This is a thank-you note, not a goodbye letterJanuary 9, 2019
By Jonathan Streetman
This is, for all intents and purposes, a goodbye letter.
I’ve been trying to write this for a couple of days, ever since I learned my dear friend Jill Ernst died in the early hours of Saturday, January 5 at just 42 years old.
Jill first came into my life in the spring of 2014 when I was a reporter at this newspaper. I wanted to write a story that would show cancer’s devastating impact on an entire family — not just on the individual with the cancer cells in their body but also how it metastasizes into the lives of everyone they love.
Through friends of friends, we connected. She invited me into her home where I met her husband, Mark, and their son, Landon, who was 12 years old at the time. I explained what I wanted to do, that I didn’t plan to pull any punches but that I would be respectful and honest.
“Go for it,” Jill said to me almost instantaneously. “We’re game.”
Over the following months, Jill and I had some incredible conversations. We talked about her cancer, an almost inconceivably rare form of multiple myeloma, and about the likelihood of her death.
Jill and I talked a lot about life, too, and about Landon. God, she loved that kid with every fiber in her being.
Our story ran in October that year, pushed up from its original November publication date because Jill appeared to be declining and I desperately wanted her to see it run.
Jill pulled through and loved the story. She made me an honorary member of the family and told me to keep in touch. So I did.
Over the years we talked about her treatments a bit but mostly we talked about fun things, like my travels and Landon’s accomplishments. We saw each other a few times, too, often at the Hoosiers Outrun Cancer event in Bloomington where I live now.
Jill once said to me, “People see me smile, they see my hair grow back, and they think I’m okay. I’m not okay. I’m crumbling inside.” And still, she smiled. And her smile warmed me all over even though I knew the pain it was hiding. She was a special person.
A few months ago, almost four years exactly since the story ran, I drove down to Jasper to celebrate Jill and Mark as they renewed their vows after 20 years of marriage and celebrated what an amazing young man Landon has grown into. I know Jill was in pain then, too, but I think those smiles that we all saw from her that afternoon were real.
That evening Jill sent me a message thanking me again for coming and called me her forever friend. That was the last thing she ever said to me, and it meant more than she could ever know.
So I don’t want this to be a goodbye letter, but instead a thank-you note.
I’m so thankful Jill, Mark and Landon welcomed me into their home and into their lives. I’m thankful I got to tell their story, and let Dubois County know just how amazing they all are.
I’m thankful for Jill’s friendship, and I will cherish it forever.
Jonathan Streetman is a former staff reporter with The Herald. His story on Jill Ernst and her battle with cancer that ran in 2014 can be read here: duboiscountyherald.com/b/jill-ernst.
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