My baby sister (in-law) Joanne passed away last Sunday. I've been running on I don't know what for the last few days. The funeral was yesterday and I felt like dying when they lowered her casket into the ground. I was thinking what if she gets lonely... what if she gets cold... but then I remembered that she was really elsewhere, and that what was at the cemetary was just her body on this earth for the last 23 and a half years.
The whole time at the viewing I kept waiting for her to get up. Once it was just me and her in there and I was kneeling by her and I was like "Jo....they're all gone... you can get up now." When it came time to close everything and prepare for the burial I was begging her in my head...We're running out of time Jo please...just get up. I know that sounds stupid but I kept thinking until they closed it that there was a chance it was just all one big mistake.
I gave one of the eulogies at her mass... I'll re-post it here because I want people to remember her the way she was, and not the way she left. But first, thanks to all my friends for their beautiful words about her. I'm glad that even though a lot of you didn't know her well that you were able to see what she was all about.
Thursday, April 4, 2002 - St. Mary's Church
"When I think of Joanne it always struck me how rare it was to find such sweetness and beauty in the same person. Beautiful people are a dime a dozen in this world but to find someone who was actually as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside...that was rare.
I've been feeling guilty for the last 3 days because we all haven't really been able to stop crying. I know they always say "She wouldn't have wanted us to cry" but in Jo's case it was actually true. She hated to see anyone cry. Sometimes I would start crying about something or other and she would listen for a bit then start crying too. Then she would look at me accusingly and yell "See what you did?????"
I'm not going to talk about what might have been, people shouldn't remember her that way. I'd rather talk about some of the things I loved the most about her, namely her loyalty, sweetness, fiery-ness and her unbelievable sense of humor. I can't count how many times I would catch her with some bizarre facial expression because her first instinct was always to smile. Like you would get a paper cut or something and go "Ouch!" she would say "Are you okay?" and she'd be worried but she'd be smiling. When we first met it was at some random family function in Closter and we all played Pictionary. Joanne was my partner and at first I felt sorry for her because I can barely draw stick figures. But then the word was "freeway" and I drew a road with cars on it and then I drew a big dollar sign, circled it and put a big line through it. Joanne studies it and says "No money way" and I gesture trying to get her to say more but she just keeps saying "No money way!" until she's jumping up and down screaming it. Steph isn't even looking at John's drawings anymore, she's just listening to Joanne. And then Steph goes "FREEWAY!!" I'm looking at Joanne in disbelief and yell "What exactly is a NO MONEY WAY???" and she grabs some of my earlier artistic masterpieces and yells back "Well what exactly are these supposed to be??" and we both start laughing hysterically.
Jo was always game if it was funny. We'd be laughing about something that someone had said or did and that person would come into the room and she'd look at me and say "Yes Marissa? What were you saying earlier?" We had about a million inside jokes and sometimes I'd be talking to someone and Jo would be standing there making every effort to catch my eye so that I would burst out laughing. If I turned away she'd move back into my line of vision and give me this mischievous look.
When my turtle Sammy died she was properly sympathetic but a couple months later she stole my cell phone as a prank and when I got it back and turned it on it said "Hello, Turtle killer."
Sometimes we'd be at Holy Name where she went to nursing school, hanging out and playing spades or just sitting around making each other laugh. I don't know how she managed to get such good test scores with me around. We used to play this game, there was this picture of Dennis dancing around when he was around 4. It's a great picture. He's twirling or something. Which is funny because she used to call Dennis "Mr. Princess." Joanne and I used to steal this picture from each other. Like she would open my wallet, see the picture and go "Hey!!!" And then a week later I'd walk into her dorm room and see the same picture tacked up on her wall and be like "You little thief."
Anything anyone gave her was important to her. She would use it a million times and you could tell she just loved it no matter what it was. Dennis bought her this Polosport bag once and for awhile she used it everywhere, with her big clunky trademark Joanne boots. She would be wearing a dress with this Polosport bag and it didn't match but she didn't care because he gave it to her. She also loved to give other people things. Once a few of my college friends came to visit me from California. I had to work so Jo acted as their tour guide. The day before they left she came into my apartment with my favorite color flowers for me. She just walked in and said "Look!! Lilac!!" Later on I asked her how she had managed to buy me flowers since, being a student, she had no money. She smiled and said "I guilt-tripped your friends into buying them for you."
One time she came over and handed me this weird little, purple, plastic bendy thing with the word "LILAC" written on it in more bendy plastic. She says "Look!! I made that for you." I say, "What is it?" And she says "I don't know." For years she and I could never figure out what this thing that she had made for me was supposed to be.
Joanne was the quintessential mother...daughter, little sister, friend, whatever. She loved you for everything. She wanted you for everything. I used to tell her that if I were ever going into battle I would want her at my back. She was unwavering in her support and loyalty. Family was most important to her above anything and everything. She loved her daughter and mother and father and brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and cousins so much, especially you D. Back when you were still in your bossy big brother stage and yelling at her for getting home late, she would complain to me but I could tell she didn't really mind. I'd say "It's just because you're his baby sister." And she would say "I'm not a baby." But she'd be smiling and I could tell she secretly loved it. At our wedding she laughed at herself because she had cried so hard during Dennis's dance with their mother.
When she first told me she was pregnant I considered yelling at her but she was so happy I couldn't bring myself to do it. After Angelina was born Joanne told me how much she loved to just lay her down and look at her. She couldn?t believe how precious she was but the rest of us could because so was the mother.
I know you can hear me so I've got a few things to say. Thank you so much for blessing all of us with your love and laughter. In the darkest hours you were always there with an ear or a laugh. Your smile used to make me feel like I could take on the world and win. Everytime my phone rang and I saw your number I would spontaneously giggle out loud because I knew something good was coming. You don't know how special it made me feel that you never applied the words "in-law" to me, you were my sister and I was yours from the moment you grabbed my hand and led me to your basement room to pin our idiotic Pictionary drawings up on your corkboard.
I promise you that your daughter will know what an unbelievable woman her mother was. She'll know about everything you ever did for me, your family and your friends. She'll know every memory I have in my possession and every memory I can get in other peoples' possessions. People will tell her over and over again and then we will write them down so that she can read them whenever she wants. She will grow up and she will have your sense of humor, your loyalty, your unselfishness, your fire and your never-ending capacity to love.
We miss you already but know your journey has to continue and that your uncle will take care of you until we get there. We all love you. We will think of you everyday and sometimes cry but hopefully, mostly laugh.
They say that friends, sisters are angels who give you wings when you can't fly. And that's what God has now. He has an angel who would give you the wings off her back so that you could fly."