A couple of weeks ago, my friends and I lost a very special person, Keith Jeannotte, also known as “Dad J” or “Mr. J.”
Mr. J. was my friend Rob’s Dad. I’ve known Rob since high school and we’ve been great friends for about 15 years (Jesus we’re old).
If it wasn’t for Rob, I wouldn’t have met my husband, Greg. Greg was Rob’s college roommate and they became best friends.
Back in the summer of 2003, Greg visited Massachusetts and spent the summer with Rob’s family, who welcomed him with open arms. Greg wasn’t at a great place in his life, was trying to figure out what to do with the rest of it, and didn’t have a place to return to in his home state of Kansas. To further complicate matters, he met me that summer and we began falling in love.
Greg knew he had to go back to Kansas at the end of the summer of 2003. But he didn’t want to leave. He loved Massachusetts, he loved his newly found family and circle of friends, and he loved me.
So as Greg was reluctantly making plans to leave, Mr. J. simply asked him, “Well what do you want to go?”
Feeling bad and not wanting to inconvenience anyone, Greg simply said, “No.”
“Well stay, then!” Mr. J. growled at Greg. As if there should’ve been any question about it!
So Greg stayed with the J’s. And thus began the path for mine and Greg’s relationship. With support and encouragement from Mr. J., who served in the military during Vietnam, Greg joined the Marine Corps some eight months later. He served his country and was able to go back to college after completing his service that included a tour in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Serving in the military gave Greg focus and direction, and it gave both of us a jumpstart toward a better life.
Greg and I were married in 2010. Rob was the best man at our wedding, and Mr. and Mrs. J. sat at the parents table and were recognized as parents at the reception. It was the happiest day of my life, and I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be marrying my best friend. I also felt so blessed to have such an awesome family and group of friends there to celebrate with us.
Losing Mr. J. was hard. And it is difficult for me to put in words what he meant to all of us. It has also been hard for me to encapsulate Mr. J., who was a legend in our circle. This man, who was the greatest storyteller I ever knew. Who survived Vietnam, cancer, a recent house fire, and ended up passing peacefully in his sleep.
My friend, Greg Peterson, wrote a fantastic blog about Mr. J and my other friend, Dan, wrote a heartbreakingly beautiful Facebook post about him the week he died. I can’t put it as beautifully as they did. Essentially, Mr. J. was a Dad to everyone who entered his front door. Our group of friends, who became the Js’ “adopted kids,” spent a lot of time at the J’s household watching TV, playing games, and just hanging out.
Christmas was Mr. J’s favorite holiday, and all of the Jeannotte family and the “adopted kids” like us would go over each Christmas Eve to open gifts, have Mr. J’s legendary soup, and laugh together as we opened our Secret Santa gifts.
There are so many memories that are difficult to sum up. I wrote some in my journal the week Dad J. died and haven’t organized them quite yet. Maybe they’ll never be organized. That’s how grief is.
This post is part 1. In the next few days, I’m going to share how it felt to lose someone so special, and how Mr. J’s spirit remains alive in all of us.