This is the obituary I wrote for my mother years ago, which I was lucky to find on my computer. I had to update the “survived by” and “predeceased by” sections, I had to fill in her age (“age Tk”) and the date (“date tk”), but I was grateful that I had something already written when the funeral home asked me for the obit the day after she died. I know that I followed a template that I’d found on the internet to write it. I vaguely remember having read an article that recommended writing the obituary of a loved-one with a long-term illness in advance. I vaguely remember feeling something adjacent to relief after I wrote it, as if I had accomplished something practical and productive, a welcome feeling in a time when I often didn’t know what to do.
I didn’t know why I was keeping this long-unused WordPress account. Right now, it is offering me a remedy to the fact that I wanted a less tacky memorial page than was easily available through other means. I might build a whole house around it, and I might leave it here as it is.
When she first moved to Boca Raton, Florida, she lived in a condo by a canal where she would sometimes see a manatee moving slowly through the muddy-green water. Her favourite beach was within a secluded nature preserve thick with banyan trees. When she moved to the Buffalo area to be closer to me, she chose a house within walking distance of the Niagara River. “I’m a water baby,” she told me. When she was dying, I told her she had always been a beautiful wave. I told her she was becoming a beautiful wave.
Early in her illness, she copied out a few poems over and over, working on memorizing them. (This was around the same time she was creating her lists of animals.) One of the poems she copied out many times was “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” by William Butler Yeats, which I quoted in her obituary. Here is the complete sonnet:
If you knew Joanna — intimately or from a distance, for years or for a brief chapter — and you would like to post a remembrance or note of any kind, please do so below. I know that there are those who prefer to remember her privately, and that is beautiful. For those who are moved to share something with me, here or through email, please know that I cherish every impression, physical description, anecdote, concrete detail, scrap of dialogue. A funny thing she said, a heartbreaking moment you witnessed, a song you know she loved, a piece of jewelry you remember her wearing with pleasure. The way she talked about her cats. I am hungry for the old stories.
On behalf of my mother, thank you for being here in this space that is past space, the sea of memory.
She used to call me “Damy” and when I got older, it made me feel childish, and at some point I asked her to stop. I miss it now.
Such a Beautiful, Lovely Soul.
I enjoyed working with Joanna for several years.
She was so proud of her daughter who I had the pleasure of meeting.
Her memory will live on through the people who knew and cared about her.
Dear Damian, “Damy,” Mike, Levi and all family members of Joanna,
I’m grateful to have known Joanna although it was for just a brief chapter of my life. You see, she first “arrived” in my life as a yet to meet portrait, painted by my brother, Don, who was “smitten;” wow, is that ever an understatement! Joanna had resided in the same apartment building as Don , which was just across the street from his employer and in an industrial neighborhood of LA county. Don had quickly succumbed to Joanna’s legendary charms as soon we all would. Joanna’s enigmatic, exquisite as the first morning of a blooming rose, replete with peaches and cream complexion , crowned by a bevy of chestnut locks flowing down to her waist, captured not only my brother but our mom, sister, dad and me. Joanna’s artistry, mystical leanings and artistic prowess was a “match made in leaven” for the dashing, ever popular, politically progressive, intellectually inclined Don. When introductions were made, I too was enchanted by this fairy like princess. It was as if Sir Lancelot himself had stepped out through time and found his Guinevere transported “across the pond” of the shires of England to the smog choked North Long Beach of 1970. Their magnetism danced as protons and electrons recognizing their destiny as one. Although this attraction waned through time, as so many of our youthful partnering’s of that decade did, their love created a most luminous jewell, Damian, of which my family is so proud to call our own.
In 1972, both Joanna and I became mothers. When Don urged Lucy and I to come back to Michigan and visit so we could meet Damian and they could meet Tania, we shared memorable moments at art venues, meeting Joanna’s parents and extended family as well as sweet bonding times. Lucy, Joanna, Damian and Tania went to the Detroit Zoo while Mr. Shaeffer flew Don and I high above the beautiful scenery of the Mitten State. Although it was apparent at that time that tensions were starting to fray the union of Joanna and Don,it was clear that Damian meant the world to both. That summer of ’72 was the last I spent time with Joanna. Lucy, Don’s and my mother however kept close through correspondence and one of the pinnacles of our mom’s last years was when Damian came for a visit.
Farewell “Beautiful Wave” Joanna. Now that you’re home in Innisfree, I’ve no doubt that my mom, Damian’s paternal grandmother, Levi’s paternal great mother, is “tickled pink” to share in the Great Mystery together with you.
Soon after my mother moved to a seniors home in Toronto I came from Halifax to visit her. Joanna was visiting Michael and Damian and the four of us went out to dinner. My mom who was an artist was adjusting to life in the seniors home lamented that she no longer had her art supplies and missed painting. Without a moments hesitation Joanna, an artist herself, said I would love to paint with you. We can share ideas. I will always remember Joanna’s gracious and thoughtful response to my mothers lament. It certainly made my moms day.
Damian: My memories of both you and Jo are somewhat distant, but an intergeral part of the web we weave as we wander through this earthly world. Joanna was always the smiling shy one in a family of relative extroverts. Allan, Roger, Sue … Al and Jeanne. Memories of coffee and grilled meats in the Berkley house.
Loss is never easy, but as with Sue it can be a blessing, both for those staying and those going. At least that is my thought. Live life fully and carry no regrets; there is no map, only a journey.
Love from a distance
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