Thursday, June 8, 2017


Joanne at the ranch --her favorie place when we were younger

Joanne Griffith Amaral was one of my besties in high school.  We shared a locker all those years, remaining friends through a lot of ups and downs.   Years later, she and I had children at the same time.  The relationships  with the kids' fathers did not work out, but the kids saved our lives.  When I returned home to Tracy, Joanne and I reconnected.  We went shopping together (for them), shared mothering tips, and babysitting services.  Years later, when we both lived in suburban domiciles, we reconnected again.  While Mario and I lived in Africa, Joanne and I kept in touch.  Joanne had many ups and downs in her life but loved her career as a nurse.  We both shared intimate secrets about the secret parts of our hearts, just like we did when we were fourteen. 

That was Joanne- my touchstone friend.  Last week –out of the blue—I saw on Facebook that Joanne was sick.  Janet Langley (another friend from high school, and Joanne’s long-time bestie) messaged me that Joanne was in the hospital  with sepsis.  I was in shock…and promised to pray.  The next day I was walking around, praying a lot, but remembering Joanne and who she is to me.  She was a friend to a lot of people.

Everyone has a Joanne story. 

I have several, but the one I will tell you here is a bit dark and (quite frankly) one I think twice about sharing publicly.  When we were very young, about fifteen, Joanne and I were at “the ranch”—her Grandpa and Grandma’s house—when we decided to get drunk together.  We opened a fifth of Jack Daniels (I don’t remember how we got it, but we got it) and drank it all in one afternoon, with me drinking the lion’s share.  Later that night, Joanne held my head as I hurled into her grandma’s toilet, swearing that I would never drink again. 

You all know that promise—many of you made it before.  Like most of you, I lived to drink another day.  It wasn’t until adulthood that I remembered that story, when I was in counselling, sorting through a truckload of emotionally messy baggage.  At one point, I said to my counselor, “It’s like you’re holding my head as I throw up in a toilet!”

Then I remembered Joanne. 

The day we decided to get drunk was an emotionally messy day for me as well.  My boyfriend had just broken up with me, and Joanne’s boyfriend never really was there for her anyway.  We decided that our guys weren’t worth crying about and could go to hell as we drowned our sorrows.  Up until the throwing up part, we were having a really good time.  Joanne was my friend who was there for me during many emotionally messy times.  She was the calming presence in my turbulent teen years.  She was a true friend.  I told my counselor this story, and she smiled.  “We all need those friends who hold our heads over the toilet as we puke our guts out, both literally and figuratively.”

A few days after that counseling appointment, Mario and I saw a stranded female motorist as we exited the freeway.  Her car must have broken down as she pulled over.  We stopped, since she was alone and her hood was up. 

“You approach her,” Mario (ever the cop) told me.  “If she sees me approaching her she may get scared.”

I got out of the passenger side door and walked over to her on the grassy part of the off-ramp.  The motorist got out of the car, seeing me approach.  I heard her say, “Janet?”

It was Joanne.  We hugged, completely in awe about such a strange "coincidence."  After we recovered, Mario and I drove Joanne to a nearby garage and arranged for a tow.  While she waited to rent a car, I told her all about my recent counseling and how I told my counselor the story about us partying at the ranch.

“Oh, Janet,” Joanne said, smiling. “You were so wasted!  I was afraid you were going to die.  You kept saying ‘Just let me sleep!  Jst let me sleep!’ but I said, ‘If I let you sleep you’re going to die.’”
After this side-of-the-road “coincidence” Joanne and I kept in touch.  

Joanne and her friend, Joyce Cunningham--Nursing was so important to her!!

She struggled with many things, but loved her life.  She was flawed, but was genuinely beautiful and grace-filled.  She absolutely loved her children…and those of us with adult children know all the challenges that are attached there.  But most of all, Joanne loved her grandchildren—they made her young again. 

Joanne as a grandma.  Her oldest grandchild is now a teenager!!

When I heard that Joanne had contracted sepsis, I knew exactly what that meant.  I had seen many people die of sepsis in the third world.  It kills people fast—it’s ruthless.  I thanked God we lived in America, where the care is exceptional and doctors usually catch it before it gets out of control.  But this case was a particularly terrible strand that was relentless.  

As hard as the doctors worked, as hard as Joanne fought, and as hard as we all prayed, Joanne left this world in the wee hours of Wednesday morning.  Her beautiful mother and children left behind, devastated. 

Janet Langley and I texted each other (like the fourteen-year-old girls we felt like) on Wednesday morning.  She stayed home from work; I went to school, unable to sit still.  This can’t be happening. I kept thinking.  Joanne was one of those friends who was always there…she was always there.

These days I don’t drink anymore, I live one day at a time—and some of you know what I mean. The news of Joanne passing hit me hard--but I have to confront the pain rather than turn from it.   I am sad that the world lost such a person. I have no doubt that Joanne is in heaven now.  From the conversations we had, most of them pretty deep, I understood that Joanne's faith was in God alone.  She was not heavily religious, but I never met a more grace-filled person.  Never.

My beloved friend…without Joanne I would not be here.  Literally. 

One of Joanne's favorite pictures, with the love-of-her-life, Kevin (KSJ)


  1. That's just beautiful sentiment, Janet. I am without words right now. I just read this about ten minutes ago and I'm just kind of reeling.... She's one of the few people I've known since I was very very little and I don't have many friendships that are as