My childhood friend, Monica, asked me to post the eulogy I gave at her mother’s funeral last week. I’m not a good enough writer to express just how much Janice Smith meant to me, but I hope I captured at least a little of what made her so special. If you were to look through some of my previous posts, you’d see the encouraging comments she often left for me. How I wish she could leave me one more.
I first met Janice in the fall of 1968 when I was seven years old. My family had just moved to Caps, and Monica had befriended me at Butterfield. She invited me for a sleepover one Saturday night, and what I didn’t realize at the time was that not only was I starting a lifelong friendship, I was also gaining a second family. From the very beginning, Janice and Joe Kenneth treated me like a daughter, and Mark like a sister. And by that, I mean he was always at least annoyed by me as he was by Monica.
When I think back over the past fifty years, what I remember most about Janice is her laughter. I can’t remember her ever getting angry. And anyone who knew Monica and me as kids will understand just how incredible this is. One of our favorite pranks was moving the car while Janice was grocery shopping. First we’d ask her to let us stay in the car while she went into the store. Then we’d beg her to leave the keys so we could listen to the radio. As soon as Janice cleared the doors of the store, Monica would move to the driver’s seat and start the engine. After moving the car to the other side of the parking lot, we’d wait giddily for Janice to exit the store and start looking for the car. As soon as she spotted it, she’d wag her finger at us and laugh.
Once she made the mistake of insisting we go into the grocery store with her…maybe she just didn’t feel like playing the “find the car” game that day…I don’t know. Everything was going fine as Monica and I plodded along behind her through the aisles. That is until we reached the produce section and spotted the vegetable sprayers at each end of the aisle where Janice was picking out tomatoes. I don’t think I need to describe what happened next. Even sopping wet in the middle of the grocery store, Janice’s response was laughter. We didn’t get the spankings we deserved. I’m pretty sure we didn’t even get a lecture.
As I grew up, Janice became the person I could talk to when I couldn’t turn to my own parents. I once told her I wanted to try smoking, so she coached me through my first…and last…drag on a cigarette. She counseled me as I navigated my parents’ divorce and my mother’s remarriage. And when I hit puberty, she explained the facts of life to me, patiently answering every stupid question I asked. Shortly before my mother died of cancer, Monica and I took her and Janice to Las Vegas for a weekend. After we returned, my mother told me she was no longer worried about leaving me because Janice had promised to look out for me. I never doubted that I was special to Janice. At least not until this week.
In the past few days, I’ve been reading comments on social media and talking to family members and friends, and I’ve come to realize that the way Janice embraced me was the same way she embraced everyone else she met. Childhood friends, co-workers, church members, volunteer firemen, Monica’s and Mark’s friends. My first reaction was to be disappointed, but then I realized there’s something better than being special. It’s being blessed, and I was so blessed to have this beautiful woman love me like a second mother.
So Mark and Monica, I want to thank you for sharing your mother with me. People may tell you that the sense of loss you feel today will fade in time time. In my experience, that’s just not true. After twenty years, I feel the loss of my mother as profoundly as I did the day we laid her to rest. But while the sense of loss doesn’t fade, neither do the memories. Embrace them all. The good times, the difficult times. Her smile, her laugh, her touch, the smell of those tacos she brought home from Taco Bueno on Thursdays after she got her hair done.
I think most people’s love diminishes with the generations. They love their children most, and then the grandchildren second, and finally the great-grands, but Janice seemed to go in the opposite direction. With each generation, her love grew. Jake, Tyler, Hunter, Reagan, Tiffany, and Zeb, and all thirteen of you beautiful great-grandchildren, you each held a special place in your Nanny’s heart, and now it’s time for you to find a special place in yours to keep her close.
In the past few years, as Janice traveled less and I became wrapped up in my own life, most of our interactions were through social media. Every morning I’ve looked forward to starting my day with the dozens of weenie dog memes she always seemed to post in the middle of the night. I’ve enjoyed reading all of her comments on my blog entries or Monica’s Facebook posts. A couple of months ago, I went to New York on a family trip and my brother-in-law posted of photo of me doing something Janice did not approve of. This was her comment: “Karen, I am just almost ashamed of you.” I told my brother-in-law, “Thanks a lot, Janice just busted me.” He looked at the comment and said “What do you mean, she put a winking emoji at the end.” He had no idea that this was what it looked like to be in trouble with Janice.
And that, I believe, is also part of her legacy, one that I hope we will all try to carry on. Just as Janice did, let’s make sure the people we love hear our laughter far more often than our scolding, and when we occasionally need to scold, let’s remember to make it as gentle as “just almost ashamed.”