Thursday, February 13, 2014

Too many farewells

We're having a hard week at L'Arche Edmonton. Today, the mother of one of our board members will be buried. We are also in solidarity with L'Arche Calgary, as the community mourns the tragic death of their independent living coordinator, and the injuries of their operations manager and other family members in a weekend car crash. And tomorrow, we say farewell to our beloved friend, Joyce, who died peacefully last week. (In some of my past moodlings, her pseudonym was Jane.)

Joyce had been unwell for some time, though physicians couldn't name the exact ailment, and the community chose not to increase her anxiety or pain though more invasive medical procedures. She was well cared for at home for as long as possible, but because her medical needs became more than the community could handle, she was preparing to move into long-term care when she had a stroke.

Joyce, who was a cheerful and welcoming presence for people who came to L'Arche during her 37 years in the community, left us all with many warm recollections and humourous stories. As part of the community's farewell, about 40 people crammed into the living room of Joyce's home last Thursday afternoon to share some of the memories that are her lasting gifts to us. We sang My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean because Joyce always enjoyed that song. We remembered a little lady who liked to look nice, wearing a necklace to finish her ensemble more often than not. We talked about her surprising (and sometimes slightly wicked) sense of humour, her love of sugar cubes, stuffed animals, and babies, and how many people had the opportunity to hold her hands in her last hours. We remembered her pain that was so evident in the last months, but also the times when she was content to just rest in her favourite chair wearing a small smile. She had a knack for giving people nicknames that only she used, and her infectious grin -- with the mischievous twinkle in her eye -- blessed us all.

When word got out that Joyce wouldn't be with us much longer, her hospital room filled with family and friends from the L'Arche community until people overflowed into the corridor, sharing stories and singing, making hospital visitors and staff wonder who the important person in room 23 was. After she died, her doctor told those present how much she had been touched by knowing Joyce and caring for her for only four weeks, with the tears and sadness that we all feel at her loss. Joyce's simplicity and humility touched so many -- more than we will ever know -- and I suspect that she is looking out for her L'Arche family with extra care now.

Joyce joined L'Arche's Day Program while still living at home with her mom, catching rides to the workshop with those who lived in L'Arche homes in Sherwood Park. In 1977, she joined the community, living in Little Flower home for many years, welcoming many assistants and other friends. My little girls and I were among those friends when we had tea at Little Flower some years ago. Joyce met us at the door (as she had met so many others) and kept my little ones supplied with cookies and juice while I visited with my girlfriend, who was house leader at the time. Joyce had quite the knack with little ones, and I learned later that she had worked at a daycare for quite some time.

The love expressed and tears shed at our farewell gathering last week and at the funeral tomorrow are a clear indication of how much she was loved and will be missed. I think especially of those in her home who loved her in her pain and took such good care of her in the last few years. I fully expect that when they arrive at Heaven's Gate, Joyce will be there to meet and thank them, and when other members of her L'Arche family are heaven-bound, as is the case this week, Joyce will be there to let them in.

May she and our other deceased community members and friends rest in peace.

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