Janette died last week. I learned this on Facebook.
Janette has always been someone who has challenged me to think about choices. Mostly it’s been Janette’s CHOICES that have challenged me.
Janette and I were in high school marching band together, in the woodwinds section. We weren’t close friends, but we were friendly and hung around together in the band section during football games. When she found me on FB, I didn’t think twice about accepting her friend request. We exchanged a few catch-up messages that were really more me telling my story more than actually asking about her life. Then, as so often happens on Facebook, the conversation dwindled out. And I didn’t think much about Janette again.
Janette’s life always followed a different track than mine. Shortly after she finished college, Janette chose a role that most women in their early 20’s don’t take on. Janette’s brother, Todd, was abandoned by his wife. Todd had a baby boy to care for and two jobs to juggle. Janette put her career plans on hold and stepped in to help her brother. She was caring for her nephew when tragedy struck and that little boy was diagnosed with leukemia.
At our 10-year high school reunion, most of us showed up with husbands in tow and pictures of our babies and toddlers. A few women were pregnant. A few had older children. A few were still single and Janette was one of those. Janette, however, had her own pictures of “her boy.” She was fulltime caregiver for her nephew and she adored him. She showed off his picture just as proudly as if he were her own. The little guy was fighting the good fight against that leukemia.
At our 20-year high school reunion, many of us were dealing with adolescent kids. Some classmates were on their second or third spouse. Janette still had pictures of her nephew.
Just weeks earlier, Janette’s nephew had finally lost the leukemia fight as a young teenager. Janette wanted desperately to talk about how consuming the fight had been. She wanted to talk about her nephew’s last days. We listened, but not with a lot of comprehension or empathy. We really didn’t understand the road she’d been walking. All we saw was a 38-year-old woman who had devoted her entire life to a little boy who had just died. It looked like she had put her entire life on hold to care for her nephew. I secretly wondered what on earth she would do next. Had she missed the window of opportunity for her OWN happiness?
A few years ago, our 30-year high school reunion came and went. I didn’t attend because I lived across the country. I avidly pored over the photos that my classmates posted. Janette didn’t attend that reunion either and I don’t think anyone even wondered why. She had always been a pretty quiet person, so she probably wasn’t even missed.
Then Janette found me on Facebook two years ago. We exchanged those few messages. She really didn’t tell me much about her life and it never occurred to me to wonder much….until last week.
There in my Facebook feed was a status referring to Janette’s death. I did a huge double-take and scrambled to find out what happened. This is what I learned. After years and years of fighting breast cancer herself, Janette had finally died. I did some mental math. By my calculations, Janette received her cancer diagnosis only two years after her nephew slipped away. Years of photos show pictures of Janette, bald from chemo and looking really rough…for YEARS.
I realized that now I knew the answer to what came next for my high school friend after her nephew died. She faced her own mortality. The funeral home’s guestbook entries reflected a woman who was deeply loved, who deeply cared for others, who constantly “did” for others, who lived her life serving the people around her. Even though she never had the time or opportunity to marry and have her own family, her life was far from empty.
And then she died, three days after her 50th birthday.
Janette’s community mourns her loss deeply.
And I’ve been thinking about choices. About the paths our lives take, sometimes paths we knowingly choose, sometimes path we don’t consciously choose. Janette’s path was so very different from my own, but clearly right and good. Part of me feels a little sorry for the things that Janette never got to experience, but I’m not sure that’s the RIGHT thing to feel. I think that probably, at the end of the day, Janette knew she’d made the right choices all along. In fact, I know that she knew this.
You see, the last message Janette sent me on Facebook said, “I hope all continues to go well for you. God certainly is good. He takes us down paths that we don’t expect, doesn’t He and things always seem to work out.”
Rest in Peace, dear Janette.