted, how she wanted, and with the biggest heart and fullest effort, every time. Her parents and family instilled the admirable and remarkable desire to be a good, kind, honest and hardworking person who respected all, and that, she was. It is only when we are fully able to express our deepest love for the greatest mom that we are able to share her with God. May her soul be at peace knowing she did so much good. After all, everyone who met Jean, loved Jean.
As you contemplate how best to honor Jeanie, know that she enjoyed people doing what they love to do. Independent thinking - independent doing. Jeanie liked many things. She really enjoyed the Beatles. So, if you’d like to honor her, pick your favorite Beatles song, sit back and relax. Maybe light a candle. Maybe toast a drink with a friend. Maybe donate to your favorite charity. Maybe take a walk on the beach, alone or with a friend. Maybe have a family dinner (we always loved Taco Night). Maybe sit and do a sudoku puzzle. Jeanie would be happiest if you did what made you happy. No expectations. She will smile down on you if you do your best, be kind to others, and Make Good Choices.
For those wishing to make a contribution in Jean’s memory, may we suggest Delaware Hospice, who were so good to Jean, the St. Vincent de Paul Society at St. Edmond, or a charity near and dear to you.
Services will be private. Arrangements have been entrusted to Parsell Funeral Homes & Crematorium, Lewes. Please visit Jeanie’s Life Memorial webpage and sign her virtual guestbook at www.parsellfuneralhomes.com.