Dedication to My Friend, Jill

Today I woke up thinking about coincidences. I’ll be attending the funeral of a friend’s dad this morning. A reminder that life is precious, and that we won’t have our parents around forever. In fact, on this day that my friend buries her father, my stepdad celebrates his 87th birthday. First coincidence.

So I met this friend when she came to teach at my school, many years ago. She would be my teaching partner for her first two years at Pearson Elementary. Her name? Jill. We would be known as “the Jills” for many years following. In our small group of teacher friends who get together annually, she is Jill T and I am Jill S. How appropriate, coming from a school setting, right? That is our second coincidence.

When Jill started teaching with me, she wasn’t married, and her maiden name was Gruenke. My maiden name was Reinke, and our last names rhymed. Coincidence? It was always fun for me to say “Jill Reinke, Jill Gruenke.” I just liked the sound of it. After all, there aren’t many words that rhyme with Reinke. Of course, growing up, Mike from across the street came up with a few. He would recite, “I’ll take no hanky panky from a cranky Reinke.” LOL, yes I still remember that, and yes, I still think it’s hilarious. I think he used every rhyming word there was… at least until I met Jill Gruenke.

After teaching together for a short while, Jill and I discovered another coincidence. Both our fathers worked at the same place during their career, Continental Machines. Ironically, we don’t think they ever overlapped times working there. My dad worked in the machine shop, while Jill’s dad worked in the office.

Just recently, our dads shared another coincidence. Jill sent out an email to our group of friends to let us know that her dad had been diagnosed with leukemia. My dad had leukemia as well. I contacted Jill and suggested we get together to talk. The big “L” is a disease we have to talk through. We went on a nice, long walk in autumn, and Jill shared her hopes for her dad’s immediate future. He had been doing well with his treatment, and his attitude was unbelievably positive. (I could understand where Jill got this same attitude.) Though the diagnosis wasn’t good, the progress in treating the form of leukemia he had was advanced, and that gave the family some hope.

So it was with a heavy heart when I opened my Facebook page on Sunday and read that Jill’s father had passed away. I called her up right away, to talk and get a feeling for where she was in her grieving. Always strong, Jill was matter of fact and seemed to still be in some shock from his passing. I learned that her dad had been responding pretty well initially to the treatment, but then he may have gotten an infection from his last blood transfusion. In one afternoon, he took a turn for the worse, and by that evening, he had passed over, surrounded by his children and his companion of the past few years. Jill’s dad had died from complications of his leukemia, just as my dad had. Another coincidence.

Now those of you who know me, know I don’t believe in coincidences. There is a reason for everything that comes before us. Through the years, I have been a big sister to Jill, which she was lacking, and which I never had the chance to be since I am the youngest in the family. Not only do we share these “coincidences,” but I have shared my trials and joys of raising my kids with Jill, and she has sought my advice on raising her own kids, like little sisters do. She knows I am here for her, as she passes through many of the doors of life that I had gone through previously.

Jill is going to be okay. She has already experienced the long and drawn out death of her mother, and so her father passing so quickly is almost a blessing for the family, and she knows her dad would feel the same way. He died with dignity, in his own home and under his own care, for the most part. That was very important for him.

I remember when a friend of mine lost her husband, and she was trying so hard to be strong for her kids after he passed. Another friend said to her daughters, “Your mom will be strong for you, but don’t worry. We are here to be strong for her.”

Jill, I am here to be strong for you. You know you can count on me.


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