Our friend Joyce died the end of March and her memorial service was earlier this month. I’m still, sometimes, in disbelief that she’s gone. And yet I remain eternally grateful that I knew her, and that she touched and infused my – and our – lives with her quiet grace, elegance, beauty, and wisdom.
I’d only known Joyce a little over a year, so it seems a shock that her life and mine had intertwined so deeply in such a short time. Joyce was a long-time friend of other friends and all of us were on Facebook. In January 2010, Joyce noticed – through these friends of friends on Facebook – that she and I had the same birthday, not only the same day but the same year, so she contacted me to see if the birthday was accurate. As a result of this connection, we started an email correspondence and it was uncanny how many things we both loved and shared – books, music, documentaries, poetry, artists …….. pizza.
Sometimes one of us would mention a favorite book or author and the other had already read it. And other times, we were able to introduce the other to a new idea, concept, author, or documentary. One book that Joyce introduced me to was The Art Spirit, a 1923 book by Robert Henri that speaks to artists, but it’s also about life. It’s a gem of a book that can be read and re-read at different times. This section makes me think of Joyce: “There are moments in our lives, there are moments in a day when we seem to see beyond the usual. Such are the moments of our greatest happiness. Such are the moments of our greatest wisdom -if one could but recall his [ and I’ll add “her”] vision by some sort of sign. It was in this hope that the arts were invented. Sign-posts on the way to what may be. Sign-posts toward greater knowledge.” Joyce was, indeed, a sign-post for me in so many ways.
In February we had lunch together and I learned a little more about Joyce, her interests, and the fact that she was an incredible artist (though she never mentioned this; I barely knew the extent of her artistic reach). My experience, at this point, with Joyce’s art was her artistry in living life. I admired her paintings and drawings on her website and followed her adventures with a group of fellow artists in Yellowstone last March. In late spring, I saw her studio and some of her amazing art, but it wasn’t until her service that I saw an inkling of the full range of her fine art abilities.
We both loved Leonard Cohen and his songs – particularly Hallelujah – and it seemed that no matter where we went, that song would somehow appear. We’d meet at the St. John’s summer concert series for a picnic on the lawn and incredible live music, and The Jaded Ladies would slide into the beautiful harmonies of Hallelujah, or the radio would be on, and some version of Hallelujah would appear. Or – okay – we’d put a Leonard Cohen CD on and purposefully listen to his songs. And we both loved Mary Oliver poetry and often shared favorite lines.
In late August, Joyce gave an art workshop at a ranch in Two Dot, Montana and came home from it totally exhausted. She seemed to rally a little in September, until she thought she’d pulled a groin muscle from moving a pot of geraniums into the right light for a painting. She had a lot of pain from that “muscle” and was struggling with that the day we celebrated our 60th birthday together – with tamales, refried beans, and margaritas in the lovely fall light on our deck – on September 26th. A week later she was in the hospital with a cancer diagnosis and … maybe two weeks to live.
What struck me at this time was how incredibly accepting she was about it all. We’d never talked about author Byron Katie, but Joyce’s acceptance of it all reminded me of Katie’s comment that “When you argue with reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time” or another version of this insight: “You’re responsible for your own misery ….. but only all of it.” Joyce certainly seemed to embrace her reality and refused misery. Me? I really think I’d be pretty darn pissed. And maybe Joyce was, but she never shared that with me. She was just accepting. And – more than just accepting – she continued to live her life with the quiet grace I’d come to know. I was talking to her during this hospital stay, and asking about MRIs and CAT scans and treatments. Her amazing reply? “The most incredible thing happened!” I’m thinking that you’re dealing with cancer and severe pain and the most incredible thing is happening??? Well, for Joyce, yes. One of the people taking her to the MRI was a former neighbor, and she was so excited to get to re-connect with this person, even under the gravest of circumstances.
Joyce responded so well to the initial treatments and we all had such hopes for recovery. I’m not sure that Joyce had hopes one way or another. She just lived her life, but I was so grateful that those two weeks extended to five months for all of the rest of us.
One of the few books I’d read, but Joyce hadn’t was The Four Agreements. But, even not having read it, she appeared to embody those agreements: (1) Be Impeccable with your word. (2) Don’t take anything personally. (3) Don’t make assumptions. (4) Always do your best. Being human, Joyce more than likely, perhaps, took things personally and made assumptions, but I never saw that side of her. Clearly, though, she was impeccable with her word and always did her best.
About a month before she died, Joyce and her (and mine, too) dear friends Marcie and Monita came out for lunch. We just sat and ate and laughed and talked (and … okay … drank a little – raspberry cosmopolitans; they were really good). It was just a great afternoon of being together. It reminded me of an Oprah show where a family had lost a mother to cancer and before she died the family took trips together all around the country. But what the young daughter remembered the most was sitting with her mom at 2 a.m., eating a bowl of cereal together. Oprah says that “Here’s what I found so powerful about Kate’s story: They’d been everywhere from Palm Springs to Disney World, but what Kate remembered was a simple, intimate moment of connection. My producers and I call it the Cheerios moment.” Here’s a picture from our Cheerios Moment:
At Joyce’s service, many people shared varied experiences with and about her. The theme that ran through all of these – whether they came from lifelong friends, neighbors, art teachers, or her own art students – was integrity. Joyce had integrity in her life and in her art. One of her fellow artists talked about how he watched her paint in Yellowstone, and described it as “unflinching.” Indeed, my dear cosmic sister Joyce was unflinching in living her life and creating her art.
Joyce’s dear friend Monita read a moving tribute to Joyce at the funeral, and Monita has given me permission to share it here.
HER BIGGER PICTURE
Your cancer experience and passing have shaken the deepest part of my being. During the past five months I have witnessed your quiet grace as you wove your way through seemingly endless hours of doctor appointments, chemo treatments, lab work, transfusions, scans, and tests. Five months? How can that be? Wasn’t it just last week the doctor introduced us to the world of the big “C”?
In my amazement, it was as though the minute you heard the diagnosis, you accepted it, embraced it, then moved forward. How did you do that? Did you know something I didn’t?
Not once did you use the word ‘pain.’ When I would ask about pain level, you would just say “Oh, I’m a little sore today.” Not once during treatment did you cry.
The one time I asked you about this, you said in all seriousness, “Monita, I believe you were sent to me to cry my tears as well as yours.” Joyce – were you sent to teach me something? Had you already grasped the bigger picture?
From our conversations, from the books and readings we shared, this is what I have learned and what I believe. Your time here was just a stop along the way. And, I was one of the fortunate souls to have mingled with yours.
You’ve discarded the jacket you once wore. That’s all there is to it. Nothing else has been lost.
I believe you are now where you can see the bigger picture, you can see the colors that we here cannot fathom. I believe your essence is vibrating at a frequency we cannot see or hear, but you are with us.
Here’s what else I have learned:
• Pulling the “C” card is okay when someone is being rude.
•Sitting comfortably in silence with your best friend is a wonderful gift.
• Losing your hair did not change your grace and beauty.
• You can slam back a shot of good whiskey. I have witnessed this.
• A melt-down in the car on the way to the hospice house will get you out of a speeding ticket. Thank you nice officer.
• And that you have A LOT of friends. They all respect you, Joyce. You’ve done well with your time here, my little friend.
Okay, Joyce. I fulfilled my promise to you. You better keep yours, sister.
Love you, miss you.
I don’t think Joyce had a clue as to how powerfully she impacted other people just by being her best self, but it was so clear at her service and through the comments on her Caring Bridge website. The power of Joyce’s presence and her impact made me think of another favorite singer of ours – Eva Cassidy – and her song “Take My Breath Away” – “Sometimes it amazes me how strong the power of love can be ….. sometimes it just takes my breath away.”
Here’s what I’ve learned from Joyce: When we live with integrity, the ripple effect of that reaches out and touches everyone we touch …. And even beyond. My friend, Rose, who never met Joyce and only knows of her through my conversations to Rose about Joyce e-mailed me this: “It is all about how we live. Do we live exuding joy and pleasure in the smallest of things? Do we find and give beauty to the world around us? Do people sense something inside that draws them to be in our presence? I think that Joyce has all of that. I have missed not knowing her because through your words I have sensed who she is and that she would have added joy to my life had I met her in person. She has added joy to my life in my happiness that you know her.” Wow! Look at the impact Joyce had on a total stranger.
Joyce has taught me how to live my life better, and that just being my own best self – whenever I can – is enough. This afternoon, I picked up a book (The Tenth Insight) I’d bought at our local library sale, and it fell open to this line: “If we stay aware and acknowledge the great mystery that is life, we will see that we have been perfectly placed in exactly the right position ….. to make all the difference in the world.”
Thank you, dear Joyce, for making all the difference in the world to so many of us.