Jeanette was my best friend – the big sister whom I never would have.
She was the youngest of the five children my dad’s Chinese business partner and his wife had brought into the world. She was beautiful and the kindest, most soft-spoken and gentle person whom I have ever known. Jeanette was Kwan Yin, one of the eight Immortals who had come to the earth to illuminate all of mankind.
She was twenty-four and I was twelve when we first met. I had come with dad to work one Saturday at his business and Jeanette was manning the switch board. I was immediately struck with the warmth of the way she greeted me.
I would later find out that Jeanette had serious health challenges. Her parents had taken her on three separate trips to Switzerland to try to correct the congenitive heart defect with which she had been born. Three major operations by the time she was ten years old.
Jeanette took me under her wing and showed me how to operate the plug-in switchboard at which she was stationed. I quickly mastered the procedure under her tutelage. And I remember the feeling of warmth that she emanated as we sat side by side at the little console.
I used to try to rearrange my weekend schedule so that I could go to work at dad’s place and was always gratified when Jeanette was there – and always disappointed on the days that she was absent. Finally, I got smart and began asking dad, “Will Jeanette be there tomorrow?” If she wouldn’t be, I found reasons to do something else.
As happens with beautiful people (and most of the rest of us as well), Jeanette found love with another person – a Chinese man named Peter. Dad came home one day to let our family know that the two of them were going to be married. I remember that I selfishly thought this would deprive me of her continuing friendship and I remember feeling a great anger toward this Peter intruder.
But my anger mutated into a hope that my good and sweet friend Jeanette would find happiness. I realized that I hadn’t lost her but that we had simply transitioned in our relationship.
I went to Jeanette and Peter’s wedding and although I cried, it was mostly tears of joy rather than tears of loss. And I remember when six months later I heard that Jeanette was pregnant I was happy for the two of them.
Because of her previous heart issues, Jeanette had been advised to avoid pregnancy. But “Man proposes and God disposes.” Several months after that she was diagnosed as having a virulent form of cancer. Her doctors doubted that the child within her would be born since Jeanette was given only a few months to live. Yet she struggled with the dual issues of her cancer and her pregnancy and, I believe, was able to carry on because of her never-wavering cheerfulness.
Seven months into her pregnancy, Jeanette entered Lenox Hill Hospital – just across the street from our apartment. I went to visit her every night.
Our conversations were always the same. “Hi, Jeanette. How are you feeling today?”
“I’m fine sweetie. How are you.”
I could see that she was anything but fine. She was rapidly wasting away. But she never gave a hint about the pain which I believed she must be feeling and she never said anything to undermine her positive spirit. (I didn’t realize the strength that she had until many years later).
Jeanette passed away after two months in the hospital – but not before she brought her daughter Amy into the world. I truly hope that this child has inherited her mother’s optimism, love and joy.
I hope that “Jeanette Kwan-Yin” has moved forward on her journey toward greater enlightenment and peace. And I want her to know that she will always be my very best friend.