JessieMay Kessler has always been a woman of substance, able to work through life’s challenges with grace and aplomb. She grew up in Shirley, Massachusetts and attended the University of Massachusetts hoping to become a writer. But when she got a D- in English Composition after her first semester, she was advised to change her major. Her roommate was a home economics major and so she decided to jump on that useful if not traditional bandwagon. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in home economics, planning to go into teaching.
She came to Connecticut after graduation and took a job on the coast. She met her first husband, Rev. Frederic Franzius at the United Church of Shirley when she was asked to fill in as a date for the visiting minister at a Maundy Thursday dinner. She arrived home at 4 a.m. telling her mother, “That’s the man I’m going to marry.” They were married 13 years – thirteen years filled with physical and emotional abuse according to JessieMay. He suffered from depression and lost several jobs in ministry. When he began selling encyclopedias door to door, his unemployment made her panic, and she began a dress making business out of her home. They had two daughters together as well as an adopted daughter. In 1976 she found the strength to file for divorce.
Not long after, in 1977 she met Sy Kessler and her life was about to change. She was pursuing counseling with Rev. David Eaton, a chaplain at Lawrence and Memorial Hospital and it turned out Sy was too. David was trying to wrap up one-on-one therapy with JessieMay, encouraging her to check out a support group he was leading, and that’s where she met Sy, who was also getting divorced.
“I knew quickly with that first hand hold,” says JessieMay. “That was my first clue there was mutual interest. The first time I laid eyes on him. I recognized that he was orderly and organized, down to earth, practical, but he had a rebel streak. That willingness to think outside the box sometimes was the glue that held us together. He also was a wonderful romantic. He was kind and compassionate. He had a great sense of humor, underneath a real serious exterior. ” They met in August and married in February 1978 living in Niantic the next 35 years.
In 1979 JessieMay returned to school to study pastoral counseling at St. Joseph College in West Hartford but that didn’t work out and she graduated with a Master’s degree as a Licensed Practicing Counselor. She did an eight week practicum at a YMCA for people going through divorce and eventually was able to work at the Manchester Pastoral Counseling Center which she did for seven years. She had a private practice in Niantic for more than 30 years. Despite those earlier reviews from her English professor, she pooled her desire to write, with her expertise as a therapist, writing a column called Tidbits from the Couch for the Post Road Review. Her column was edgy, about psychology and family. “I believe that I was writing something that stretched people’s minds and emotions.” The editor did not always agree and in 2014 after 17½ years, he pulled the plug on her column.
In 2013 she and Sy moved into their summer cottage in Dayville while their dream home was being built in Colchester. They wanted to be closer to family and grandkids. They moved into the home they planned to spend their retired years together in September of that year, and two months later Sy passed away unexpectedly.
He had a history of heart problems. In 2008 he had triple bypass heart surgery and was managing with several medications. He had a bout of arrhythmia a couple weeks before his death, and went by ambulance to the emergency room. He returned home but a week later was back at the hospital with further complications. She went to watch television with him and was annoyed when he slept through one of their favorite shows. She ran errands the next day hoping he would have improved upon her return. But when she arrived to have dinner with him, she learned that he was in recovery after having his kidney removed and it went downhill from there. They told her he wouldn’t make it through the night. And he didn’t.
“The Colchester Federated Church has wrapped their arms around me,” says JessieMay. ”We had a very happy marriage. Life with Sy was comfortable and honest, he was always interested in what you were doing. He was concerned for me and the kids. He was dedicated, responsible, and affectionate.”
What she misses most is his friendship and she finds comfort in talking to photos of him every night. When she runs a problem by him a solution appears. JessieMay has three manuscripts in process as her call to writing continues. And six months after Sy passed away she ventured with some trepidation onto Match.com and OurTime.com, two online dating sites.
“We had an agreement,” says JessieMay, “That if one of us went early, the other would not sit around and suck their thumb. We would get out there.”
Overall the results to her latest endeavor have been frustrating and disappointing at best. She has encountered people not being truthful, people from too far away, people who “wink” but don’t respond when you write. She even dared to venture on a couple dates with a man who eyed her new home with admiration, and wanted to know which side of the bed he’d have, quite ready to move in. She even met a nice man from her church, but that was a story of unrequited admiration so that didn’t really work out. She’s on hiatus from that path for the moment, but is open to where life takes her in the dating department. Her companions now are two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels named Cara Cozi and Markey Mark who she affectionately refers to as Lady and the Tramp. She has no problem sharing her lovely home with them.
JessieMay celebrated her birthday in February with a Tarot reading and asked if she should continue her search for a new partner or work on her writing. The answer was to work on her writing. The book: her memoir. She hopes to finish it this year and believes she needs to finish that project before she can move on in another relationship.
That night in the waiting room after Sy passed away, she went to her soon to be son-in-law and asked, “What’s the next step?”
He said, “The next step is to call the funeral director. Do I need me to drive you home?”
“No I can drive myself home,” said JessieMay. She repeated, “Life is for the living,” all the way home. She only hit the rumble strip once.
The next day her older sister advised her, “Remember little sister, one foot in front of the other.”
JessieMay is a vibrant 75 year old and is still open to meeting someone to share her life with and is open to working with new clients. She enjoys music and is active in her church choir. Music has been a big help in getting through this challenging time, and has always been a big part of her life. She used to enjoy cooking but doesn’t do it much for herself. She loves art and her gardens which she makes too big no matter what house she lives in.
“Most of the time I’m happy. There is a stream of grief that runs underneath everything and I’m not sure if that ever goes away. I think I’m far more content with who I am at the moment than I used to be. I’m somewhat of a dependent personality and without anyone to lean on, I’ve had to find some strength. I have a strong spiritual nature, not so religious as spiritual. I have a strong sense of connection with Sy. I also believe that you don’t lose someone like this if another relationship comes along. They just kind of move over and another relationship moves in.”