Losing Those We Love - The Passing of Janice
On February 5, 2010, Janice Smestad passed away. She was way too young. Seems that happens with more frequency these days. I met Janice twice and exchanged Facebook messages a couple of times. Yet I am touched deeply by her loss. John says that I “feel the pain of the living.” That’s always been true. I’m an empath. I’ve been known to feel the pain and emotions of people near me, even if I don’t consciously know they’re having issues. I feel the closest connection with John, and I can tell when his leg or hip hurts, or whether it’s his back or shoulder. With Sarah, I feel her emotions, though I may not know the cause.
So with Janice, I feel the impact of her loss on Doug, and her friends and family. I also imagine what it would be like to be so in love and have your partner leave you behind. Even though, intellectually, you know that it’s all part of the journey and we will all be re-united one day, it doesn’t fill that void left where the love of your life used to be.
Sitting in a room with John and many of Doug and Janice’s friends and family, I learned a little about myself. These people loved her. They knew her. They knew what she felt good wearing, what jewelry was important to her, that her favorite color was purple and how she would have liked to end the last days of her life. Whether it was Doug bringing her Haagen-Daaz ice cream pops or a few friends sitting quietly around her as she rested. Janice didn’t like large groups of people, though she loved and touched many. Friends drove in and flew up from out of state to be with her. People who never met each other before bonded instantly over their love for her. It was truly touching to be around such wonderful people that loved this wonderful woman. Doug second guesses some decisions he made about her care which is standard for anyone who loses someone they love and multiple treatments were available. I told him that everything that was done was the right thing. What I didn’t tell him is that she simply completed this leg of her journey. She was done with what she came here to accomplish. You may be able to keep people around a little longer, but when the journey is over, the spirit goes back to where it came from. She will be waiting for him and all those that loved her, and I’m sure she will be watching over all those people who cared so deeply for her.
John and I walk Trippy at Mill Pond whenever possible. It’s peaceful and gives us time to talk and contemplate. I realized that when I die, although I do have friends, no one knows me the way people knew Janice, except for John. People don’t know the jewelry I like, or what I’d like to be cremated in. I don’t see people coming in from out of state (except perhaps my parents and brother if they outlive me) to spend the last of my days or weeks with me. It’s not that I’m not a good person or that I don’t care about or try to help people, but it’s always been that way. The same with John. No one knows me the way he does with that level of connection. I’ve stayed by the side of three people that I loved as they prepared for their own transition. They died of cancers (lung, brain, leukemia). My friend Kathy only woke out of a coma when I went to visit her, and remained conscious till the end. I went every day because it seemed to give her comfort and she enjoyed having me around. Her conversations weren’t always lucid, but she was always Kathy. Loving and loved. Allison I didn’t even know that well, but she clung to me and would confide in a whisper, “I’m really scared.” And Debbie D who never had a party until the faux retirement party we gave her when it was clear she wouldn’t be with us long. She played video tapes of that party repeatedly whenever someone came to visit. Though she was bedridden and hooked up to machines, she beamed when she clicked the play button. I’ll always be thankful to GerriAnn for coming up with that idea. To see Debbie surrounded by friends and family. She ate for the first time in weeks, and ate everything in sight. She enjoyed holding court as people would come to her table and spend time with her. She was in a wheelchair at that time, but she was the queen of the ball. I’m so thankful I got to spend that time with her. Debbie Damone, like Janice Smestad, was a truly loved person. Unlike Janice, Debbie’s partner was never there for her. Debbie made up for it by loving those around her, and they, in turn, adored her. She was a simple soul who just loved. She never had children, she never married, but she was with the same man from when she was 16 years-old until her death at age 50. Her picture still hangs in the Nassau County Planning Department, and the bench with her dedication plaque still sits in Eisenhower Park. I was blessed with the privilege of writing her dedication for that plaque.
So there are people like Janice Smestad and Deborah Ann Damone who really touched people. Lots of people. Almost every one they met. Because of Debbie, I slowed down. I started to see more of the people around me than just how to succeed in my career. Whether acknowledging the mail people at work or the guy who comes to empty my garbage pail every day. I tried to be kinder, to give more of myself.
By nature, it seems, I’m as much of a loner as John. We have our friends, but we are most open to each other. I wonder if the lesson I’m to learn from this all is to be open to more people. Truly open, truly compassionate. Is that my job here? I’ve also been touched by Janice, though I hardly knew her. I do believe we are just one being split into fragments to come here and learn lessons. And if that’s the case, Janice and Debbie were the good stuff in all of us. They both died so young, left us too early. Perhaps their job was to touch the rest of us. To teach us that love really is all there is. I do know that when we are blessed with having our paths crossed by such beautiful beings, we are given a gift. One that needs to be unwrapped, nurtured and held dear to our hearts. And most importantly, one that teaches us how to better live our lives, with love.