This past January my dear friend and co-worker, JoEllen died from pancreatic cancer, and this is the second version of this post I have written. The first one went into detail about her diagnosis, her eventual death and how she fought as best she could, without delusion, until she decided not to fight anymore. Then I thought that this is not likely how she or anyone would want to be remembered, not for how they left, but for how they lived. And JoEllen did live. She had a large extended family, which was not without its issues (no family isn't) and she was the sun to many planets in her orbit. We viewed her similarly at work, and she was the person everyone turned to when they needed help solving a problem, wanted to know how things really worked, or if you just needed to talk things out and vent. She was "mom" to many.
No one is perfect, but JoEllen had some very admirable traits. One was her patience with all kinds of people, accept for the idle lazy. Tied to this was here ability to listen, which is a muchly underused skill these days. Long after I would have changed the subject or day dreamed away, she would have still been all ears. I also admired her open mind and ease at accepting people who did not fit the mold. It is no secret that the people I work with can be a bit quirky, myself included, but she found a way to relate to everyone, and was able to mediate between clashing personalities. JoEllen was an avid reader and spent all of her lunch breaks in the car, no matter the weather, with her books and her cigarettes. It always amazed me that she was not only speaking terms with her ex-husbands, but she was good friends with them, as well as their new wives. She had a great love for nature, gardening, camping, her work, her town of Smithfield and especially her family.
After her death we wanted to honor and acknowledge her in some way at work. It took us about two seconds to come up with planting a garden in her name. Rather than creating a brand new garden from scratch, we chose to re-do and dedicate a spot that already existed, one that was surrounded by our daylily sales area, as this was her favorite plant and many already exist in her garden. We also did some serious editing, pulling out things that no longer served their purpose. Butterfly and bird-friendly plants were added, as well as feeders and a birdbath. Touches of her favorite color, blue, were added. Late in June we had a party for JoEllen and dedicated her garden. Current and past employees were invited, as well as her family. I had to (but wanted to) make one of those speaches no adult ever looks forward to. But I did not choke completely, and I think she would have been pleased with our group effort.
As part of the bargain of life, we will all have to accept the fact that we and and the people we love will eventually die, but this one has been hard for me. I mentioned that JoEllen was a mom to both her real family and her work family. However, on the day of her funeral I found out from one of her daughters that she thought of me as a brother, and though I did not realize it at the time, I too thought of her like a sister I never had. Unfortunately social decorum can often keep people from discovering or expressing how they feel, and in this case I was too late. It's a tough lesson I learned from a good sister.