My friend Jeanette would have turned 54 today.
Professionally, Jeanette devoted her life to being a Catholic Educator. When she died suddenly in May, she was finishing her 32nd year with the Diocese.
She was a Teacher, Coach, and Principal. Her commitment to her students extended beyond the school bell. I don’t think she missed a School or Parish function. If students were at risk for missing school, she’d been known to pick them up on her way to work.
While she was serious about education, I have no doubt she made learning fun. Jeanette was all about fun. She was born the third of five children in a close family that truly enjoys each other and life. She adored her nieces and nephew, and loved making things fun for them.
She loved road trips, the Purdue Boilermakers, Jimmy Buffett, tanning poolside, and theme parties. She was game for anything, and celebrating everything.
As I looked through the photo boards on display at the funeral home, I was amazed at all the good times I had forgotten about over the last four decades. Thanks to her (and her family’s) consistent picture taking, her joy and love of life was well documented.
One thing was obvious: She made everything an event.
Jeanette also loved a good laugh, and she certainly had the most memorable and distinctive one.
Her laugh began with a deep and throaty “oh-ho-ho-my-hy-gosh” and ended with a high pitched “hee-hee-hee” covering the entire range of the vocal scale in between. It was loud, musical, joyful and infectious.
When necessary, Jeanette had a good poker face. She could initiate and carry out harmless, but hilarious practical jokes, and no one laughed harder than she did at the result.
I enjoyed the sound of her laugh for 40 years. Usually she was laughing with me, but frequently she was laughing at me.
If something awful or embarrassing happened, Jeanette was the perfect person to tell. While she always had a sympathetic ear, she often had no control over that laugh. She’d easily find the humor in every blunder, fumble and stumble.
She was able to do this because life is a mixture of emotions. Happy and sad, tragic and ridiculous are not always mutually exclusive. I experienced this phenomenon the day of Jeanette’s funeral.
Her beautiful Funeral Mass was held at the parish where she was Principal. It was an area of town I wasn’t familiar with – especially since I hadn’t lived there for most of my adult life.
Funeral processions are treated with a special kind of reverence in my hometown. Cars, (including those traveling in the opposite direction) pull to the side of the road to let a funeral procession pass. I’ve seen men stand with a hand over their heart, folks bow their heads in prayer, and Catholic school children kneel on the playground.
As I tearfully departed the church parking lot, my friend Nancy was following in the car behind me. Nancy’s 50-year friendship with Jeanette began at the age of 3, when her family moved into a house three doors from Jeanette’s family.
Under the direction of the funeral home personnel and with police escorts, our cars with headlights on and hazard lights flashing, moved slowly but steadily along. Nancy and I were on the phone, talking safely, hands-free as we drove. Nothing look familiar to either of us.
As we passed through an intersection, the gentleman in the SUV in front of me suddenly turned off his hazard lights, and then quickly sped off. I looked ahead at an empty street. Wait, where is Jeanette’s hearse? The limo? The family cars?
I realized the front of the funeral procession must have turned right and for some reason the gentleman in the SUV in front of me had bailed out of the procession and gone straight. Did he have to get back to the office? Did he have diarrhea? What happened?
I didn’t have time to ponder this.
“OH NO!!” I screamed to Nancy, as I realized I was now the lead car in a runaway funeral procession…and I didn’t know the way to the Catholic Cemetery.
Nancy began to laugh.
“It’s not funny!” I yelled.
“Where are the police escorts?” I continued.
Anxiety set in. “Nancy, I can’t be the lead car, I don’t know where we are!”
I was so rattled I couldn’t Google Map it.
Nancy, had suddenly turned into Jeanette. She was laughing so hard she could barely speak. She managed to utter “They turned right. Just turn right as soon as you can.”
I was beyond horrified. I looked in my rearview mirror at the long line of headlights and flashing hazards behind me. I was sweating.
I took the next right.
After two more turns, and by the Grace of God, we made it to the cemetery.
Unfortunately, we arrived before the front of the funeral procession, causing a bit of a traffic jam, and additional challenge for the police.
Unbeknownst to me, the police were managing two funeral processions arriving simultaneously at the cemetery, and my runaway procession created an unexpected third group, on a street partially closed due to road construction.
Thankfully, despite the entire debacle we were there to lay Jeanette to rest.
Later that afternoon, we considered that maybe the funeral fiasco was heaven sent from Jeanette, for one last laugh. Whether she was responsible or not, I had no doubt she was laughing.
The thought of not hearing her laugh again made me sad.
But now I don’t think there was a last laugh.
Because somehow, I still hear her laugh so clearly.
While Jeanette is so dearly missed by so many today, I hope she is being remembered with all sorts of proper celebrations.
Her laugh is now eternal, and oh, how full of joy and fun Heaven must be today.
Happy Heavenly Birthday, Bean!