Sunday, July 06, 2014

One month

One month ago today, my sister-in-law Joan passed away.  It hasn’t completely sunk in yet; when she died, I was so busy and overwhelmed that I just tried to make it through the day without thinking too much. That seemed to work for me so I just carry on and tell myself I will think and remember and grieve when I can process it better.  I have her obituary from the newspaper on the fridge and am hoping it will slowly sink in but instead it’s a shock every single time I see it.  Sometimes I can’t believe she’s gone already and other times I can’t believe it’s only been one month.  Death is confusing and no matter how many times I try to tell myself that it’s natural and will happen to everyone, it just feels like the most wrong thing ever.  Anyway, Joan often read the blog and just in case she still does, I want her to know what she meant to me and my kids and how much we miss her.

I was only 12 when Joan and my brother got married, so I can hardly remember when she wasn’t part of the family.  The first time I saw her was when she played baseball on the same local women’s team as my sister.  With her wild curly blonde hair and personality to match, she stood out.  She was funny, very outgoing, always laughing, always in the middle of the action. At 26, she was already a widow, which added a whole other level of intrigue and awe.  She wore cool sunglasses and had two piercings in each ear.  She was like a rock star in my quiet, rural world. 

I could hardly believe my luck when Joan and my brother Greg started dating.  My brother was kind of intimidating - I’m actually still a bit frightened of him (it’s okay if he reads that; I think he’ll take that as a compliment) - so I was surprised that he even had a girlfriend, never mind that it was my secret hero (who happened to be seven years older than him!). That was a happy day.  I remember the first time she came to our house for dinner; for dessert my mom made a fancy chocolate cake from the cover of the Canadian Living magazine.  I guess Joan must have liked it because she ended up marrying my brother. They actually made a great pair - kind of like good cop, bad cop. They asked me to be a candle lighter at their wedding (along with Joan’s younger brother) and I couldn’t have been more thrilled.  I wore a long yellow dress with spaghetti straps and a bolero - the kids wear it for dress-up now – and I was on top of the world.

Sometime after they were married, Jim and I went to stay at their house in St. Vital for a few nights one spring break.  It was such a novelty staying in the city and being able to walk to the mall.  Joan gave us money to rent Beta movies to watch while she and Greg were at work.  This was especially exciting because we didn’t even have a TV (except in December, which is another story), never mind a video cassette recorder of any kind.  So Jim and I went and rented Risky Business, which is rated R.  We were pretty young but I don’t recall it being an issue at the video store.  When Joan asked what movie we had watched, we were hesitant to tell her but she just raised her eyebrows a little and laughed.  We were relieved that she was cool with it, but when I look back and realize she was still in her 20s then, it makes more sense.

When Greg & Joan came home to visit, I always tried to impress Joan with my piano-playing. I remember pounding out the Genesis song “That’s All” many a time on the piano in the basement.  I had very little musical ability, yet Joan still took notice and complimented me.  If she had come over more often, I might have had a future in piano-playing.  Or maybe she would’ve come over more often if she hadn’t had to put up with that racket every time.

I was in grade 12 when Greg & Joan made me an auntie.  I was so excited; Teresa was always going on and on about her nephew Josh; finally I could join in with my Dylan stories.  Jordan was born four years later and both boys were so cute and smart and funny.  Joan was so proud of them right to the very end (and rightly so).  Cheryl became part of the family a few years ago and she and Dylan gave Joan the most loved grandchildren ever.  A prouder grandma would be hard to find.  Knowing how much my children’s lives have been enriched by the love and presence of their grandparents makes me so sad that Joan’s grandchildren won’t have her in their lives as they grow up.  I’m sure she’ll be cheering them on from heaven and sending little reminders to let them know that she loves them.

My mom and sisters standing awkwardly in new aprons made by a cousin.

Joan made our family get-togethers much more fun.  She always told interesting and funny stories and loved to laugh.  She was a good listener and stuck up for people who were going through hard times.  She had a soft heart with much empathy for others. One thing that particularly stands out was her generous gift-giving.  She bought awesome gifts and the gift bags were always stuffed with excessive amounts of tissue paper and ribbons.  At Christmas, you could always tell which gifts she had brought.  For the past few years, every special occasion also warranted a musical card.  It was her trademark, and my kids especially loved and looked forward to them.  She’d underline special words in the card and always signed it “Lotsa Love …”

Her sickness was short but intense and she was amazing through it all.  Even when she was in more pain than she’d ever admit, she’d thank the nurses, compliment my children, and express appreciation for things people brought her.  Her sense of humour made things more bearable; each time my kids visited her - including the very last time - Joan laughed with them and told them she loved them.  It must have taken a big effort on her part, but it greatly lessened the kids' trauma of seeing their vibrant auntie in a hospital bed. She was gracious and classy to the end; putting others ahead of herself.

I’m glad she didn’t have to suffer long, but she left way too early.  She had a lot of life left in her; there should have been more motorcycle trips with Greg, more flowers to plant, more trips to Mexico, more deer to take pictures of, more salsa to make, and especially many more years with her family that she loved so much.

I miss her laugh, her generous spirit, her caring personality, the way she made my kids feel special, and the spark of life she added to our family.  She made things fun and exciting and was the kind of person that others wanted to be around.  Her physical absence leaves a huge void, but with a spirit like hers, it’s impossible not to think of her and smile.  And cry.  Lotsa love to you, Joan. xoxoxo


Anonymous said...

Wow that's crazy it's been a month already!! Even crazier that she's actually gone. Doesn't seem real. I totally remember staying there on Greenwood Ave riding the new matching black Ten Speeds going to rent a movie. She was super cool. With her pickup truck with a mobile phone back in 82.
Very nice post. You said it all.
Just caught up on your last string of posts. We actually get internet out here at the lake. Maybe see you out here this wk. Jim

Daniel said...

Ellen, that was so beautiful. You've got an amazing memory, to be able to dredge up details and feelings from way back then (oops, did I just call you old?).
You've summarized so much of what made Joan such a wonderful person - she really made this world a better place, and we were lucky to have her in our family - thanks Greg!!

Anonymous said...

So beautiful, Ellen.

xo Sio

Anonymous said...

Ohhh Ellen, you captured Joan perfectly. What a beautiful tribute! I can almost hear Joan's laughter in the 1st photo.
My heart aches for you and your Family. (Hugs) - Pat

Anonymous said...

Beautiful words, my dear. She obviously was an amazing and very special lady.


Anonymous said...

What a lovely tribute! I'm so sorry for your whole family's loss but also grateful for the wonderful memories you clearly have.


Anonymous said...

thx for writing that-very well said.
Cousin Carolyn