LOST and Found: A Memory of Janelle

If we don’t live together, we’re going to die alone. — Jack Shephard, LOST

It was May 23, 2010.

I threw a LOST series finale party at my Berkeley apartment for eight or so of my friends.

We feasted on island-inspired pulled pork and had mangoes and pineapples for dessert. We drank Dharma chardonnay and ate Dharma fish biscuits I baked for the occasion. You know, from that time when Jack, Kate, and Sawyer were held captive in polar bear cages?

The point is, we went all out in celebration of one of my all-time favorite TV shows.

The DHARMA fish biscuits were tastier than they appeared.

*Light thematic LOST finale spoilers to follow, but come on, if you haven’t watched LOST by now, will you ever?*

We gathered in front the television, awaiting answers to its myriad mysteries. As the finale neared its end, the show revealed its existential beating heart. In essence, the castaways needed to find each other in order to move on. Over the course of six seasons, the journeys of these characters led them all to be in one place, together.

LOST is all about the people in our lives and it celebrates our shared experiences. While we can’t always control what happens to us, we have each other.

To be sure, the finale left questions unanswered. However, in the grand scheme of things, those details become insignificant. It was less about the secrets of the Easter eggs and literary references, and more about the truth in finding value in our loved ones.

What matters most, LOST emphasized, is the people we care for. It’s about the journey we take with them. It’s every life that has made an impact on ours. We carry these bonds with us to the end. The message becomes clear: it’s truly better to live together than to die alone.

In those last moments of the show, I thought about all the people with whom I shared my LOST viewing journey: from my mother, to my roommates, to my friends, to the podcasting community. I was instantly flooded with memories.

I was punched in the gut by an overwhelming cathartic wave and was left crumpled in tears, lying in the fetal position on the floor of my apartment.

Janelle Jovellanos was there right by my side. She took me into her loving embrace. For what could have been minutes, as the credits rolled, I sobbed in her arms.

We had gone down this path together, and here she was, one of the people I cared most about in this world, giving me the support I needed. She knew how much our shared journey meant to me. She was always there for me. She was always there for others.

Janelle, myself, and Jessica in a LOST-esque pose.

Cut to seven years later. May 5, 2017.

I’m sharing this story in a eulogy for Janelle with her close friends and family members.

I tell them that the woman who held me tightly as I wept in front of our friends was the most generous person I have ever met. I go on to share more about my best friend.

About how I first met Janelle in the spring of 2006, my freshman year at Cal, in a student group called Theatre Rice.

How that fall, we were elected co-course coordinators of Theatre Rice and built a safe and loving space for our peers. How it was through leading theatre games that I first keyed into Janelle’s passion for teaching.

How I was honored to witness her grow her talent over the years, from volunteering for a crisis hotline, to leading an after-school reading program, to teaching English in Korea, to teaching elementary school in Oakland and Los Angeles.

How she radiated a boundless capacity for empathy and love. How that in Janelle, we were given a gift. A true gift of love and light.

How it is my honor to continue her legacy of kindness. It is through that love that she will be remembered.

Janelle recreating the LOST scene of Sun’s liberation.

The day I first learned about Janelle’s passing, I watched an episode of Jane the Virgin to distract myself from the pain. It hit me harder than I could have ever expected.

A character on the show had reservations about speaking publicly on the devastating loss of a loved one. She was reassured it would get easier to talk about in time, but she was afraid of the loved one becoming just an anecdote.

She was given beautiful advice that couldn’t have been more perfect for me to hear in the moment:

You’re in a long-term relationship with grief. But it has to evolve. And it’s okay to keep letting go. You have to.

That simple line of dialogue brought me to tears. In hearing those words, I knew my life would never be the same.

With Janelle’s passing barely a month removed, I’m not yet ready to let go.

I’m in a liminal phase, between wanting to wallow in my grief and wanting to cut it down with a sword. But I’m heartened by the fact that I am not entering into this new long-term relationship alone.

I have those who have been alongside me on this journey. We live together. We celebrate Janelle together. She lives on in each of us, through every laugh, through every act of kindness.

You will always be with me, Janelle. I will share your spirit with the world.