By Ken Carter
By Ken Carter
For nearly two decades one Academy member has possibly brought more comfort, compassion and peace to hurting families than any other individual. She is a “behind the scenes” kinda girl who doesn’t feel comfortable under a spotlight. For those whom she’s served, however, she’s been a bright and shining star who’s provided light and hope for hundreds of families from around the world who’ve lost loved ones.
Janet Edwards began her service as the Academy’s mortuary officer in March of 1992 and has since overseen the funerals and/or memorial services for some 900 people who’ve perished by every means imaginable. The whole time she’s made the comfort of those left behind to grieve her top priority.
The Kermit, Texas native started her career as a clerk-typist, GS-3, at the Elmendorf Civilian Personnel Office in September 1985. By 1992, she’d relocated and her business became that of touching hearts over typewriter keys at the Air Force Academy. She’s never looked back.
With countless deeply moving experiences over the years, Ms. Edwards says she has become close with so many families.
“I would have to say the most recent memory that stays in my mind is the death of Donna Head in December 2007,” she said. “I think of her every time I drive to the Academy Community Center or the cemetery. She and her family are very special people and assisting with her funeral was very moving because she was (and still is) an amazing woman and I was honored to be a part of honoring her.”
Death and dying are a part of life … but being continuously surrounded by them requires a faithful support group to keep it all in perspective.
“I enjoy tremendous support from my family, friends and the entire staff of chaplains at the Academy Cadet and Community Center Chapels,” Ms. Edwards said. “Last but not least, my leadership including my immediate supervisor, Frank Gross, all the way up to the superintendent couldn’t be more supportive – which helps me to do what I need to do to provide the best possible service to our families during some most difficult times.”
There’s always family pain in the loss of a loved one … and sometimes that pain finds its way into the heart of the mortuary officer.
“My most painful memory was the suicide of a 13 year old boy whom I was close to,” she said. “To deal
with my emotions and yet provide support to his father was one of the most difficult and confusing times in my job. I remember coming to work the morning after the death, after a very restless night, sitting in my chair and feeling totally lost and helpless as I began to prepare a case file not unlike the hundreds I’d prepared before.”
She found herself completely lost asking internally how she would be able to put on a ‘professional face’ while her heart was broken. At that very moment, the phone rang and it was the father asking her to come see him to provide him guidance. It all clicked into place; but it was still very difficult for Ms. Edwards.
One might think the compassion, empathy and support fuel tank could run dry after 17 years of faithful service centered on selflessness. For Ms. Edwards, however, it appears serving actually provides its own form of in-flight refueling.
“As long as they’ll let me continue working, I absolutely plan to stay in my current job,” she said. “I’m eligible to retire from civil service in approximately 14 years … that seems so far away and I haven’t given it much thought.” When that day comes, she would like to spend more time traveling to see her family and squeeze in a trail run here and there.
Ms. Edwards’ empathy for her ‘customers’ has not gone unnoticed by those in her chain of command, past or present.
“Since Janet’s arrival here in the early 90’s, she has shown the caring and professionalism one would expect from a person in her position. She also adds another personal aspect to this difficult environment and that is the sincere compassion she brings into each situation,” said Operations Chief for the Force Support Squadron Franklin Gross.
Mr. Gross went on to explain how Ms. Edwards is totally engaged and even emotionally connected at times.