Coping with Grief
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Jay Edward Jensen was born April 30, 1948, to Gerald Jensen and Alta Gertrude (Larson) Jensen and was welcomed by two adoring older sisters Nan and Connie in Omaha, Nebraska. His sisters doted on him; his small hand always held safely in Nan or Connie’s hand offering protection, love and guidance. Their childhood was wonderful with loving, caring parents and the quintessential neighborhood with many children who played outdoors until the streetlights indicated it was time to head home. In Nebraska, Jay was an avid hunter and fisherman under the tutelage of his father and grandfather, whose gentle, skilled hands taught young, inexperienced hands the art and beauty of a perfect cast and the patience and focus of breath and control while youthful fingers squeezed the trigger for the first time. He earned his bachelor’s degree in finance from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and lived his whole life as a loyal and often disappointed but proud Huskers fan.
Shortly after the untimely passing of his father, Jay’s love of the outdoors and his quest for big game and bigger fish led him to Alaska. Here Jay’s natural adventures abound as he followed endless rivers teeming with salmon that legends are made of and climbed peaks chasing game over the snowy landscape. Perhaps his greatest catch in his Alaskan adventure occurred not in the rugged mountains or on the banks of the rushing rivers, but in a jazz-infused, smoke-veiled dive bar, where he met the love of his life, Sylvia Clemens. You can imagine the young couple tentatively holding hands against the harsh Alaskan cold as they prepared unaware of the lifelong journey punctuated by their love for the outdoors, mountains, rivers, lakes and open space they were about to embark upon. They were married in Alaska on July 10, 1971, accompanied by Jay’s mother and the expansiveness of Alaska.
Following their Alaskan exploits, they returned to Grand Island, Nebraska, where Jay worked as a bank auditor. As they welcomed their son Michael in 1972, and daughter Jennifer in 1976, the two-hour nearness and support of the Omaha family was welcome and the many aunts, uncles, cousins became lifelong friends. Jay was the best father a child could ask for. Forever loving, caring and laughing. Jay’s gentle hands shepherding his family through the trials of childhood and passing on his love of hunting and fishing to Michael and Anne as his father had for him.
Once again the mountains beckoned to Jay and he left his Nebraska home for the last time to move to Bozeman, Montana. His youngest daughter Anne was the first Montana native of the Jensen family, born in 1978. Jay and Sylvia successfully ran an employment agency in Bozeman in the late 1970s and early 1980s when there was no employment in the area, a credit to Jay’s business acumen and perseverance in everything he did in life.
In 1983 Jay accepted a position at a bank in Billings and worked as a beloved and trusted banker in Billings for over 40 years. His move to Billings was a great opportunity for his family as the larger community offered more activities and shorter winters. In the banking arena, Jay’s firm handshake was his bond, more significant and meaningful than any signature or paperwork. His customers viewed him as a friend and sought out his business advice and over the years he became a pillar in the Billings commercial community.
Jay’s intense love of his family and the enjoyment he felt spending time with them coupled with his love for the outdoors and the hunting and fishing associated with the outdoors led him to purchase 20 acres in the Madison Valley. This modest retreat started out as a doublewide trailer which Jay spruced up by siding it with T 111 panels for the neighboring cattle and invading mice to admire. Once again, his skilled hands, with the help of family and friends, crafted a family cabin in 1994. His attention to detail placed windows overlooking the most breathtaking views the valley has to offer and he left one ugly, deformed log on the backside of the cabin to remind us all of the uniqueness and beauty of the imperfections in all of us and that these qualities are just as important as those we pride ourselves on. We all fondly use Jay’s comment, “Remember, it’s a cabin, not a Grand Piano,” as we work in our lives. In his last hours, Jay said, “Building the cabin with family and friends is one of my most loved accomplishments and memories.” From this mountain paradise, he, Mike and Anne harvested elk to feed the family, explored every drainage, mountaintop, stream, river and lake in the Madison Valley. Each evening at the cabin, Jay could be found sitting by the creek with Sylvia, his best friend, partner in everything, sharing a glass of wine as the setting sun lights the mountains on fire before disappearing behind the peaks, leaving the brilliant stars uninhibited by city glow.
To see his hands, large and calloused from the outdoors, nails often shades of black and blue from an ill-timed hammer blow from his retirement hobby of woodworking, gently leading his daughters as he walked them down the aisle at their weddings, the support these hands carefully gave courage with first steps for each of his seven grandchildren or his wide smile as he held the small son of a fellow Rotarian at a lunch was to understand the compassion, gentleness, love and support that Jay shared with everyone he encountered and modeled for his family. Jay treated every meal as a banquet which he blessed with a quick prayer and each day was a holiday greeted with thankfulness and gratitude.
To Michael, Jay and Sylvia’s eldest son, continue your love of hunting and the outdoors and the manner you have raised your kids to value conservation and all things outside. Anne, the youngest daughter and husband Jason, you share your dad’s business savvy and attention to detail. He was so proud to see you happy and excelling in such a successful business. Jen, the forever middle daughter, you exude your dad’s love, whether it be through your love of music and performance, your gift of unfaltering love as a mother or your compassion for those in need. Jay was so proud of his kids and all of their prismatic accomplishments. Sylvia, on his last day with us, Jay’s final words were, “you are the most wonderful woman in the world. These last 52 years with you could not have been better.” Sylvia, your care and love saw him through so many of life’s trials and tribulations and the love and joy you shared is an example to us all.
On April 8, 2023, Jay summited his final peak surrounded by those he loved most, tightly gripping Sylvia’s hand. As he embarked on this last adventure, not ready for his earthly end, his body was weak but his spirit strong. Jay focused on life and living even in the face of death. Some of the last words he heard were, “Dad, we are so proud of you for being so brave and we are so thankful for you.”
In Jay’s memory, be sure to tell your family and friends you love them at the end of each conversation, for the final “I love you” means the world and carries us through our grief. Enjoy the little things in life, a glass of wine with three ice cubes, the sun rising to reveal a herd of elk, biscuits and gravy, the rustle of dry grass and flutter of wings as pheasants lift to the air or that final sunset igniting the Montana sky in colors beyond human comprehension.
Jay was preceded in death by his parents, Gerald and Alta Gertrude Jensen; and his sister Nan. He is survived by his lifelong love, Sylvia Jensen; his three children; and seven (The Lucky Seven) heartbroken grandchildren who will miss their Papa but are so blessed to have made so many fond memories to warm their hearts and keep his memory alive.
He wished for any remembrances to be donated to The Billings West Rotary Club (he was a founding member), Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Pheasants Forever, or the Heart Association. His loving family thanks you all for your friendship, support, and love for the Jensen Family and all things Jay.