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Living "Your Dash" To The Fullest

By: Nikki Fechtelkotter

In obituaries and on gravestones there are two dates…..the date we are born which is celebrated with great joy and the date of passing where we pay respect and honor a person and lay them to rest. But in the middle, there is this little DASH. This little dash represents everything between those dates that speak to a person’s entire life. How they lived it and what they stood for. That timeframe between those two dates was 21 days short of nine years for Little Janie. To most, that short time frame seems so unfair. Why was precious Janie only on this Earth for eight years, 11 months and 10 days?? It’s a question many of us have asked over and over again, but it is something no one will ever get the answer to until we meet that beautiful smile again. But the big question is, during those years on Earth, what did Janie teach us, ‘cause believe me, that girl lived her dash out to the fullest!

I was one of the lucky recipients of Janie’s love, endless smiles, courage and a few art projects. In the Fall of 2011, I was hired as a third grade teacher at Wadena Deer-Creek Elementary School. It didn’t take long for me to hear about this brave little girl and her battle. The moment I heard this story, it pulled extra at my heart as my family just spent all of 2010 with the big “bully” as Jane called it, in our lives as my Dad was diagnosed with Cancer. Seeing how hard treatments, pokes, appointments, endless scans were on a 50-year-old, I couldn’t imagine how and why an 8-year-old had to face this bully. It was then the first day of school and we were all greeting our new friends when a girl with a huge smile came walking by my room. I instantly knew it was her. I waved and said “hi”. She looked at me with the most beautiful smile and waved back and kept walking to Mrs. Smith’s classroom. That one wave and smile evolved. Over the next year, Janie and I shared many waves as we passed each other in the hallways. She even would peek in my classroom as she was passing in the hallway just quick enough to wave at me so no one in my room saw. I would also sneak down to Mrs. Smith’s room during my Prep and give her a hug and ask how she was doing. To be honest, there were days I would peek in and not see my Little Janie and my heart would break. It was those days I would then check in on KatieRae...Janie’s middle sister. Winter came and Janie battled hard and faced many obstacles. On days she was able to attend school, I often found her drawing pictures with Mrs. Kiser. I would sneak down to draw with her a bit and loved every moment of it.

But the one artsy thing I learned from Janie that I will never forget, was how to make wallets out of duct tape. I’m pretty sure that girl figured out how to make everything out of duct tape. I remember going to the store and trying to find the most unique duct tape ever so that when I went over to her house, we could make some pretty cool wallets. As Spring came, Jane was taking that Bully head on. She was at school more, she even made it to her benefit in April where she was surrounded by her closest friends, family and the whole community. As the school year ended, Janie would mention mostly to Jil (her mom) or Mrs. Kiser, that when she was in third grade, I was going to be her teacher. There was nothing more I wanted but to be her teacher!! But the following year, I was going to be a Special Education Teacher at WDC Elementary and not a third grade teacher. Anytime she brought it up, I always smiled and assured her I would be her teacher. I never had the courage to break her heart. Still to this day, I’m not sure any of us ever told her the truth….though now she knows.

Summer came and Janie spent the majority of her time at Children’s Hospital in the Twin Cities. I was lucky to get time with her. I planned all these activities to do with her, made sure to stop at her favorite store “Justice”, and made sure I had all the snacks she was able to enjoy. But upon arriving, Janie had hit a pretty bad bump in the road…. she was having severe headaches and throwing up a lot. The doctors/hospital made the decision to call Jil back as she was working the State Tennis Tournament. I just remember sitting in Janie’s room as doctor after doctor came in and the seriousness of Janie’s condition was written all over their faces. I remember hearing them talk about things I could never imagine as a mom hearing, yet Jil sat there so calm and taking it all it. I remember them taking Janie to the PICU floor and my good friend and teaching buddy, Chelsey and I packed up wagon after wagon of Janie’s stuff to bring to a car or her new room. That day was a blur for me…. yet it was something their family had almost been living for a year. I just felt like it was so unfair that a little 8-year-old was having to face more than most of us will face in a lifetime.

As the Summer turned into Fall, Janie's health started to diminish. We learned on Labor Day, the day before what should have been Janie’s First Day of third grade, that she would be coming home. Janie arrived home on a Wednesday… and after school, I went over to spend time with the Fiemeyer family and to see Janie. When I arrived, Janie was surrounded by all her friends. There were smiles and giggles from all. There were hugs and tears as many close friends and family were there also. As the night went on, the kids ended with watching a movie and all cuddling together and we all said “good- bye” and left with eyes full of tears. How could this little girl who will be leaving us here on Earth too soon, still be full of smiles and laughs? It was because Janie lived her dash to the fullest.

Janie taught us more in her short time here on Earth than most do in a lifetime. Everyone takes little things away from situations differently, but what I learned from Little Janie was, laugh often, love hard, make time for things you enjoy (like art projects), and when things are hard- dress up, throw some shades or wig in wild colors on and dance or be silly! Even on Janie’s hardest days, she made that day special and worth living! She shared her smile with many..a smile none of us can forget. Though Janie passed that next day peacefully surrounded by family, her legacy has lived on through many ways. If you are reading this, you most likely know about the Princess Warrior Foundation which was Janie’s dream to start and raise money to find a cure for Cancer through a 5K in which Janie said people could Run, Walk, Roll, Stroll or Crawl-- she didn’t want people to feel like they had to run (Thanks, Janie!). This has been an amazing way to keep Jane’s legacy going.

As someone who personally knows what it is like to lose one of the most important pieces in my life to this nasty bully, I ask you to do this; say Janie’s name often. Talk about her courage and bravery she had during her battle to your own children. Remember her on those special days like September 6th (her passing) and September 27th (her birthday). Blare BigTimeRush in your car like Janie would have loved. Do a new art project and tell whoever you are doing it with about this little girl that loved art named Janie.

And when you see her parents, say her name and share a story! To a family, I can not begin to put into words what it means to hear that name, that we used to hear daily, to now only hear sometimes within our own four walls. And if you are in Wadena, stop and sit with her for awhile...she always loved visitors. And possibly the most important thing you can do in your life now, live out your dash to the fullest. Find the good in all the world gives you, just like Janie did. It is in those moments that you will leave an impact on others, just like this beautiful little girl did to me.

About the Author:

Nikki Fechtelkotter is a Special Education Teacher in Klamath Falls, Oregon. Nicole is starting her 11th year teaching this coming school year. Her husband, Kiel and her have two girls, Avery (2), and Ellie (1). In her free time, she enjoys spending time with family, playing with the kiddos, running and taking photos. Her advice to all is to hug long, love hard and pray endlessly and always remember to be “Livin’ the Dream”.


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