And She's Climbing the Stairway to Heaven

I awoke on Tuesday morning to some sad news. Janet Ast, a dear friend of mine, passed away overnight, and I learned about it when I opened Facebook that morning. There was a picture of her pretty face, smiling. And the sad words saying that she had passed away overnight. I just sat down and bawled. I cried in the shower. I cried on the bus. I am crying still.

My friend was an online friend, a person I never met face-to-face in real life (or IRL, as we say). But she was a wonderful person, so dear to me. She was like family. A big sister maybe. She lived in her family home in St. Joseph, Michigan, right on the big lake. And I lived in central Pennsylvania. But we found each other and became fast friends years ago on the website ICanHasCheezburger (ICHC).

She was JanetCanHas4Kittehs (or JCH4K). My screen name was Gremlin, named after the large tomcat I owned at the time. The real Gremlin - my big orange cat, with huge orange paws - was not a very friendly fella, I'm afraid. He didn't like people much. But the online Gremlin (me), a rather shy gal (yes, believe it!) was very warm and friendly and outgoing.

Janet was the hostess with the mostest at ICHC. She had been an army entertainment director for nearly 40 years, managing theatres in Germany and Italy. She had driven sports cars in Paris. She had gone on cruises down the Nile river (which was the inspiration for one of my Crittergator blips - how she adored those little fellas!). In short, she lived a life of travel and grand adventure!

In the online world, you will find both friendly and unfriendly places. ICHC was a great mixture of the two. (I have written of ICHC and the wonderful friends I made there on these pages before.) We occasionally had trolls come by, but Janet would speak to them and explain that this space was our HOME, where we hung out together. And that better behavior was required. (But she'd say it in such a nice way.) She helped us ALL be our better selves.

We had parties and parades and dances online, and what fun we had there! There were things we made up together: the Cyoot Crash Cart, and the Head Splort Recovery Ward (which I referred to here at least once). Janet was the person that everybody wanted to sit with at a party: full of laughter, and life, and songs, and goodwill, and imagination. Come sit by me, and I'll tell you a story. And we'd laugh and laugh.

I remember one particular day when we were having some kind of party online, and Janet and I were dancing. A gentleman named Paul approached us, and he said sadly that he was in a wheel chair and could not dance. But with the strength of Gremlin's huge orange paws, I lifted him up out of his chair and we all danced around beautifully to our heart's content. (On the internet, we are ALL good dancers. At least, in our imagination.) Paul, Janet: I thank you for that dance.

One day, on the ICHC site, there were postings from a woman who was new to our group. Janet reported later that she had learned that that lady was in dire straits; that she was living out of her car. Janet, dear sweet soul that she was, invited the woman to come and stay with her until things got better. And that is exactly what happened, with the two friends taking care of each other and hanging out together off and on, over the years since then.

I wanted very badly to meet Janet, and she had family in eastern Pennsylvania, whom she visited on a regular basis.  So we made big plans to get together one time, but then a big storm hit, leaving eastern Pennsylvania without power and closing many roads. And so I never got to meet my friend in real life. I did not know that would be my only chance.

Janet enjoyed my photo stories, and she sent me things to include in them through the mail. She wasn't the only one who did. You might be surprised at the offerings I've received: snapdragon seeds from New Jersey that looked like little demon faces, glass animals from India and many other places in the world, and so on.

One day I got home to find a very large box waiting for me. Inside was a stuffed rabbit, a scarf, and some other items. I laughed myself silly over that rabbit, but Dexter didn't like it at all. He gave it a very disapproving look and a paw-slap or two: WHAP! WHAP! Take THAT, rabbit!

From an online friend (that very lady that Janet rescued all those years ago), I had recently learned that Janet was sick. And the friend provided an address for us to send cards. Then this past weekend, we learned that Janet's illness was liver cancer, and that she probably had six months or less to live. And then a few days later, she died. It happened so fast, my head is still spinning.

I have a card in my bag that I meant to send to her, but I never got around to it. When I learned how dire the situation was over the weekend, I wanted to take the time to send a long note to Janet to tell her how important she was to me, how much I appreciated everything she did, and how much I loved her as a friend. But not in any kind of weird, gee-you're-dying-so-let's-say-our-goodbyes kind of way. I think she knew those things anyway, but it would feel better right now if I could have put all of it into perfect, beautiful words.

We love you, Janet. We love you still. And we already miss you like crazy. We will hope to meet you at the Mu Meadow and the Rainbow Bridge, and then we will dance and have parties and parades like we used to.

Janet, I do get some laughs, though, when I think about you having access to the likes of David Bowie, Prince, Johnny Cash, and Michael Jackson. What a great big performance you are probably arranging up there! I hope they are all following your directions, and I hope that at least ONE of them ends up in that ridiculous Carmen Miranda hat we used to wear. I sure hope it isn't Johnny Cash!  ;-) Then again, maybe I do. : -)

I have many more stories to tell but I think I'll end there. Here is some advice, unsolicited. If you love somebody, TELL them today. That is all, from here.

I am including two soundtrack songs for this occasion. One is the one you expected, of course: here is a favorite version of Heart, performing a Led Zep classic, Stairway to Heaven. And also, here is this one, for JCH4K, with much love, from your Gremlin. Andrew Gold, with Thank You for Being a Friend.

P.S. The photo is a picture of the stairwell of Ihlseng Building at Penn State, in morning sunlight and snow. This is the only photo I took on this day.

Added later: Here is a link to dear Janet's obituary, including a photo of her as a young woman, in which she much resembles a young Ingrid Bergman!

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