Janelle, I don’t know where to begin – you have taught me so much. I constantly find myself reflecting on my life after you have passed and the many ways that it has transformed me into a better person. I used to have a naïve perspective on this world. I was content going through the motions of life. I was focused on the check boxes that society tells us we have to check off by a certain age and my sheltered views on this world made me blind to the ways in which I can reach my greatest potential.
After we got the news that Janelle’s time with us would be coming to an end, we decided to generate a bucket list of things we could do as a way to carry on her legacy. Some of Janelle’s bucket list ideas included traveling more of the United States, hiking national parks, skiing out West (check), King’s Day in Amsterdam, and even publishing her journal. Janelle’s bucket list was evidence that at the end of life, the only thing that matters is the adventures you’ve been on, the people you share these experiences with, and all the risks you took in between. I believe this is no secret to life but when it was my sister in that hospital bed and not a grandparent, I realized that I was no longer content just going through the motions of life. I lost my sister to cancer and a cousin to suicide before I even lost a grandparent in life. This made me realize that our health and wellness are not always signs of longevity. We don’t know how long we will walk this Earth so truly, what are we waiting for? Take risks and be vulnerable. I believe vulnerability is the key to self-growth, so put yourself out there. Apply for that job. Ask that girl out on a date. Book that flight… because if not now, when? The day Janelle left us; a flame was ignited within me to live my life to the absolute fullest. The word YOLO that got tossed around in middle school suddenly had a new meaning to me.
I believe if we outline our lives to match the timeline of milestones defined by society’s standards, then we are only setting ourselves up for disappointment because the truth is that there are very few things we can control in life. Feeling like you have lost control is probably one of the most frustrating feelings and it is a feeling we have all experienced, some to different extents. However, I do believe that once we are able to reclaim it, we have a greater appreciation for its presence. I believe happiness works in a similar way.
The happiness that I project today was not instant, but rather a product of a time in my life when I lost control and didn’t believe in genuine happiness. However, my experiences with adversity have enabled me to have a greater appreciation for my happiness and its presence. I was able to reclaim my happiness by “finding the good” – a life lesson I’ve learned from previous adversities. Every set back we face is a chance to reevaluate what is most important in our lives and an inevitable opportunity to strengthen our resilience. Our takeaways can then be applied to future adversities and aid with the coping process.
In the end, Janelle lost her independence and could no longer talk, but I still found happiness knowing that this was my opportunity to tell Janelle how much I loved her. It is a privilege being able to say goodbye to your loved ones. No words were left unsaid and for that reason, I am grateful. I learned to remember my sister for the happy human that she was and as a result, I slowly began to rebuild the foundation to my happiness that had been knocked down. The happiness I project is not to be misinterpreted for a front but rather a reflection of the lessons Janelle has taught me and the love I have for her. She taught me to choose happiness always and this wisdom has carried me to where I am today.
I am no longer naïve to the world around me. There is still a lot for me to learn but I believe the flame Janelle has ignited within me will guide me down a path of successes, failures, adversities, and vulnerabilities that will only enhance my perspective and understanding of the world we live in. I am excited for the strangers I will meet and the lessons I will learn along the way because as my middle school self would say…. YOLO!