Eulogy for Joan…a Short Life, Well-lived ~ Part 1

“I’m thin and I have long brown hair,” she told me on the phone. Thus ended the first conversation I had with my two-year college roommate and forever close friend. In fairness, I asked her what she looked like so I’d know her on move-in day into our off-campus apartment for my freshman year and her junior year at the University of Maryland. Really, I wanted to know what she looked like because I wanted to know how much I had to worry about my new-ish boyfriend meeting her (I was 17 at the time…your needs change). The physical description she gave could have been me, but I knew after a few minutes of conversation that this girl from Long Island was in a class by herself. I had the basic information…finished her Associate’s in a community college while living at home and coming to UM to get her Bachelor’s in communications. Boyfriend from high school who was at University of West Virginia. One of nine children. Likes wine. I also knew that she was magical and positive and would be an important person in my life.

I did not meet Joan’s parents when we moved in, although I don’t remember why. We shared a small bedroom in a two bedroom apartment containing four of us in total. We agreed when the boyfriends visited we would be accommodating about privacy. She quickly secured a spot on the campus radio station as a disc jockey and the Long Island accent rarely made an appearance on the radio. She had been of age to get into bars two years before the rest of us and to go out with Joan was to meet new friends and spend the evening dancing and laughing. We shared clothes (in fact we did resemble each other quite a bit during our college years) and confidences, made our own way hours from our homes, shared a car and a love of chocolate, and made memories during and beyond our time at Maryland.

Joan and I met each other’s families along with the families of our other two roommates, and three of the four of us became very close. We relocated without our fourth roommate the following year and Laurie and I decided that Joan should have her own room since she never had before. We were all good students so I am sure we did a lot of studying and working academically as well as in town for tuition money, but the things I remember most are the gloriously fun times. Driving to UWV for a football game and a few parties. Watching Joan dance with her feet skipping and her hands rolling around each other (it was the eighties). The parties we threw and attended with friends. The weekends at Joan’s brother’s condo in the Hamptons. The adventures at Laurie’s parents’ farm in Lancaster. Laurie’s sister, Lynda, visiting and giving us perms and cuts and color. The spring break trip with a large group of fraternity brothers to Ft. Lauderdale, only to move on to Clearwater, where the two of us stayed with Joan’s Aunt Helen. On almost all of these occasions Joan’s boyfriend, Bobby, was there. The two of them unknowingly provided a role model for the rest of us for what a loving relationship looked like. Also, Bobby was (and is) hilariously funny and that never hurt a venture!

Inevitably, during Joan’s senior year, Bob proposed at the first rest area going north on the New Jersey Turnpike (the location wasn’t the inevitable part, the proposal was). As I sat writing this it occurred to me that I was not really sure if they married at the end of Joan’s senior year or the May after that. And I reached for my phone to text Joan to ask. Damn. She has been gone from our world for over five months and I still have to remind myself of this fact every time. Every. Time.

**Please watch my page over the next few days for the continuation of this piece and to learn more about Joan’s influence on everyone in her life, from the perspective of one who learned much (me).

The First Foray

I’ve just had a decadent sip of icy Chardonnay, even though my elementary school class will not leave the classroom to board the buses for another ten to fifteen minutes. No, I am not imbibing at school.

Fortunately, my class has an able substitute teacher for dismissal this afternoon, as I have just returned home from an afternoon doctor’s appointment to address a significant spike in my blood pressure. It is no surprise to me that my doctor’s opinion was that we should retake it a few weeks after school lets out for the summer. I wonder how many of our physical issues are a direct result of trying to meet the expectations of others? I am not speaking about trying to keep 28 summer-ready children quiet through the week because standardized testing is going on in ten percent of the rooms. I am not speaking of the increasing hostility toward those who do my job from those who have likely never done it, and certainly not under the current conditions. I am not discussing the factors over which we have zero control yet are still evaluated against. I am speaking about everyone, but I know more about teaching than I do about most things other than parenting.

The project engineer who relies on a well-paid contractor to meet a deadline so the engineer can meet his or hers. The community social worker who has a caseload of seventy five or more families. The roofer who is not able to finish a job on time because of unseasonable weather. The senator who knows that the bill she is sponsoring to help the desperate constituents that she met this morning will likely not pass. The hard-working performer whose show is closing because the ticket sales aren’t enough to pay for the theater. The service-member who has the expertise and desire to go into combat but is instead assigned to the stateside staff of someone much higher in rank. All of these people want to succeed at what they do but at times, and often most of the time, are put into situations where the likelihood of succeeding has many obstacles. Like me, I know many of these people nonetheless take on these additional burdens and attempt to get the same result as they’d get without them. I wonder how many of us are compromising our health to achieve this, whether or not we are aware of it.

For my own health, I will be making changes and I hope they will not only be beneficial to me but also to those around me and those that depend on me, both at work and outside it. These are not earth-shattering revelations but rather personal and professional resolutions (and it will be somewhat earth-shattering to me if I am able to keep them). I hope someone else can be helped by reading them as well.

First, I am going to let go of those things over which I have no control. This might be a computer failure at work during mandatory testing or a surprise hailstorm doing over $3000 in damage to my vehicle. Both have happened and none of my worrying and micro-managing helped in the least. In both cases everything turned out well in the end. Not in the prescribed time, but well enough in the end.

Next, I am going to stop bringing so much work home. I know I won’t stop entirely, but my family and my interests deserve my unpaid time more than work does. Work will always be there. The people I love will not.

I am also going to make more time for my passions. I have been “writing” a book for the better part of five years. I have zero finished pages but a full folder of discarded ideas. If I never publish a thing, one day one of my descendants will be grateful for a written history of several of his or her ancestors. Additionally, I will get in the car or on a plane more often to go see the people I miss.

Finally, I am going to invest the same amount (or more) of maintenance in my family and friends as I do in my work. And this will close my very first blog post, since I have an out-of-town daughter and granddaughter here tonight and the baby is in a huggy-kissy frame of mind. Here’s to the best of intentions and the highest of hopes!