TRR photo by Susan Wade

Kristin Hanson urges family and friends to follow her husband JJ’s example to be a light in the darkness during the celebration of JJ’s life.

Community says goodbye to a true hero

YULAN, NY — The snow and brutal cold of January 4 would not keep hundreds of friends and family from paying tribute to James Joseph Hanson Jr., known to all as JJ, who passed away on December 30 after a three-and-a-half year fight against brain cancer.

A mass was held at St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church in Yulan, attended by overflow crowds in both the sanctuary and rectory. His casket was escorted by members of the Knights of Columbus. After, the former Marine captain, who had served in Iraq, was honored by a contingent from the American Legion, who offered a three-gun salute; and by the Yulan Fire Department, of which Hanson was a member. An active-duty Marine presented to Kristin Hanson, JJ’s wife, the flag that had draped the casket.

In addition to Kristin, Hanson leaves his sons James, four and Lucas, six months; his parents, Jim and Doreen; three sisters and many other family members.

Following the Mass, a celebration of JJ’s life was held at Young Life at Lake Champion in Glen Spey. After a repast, a root-beer toast was made. Each table was festooned with JJ’s favorite junk foods, including Funny Bones, Skittles and beef jerky.

Kristin thanked the gathering of over 400 for their support, care and prayers during JJ’s illness. As she spoke, a video played on a screen behind her and along with photos commemorating JJ’s life were the words “BEcause THEre is LIGHT” in the darkness. She said that the way JJ lived was a reminder that there is hope in the darkest moments in this broken world.

The light JJ cast upon his world was a common theme among others who offered tribute. Kathy Gallagher spoke of her work with JJ to successfully block legislation to allow physician-assisted suicide in New York. JJ was a spokesman for this effort, given his history that at the time of his initial diagnosis, he was told to go home and set his affairs in order and was offered assistance in ending his life prematurely. Gallagher stated that JJ demonstrated authentically death with dignity.

An equally common theme was JJ’s commitment to caring for others. As a consequence of his illness, community members banded together to found the #can thurtsteel organization, which assists local residents in need. One friend said that even as the disease robbed the always articulate JJ of his ability to express himself, the last complete thought JJ was able to share with him was, “What can we do to help people?” Another reminded the assembly that even after he was past the point of medical intervention, he submitted to experimental treatments with the hope that the lessons learned by the medical community would someday be beneficial to others fighting the disease.

A business colleague and friend stated that despite his fighting spirit, JJ was a man of faith who lived in absolute submission to God’s will. He marveled at the supernatural grace with which JJ lived his life, and remembered him saying, on a particularly beautiful day they were together in Florida, that “the sunshine of St. Pete has nothing on the light of Christ.”

Yet another spoke of the relationship that JJ and Kristin shared as being “one of the greatest love stories of all time, taking place right here in Sullivan County.” 

Similarly, Jim Hanson paid tribute to his daughter-in-law, saying that if it weren’t for Kristin, they would not have had the additional time with JJ that they shared. “Her love and care was unbelievable. JJ was lucky to have a life-mate like Kris.” He also said that JJ enjoyed sending a Christmas card with a picture of the kids each year to the doctor who had given him four months to live.   

At the conclusion of the celebration, Kristin stated simply, “My heart is so full with the love you have for him and for us.”


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