One year ago, January 23, 2016, Joanne, the love of my life, the loving mom to our four kids and extended family, and friend to all, died. Nearly five years earlier, she had been diagnosed with interstitial lung disease, most likely caused by an allergic reaction to the drug amiodorone. This disease causes scarring of the lungs and has a progressive effect on lung function, leading to death. There is no known cure. Her prognosis was three to five years.
How does one react to the realization of such a prognosis? How does one live each day with that in your life, just down the road a piece? How does that effect how you interact with family and a wide circle of friends? For her, it was her grace, love and calmness that were on display. A close friend once observed that Joanne was the “personification of grace”, and she was! As time passed I had cause to ask: “How does she do that?”
For myself, I bottled up anger, hid away my emotions, after all, just ordinary days, right? How often did I drive away from one hospital or another, angry, heart-sick, pounding on my steering wheel? Prayers on my mind, but “why God?” on my lips! But, I was just an observer, she, the main event!
Joyce Landorf in her book Mourning Song relates a comment made by her mother at the time her mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness: Her mother told her “Honey, for thirty-four years I’ve taught you how a Christian should live. Now, I’m going to show you how one dies!”
That statement applies directly to Joanne. But, it is one thing to consider how a Christian dies with dignity; it is another to live it day, by day, by day. What strength within translated to her daily sense of peace and welcoming attitude? What was that spark that everyone could sense in her, but few could fully understand? How did she do that?
Each day was new, always with a smile, a “good morning” and a kiss. My role was to get her coffee, while her role was transforming the day with spirit, love and a calmness that touched everyone. Honey, how did you do that?
I don’t believe she ever knew a stranger, just dear friends she had yet to meet! In no time at all there was no stranger in the room, just two friends talking and laughing and being at ease. It wasn’t magical, it was just Joanne. How did she do that?
She loved our trips to England and Italy with our dear friends, Dick and Martha. Evensong in some of the most beautiful cathedrals was always a draw for us and our ridiculous time at Winchester Cathedral where the four of us walked around singing that song. We got some interesting stares from those around us. There was that time on July 4 when we drove past the American Embassy and Joanne leaned out the window, waving an American flag and shouted USA to a group of protesters, who cheered! Everything about Italy was great, but she really loved our time in Rome, so much to see, her time at the Vatican Museum was “awesome”. And then there was Florence (seeing the art Masters in person, including David) and in Venus (the food and gondolas). Her energy and spirit were something to see. How did she do that?
So many things she loved. Rummikub for dimes and quarters with Bob and Robin, volunteering at Heifer Ranch and here at Timbercrest, book clubs and knitting, and her circle of friends at Zion. She loved the great fun we had with the family in wild games of Tripoli and bingo and those crazy skits! And sometimes the best way to end the day was with a glass of wine and watching an episode of “Midsomer Murders”, which she referred to as “cozy murders”. How did she do that?
Most of all, she loved our family, as it grew and added members, especially those grand-babies. She loved family reunions, and camping, and biking, although she did not like to ride her bike across bridges, and her adventure down 86 steps to the beach at South Haven was something to see! She was the “crafty gramma”, always with good ideas of things kids could make. She was a teacher at heart. She loved dogs and it was not unusual to see her sitting with a 100 pound golden retriever curled up on her lap! And amazingly, she loved me! She loved, she loved, she loved so much in life. She just plain loved life. How did she do that?
During the five years of her illness, oxygen and her cannula were her constant companions, and that long green hose that always followed. Five years of doctor visits and hospital stays, and those frequent reports that her lung function was on the decline, never seemed to bring her down. During her final weeks, she welcomed the Hospice staff just as she welcomed any visitor. Never, during all that time did Joanne complain or show signs of feeling sorry for herself. Her focus was always on the other, the family, the visitor, and was I doing too much? To the very end, her grace and gentle touch never wavered. How was she able to do that?
A large part of the answer to how she did all that rests in her personal faith. She found confidence and peace in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength”. She believed that everything in her life was a gift from God, even her illness! She believed with all of her heart that God was in charge and that God loved us and that God has a purpose for our lives. She had an abiding faith that God would give her what she needed to carry out His work in her, to its final completion. And so she lived her life with love, confidence and peace. That is how she did it.
She gave us all something very special and very practical as we live our own lives. For me she is more than a guardian angel, she is the model of a life well lived and we are all blessed by having known her.
For What It’s Worth.