JoAnn Wells (1936-2018)
My mom, JoAnn Wells loved celebrations and, as did her mother, Cecile, she loved people. She and God must have conspired to have mom die on a blazing hot, Canada Day, July 1st, a national day to celebrate our wonderful country and our freedoms.
On behalf of JoAnn's husband and our dad, Bob; my brother, Mike and sister, Karen, and myself thank you for being an integral part of today's celebration of JoAnn's life, death and resurrection.
There's a proverb written by the Maori people, a tribe in Africa that says: "I am the river and the river is me."
Mom was born on Josephine Ave near the Detroit river in the West end of Windsor on Jan 12, 1936. She described the day as told by her parents as "snowing like crazy", surely a first sign of her powerful force arriving in our world. Born at home, her dad had called for the doctor but forgot to get the assisting nurse. Could this have been a foreshadowing of mom's future vocation as a home visiting nurse?
An insatiable hunger for learning and experiencing the untried, mom dared to risk and to discover. Before going into nursing studies, mom wanted to quit school in order to continue working in the bank because she liked the money.
However, her older sister Geraldine went to their parents and begged them not to let mom do this. "Your aunt Gerry could see I was ambitious. She was instrumental in getting me to sharpen up and not to do stupid stuff." Given all the crazy antics that I've heard or witnessed, I'm not so sure mom ever settled down. Nonetheless, becoming educated and a nurse was, in retrospect, a great decision for mom and benefitted many.
What most of us appreciate and will remember about mom is her exuberance for life and her positive attitude. Mom devoted her entire life to faith, family and friends, and especially to our dad. A consummate organizer, she was always connecting or in connection with people.
Mom's sister, Annette shared with me recently that when mom was young she was like a bouncing ball, her energy huge and this continued even into her last weeks of life. Aunt Annette told me that one year as a teen she went to 7 proms. Why? Mom's guy friends would come to her because mom would recruit her sister or other girls to be their date.
I'm sure some of you with us today were part of mom's many circles of friends. Mom's loves and vast interests involved her nursing class or nursing colleagues from work, her creative expression through quilting, knitting and sewing, 3 card groups, her athletic pursuits - golfing, biking, qigong and racket ball, her church and after church Macdonald's friends, my Heart of Compassion Faith Community, and later as her illness progressed, she befriended people in the chronic disease management program.
There was an ironic twist of truth when dad left this message on my voice mail the day mom died: "The hospital called this morning. Mom's going out."
Mom was tenacious. Whatever she set her mind to doing she manifested without hesitation. She had no trouble expressing her values and needs, speaking her mind. Mom once told me that her mother would say, "JoAnn you're so blunt." In my younger years this annoyed me and was often the source of our clash in personalities. I was too much like her. Most of the time mom was right on the mark with her fierce wisdom, and when she wasn't she was easily apologetic. She forgave others quickly, too.
Mom enjoyed talking and was an equally attentive listener. She was an accepting person and was open to engage others who had differing perspectives than her own. When mom would catch herself judging someone, she would instantly acknowledge her own limitations and give people the freedom to chose their own path. Her grandson, Brian's new wife Brittany wrote, "There was so much to love about JoAnn, but what I appreciate most is how accepting she was of me. She treated me like one of her own from the very beginning." And her, granddaughter Brooke wrote: "Grandma made me feel like I was her main priority. She always told me she was proud and happy for me. She was always on my side." I ask, didn't we all feel like we were the most important person when we were with mom?
Although mom ardently enjoyed her various interests and had a lot of fun, she took seriously the needs of others. Minutes after mom's death around 9 pm her friends Lucy and Jane arrived. We spent time at mom's bedside sharing stories and praying. Lucy shared about the day her brother died in a tragic train accident.
Mom was sitting in her car waiting for Lucy to pick her up for a shift as a V.O.N. nurse. When Lucy didn't come, mom called into work for a ride and soon discovered what had happened. At the end of her long work day, mom came to her door, not with a casserole or soup, but with a question: "What do you need?" This was only one of countless examples of mom's sensitivity to the needs of others and her enormous generosity. I can hear mom's voice right now inviting me to tone down my accolades of her. She wasn't a person who enjoyed being elevated and truly embraced her humanness. Okay, mom just a few minutes longer.
All of these beautiful qualities of caring and compassion intensified in Mom's two year cancer journey. We were all shocked and devastated with the news of mom's stage 4 cancer that eventually spread to her lungs, bones and liver. With her boundless energy and good health, I remain confounded that she was struck with such a fatal disease.
Mom inspired all of us with her courage and strength in frequent encounters with horrible pain and increasing disability. John, her grandson wrote: "I appreciate how strong she was. I'm thankful for how hard she fought and how she was able to put the pain behind her for family."
Throughout her cancer journey, mom's attitude was genuinely positive. As her vulnerability increased, her capacity grew to gift us with the privilege of giving to her what she needed. As a caregiver this was not always easy, but she graciously received many of us here today with our offers of care, help and concern. Remarkable to me is that no matter how she was feeling she always asked, "How are you doing?"
Mom knew her fate, and made the best of a difficult situation. She'd say, "I take one day at a time" or "I'm living in the moment." She was destined to have as much fun as she could until her life was over, despite all our prodding about her needing to rest. Grandson Brian summarized mom best: "Fiesty. Energetic. Never sat still, always pushed forward. Valued family and friends. Lived the way she wanted to. Loved." Mom, you inspired all of us and left us with a legacy about how to live and love, especially when the going gets tough.
I can't end without speaking about mom's faith and spirituality. She had many spiritual and religious practices- daily prayer and meditation, scripture reading, weekly mass attendance, and involvements in Why Catholic? and other faith sharing groups. When I'd tell her my troubles, she'd often say me, "When I don't know what to do I pray to the Holy Spirit."
In her final weeks, days, and hours, the fruits of mom's long life in the Spirit became powerfully evident. There were many sacred moments that I was privileged to witness and to participate in, each too intimate and within mom's God relationship to share publicly. A couple weeks before she died, Mom said, "I don't know how people live without God in their lives. Who will bail them out?" Thank you, Creator God for bailing Mom out!
Mom was unconscious most of those last couple of days. Many of you came to pray, cry, share stories, talk with mom, and to touch her. We created an altar space on top of the prayer quilt given to her at the beginning of her cancer diagnosis. Over the 2 years about a hundred people tied a knot and said a prayer for mom.
Mom told me she wasn't afraid to die, and as expected she worried about burdening us or letting us all down, especially concerned about how dad would fare. She often spoke in gratitude, "I've had a good life: a wonderful husband, family and friends."
Two weeks ago we were in her kitchen each coloring an image from an adult coloring book. More and more confined to her home, Mom found this quieting and we enjoyed the creative connection. Sitting across from her and felt an overwhelming love that led me to hold her hands. With tears I looked into her eyes, "I love you so much, Mom." Her response, "I will not abandon you."
I was alone with mom in the final two hours of her life. As I lay beside her listening to changes in her breathing, the softening light danced on the leaves of a tree that adorned her window - peace and quiet pervaded the entire space.
At around 8:30 pm, I stood at the end of her bed, closed my eyes and spoke these words with my hands in prayer: "Come Holy Spirit. Go to God now, Mom. Jesus, Mary and all your loved ones are waiting for you." I opened my eyes and mom was no longer breathing. I felt ecstatic joy, kissed her and whispered, "Mom you did it. You went to God!" This was the most extraordinary moment of my life. Mom had been received in God's peace, love and endless light.
"I am the river and the river is me." In her later years, mom could often be found walking along the river with her friend Jane or riding her bike. Many of my best moments with her were sitting on a bench by the river.
Thank you, on behalf of my dad and family for being a companion on mom's journey, midwives all as mom was drawn toward the vast ocean of God. I feel her beautiful Spirit within me. She is in the Communion of Saints now, one with the Risen Christ, forever in our memory and in our loving. Pray to mom often for guidance and wisdom, and when you go to the river, please remember her.
Wells, JoAnn Cecile (Nee Gignac)JoAnn was received into the fullness of God’s endless love and light on July 1, 2018 at the age of 82. Beloved wife of Robert Wells, married 60 years. Devoted mom to Barbara Billey (Ken), Mike Wells (Sandy), and Karen Small (Robert). Loving grandmother of John Wells (Bethany), Brooke Wells, Brian Small (Brittany) and Stephanie Small, and great-grandmother of Hailey. Cherished sister of Geraldine Gignac-Moody, Noble Gignac Jr., and Annette Kusluski. JoAnn valued her faith, family and friends. A nurse for over 30 years, her exuberance for life and positive attitude inspired many. Gratitude to dear friend, Jane, Fr. Maurice Restivo, St. Elizabeth Nurses, Sylvia and Linda and the health care professionals who gave compassionate care during JoAnn’s cancer journey. We will miss her profoundly, and hold her spirit with us forever in our memory and in our loving.Visitation will be held at Janisse Funeral Home, 1139 Ouellette Ave, 519-253-5225, on Thursday, July 5, 2018 from 6-9pm, Prayers at 7:30pm. Mass of the Resurrection at Our Lady of Assumption Church - McEwan Campus (711 McEwan Ave) on Fri, July 6 at 11am. In lieu of flowers, donations for JoAnn’s great grandchild, Hailey are greatly appreciated in care of Sandy Wells or to your charity of choice.Barbara J. Billey, M.A. (Counselling)
Canadian Certified Counsellor
Registered Canadian Art Therapist
1978 Katella Ave, Windsor, ON N8P 0A4