In Jo's Blog

Elderly couple together, smiling for the cameraMy friend Joan Hornsby is dying. For all I know (I am in India. She is in Fall River, my childhood home), she may already be gone. I’ve been thinking about her constantly for the past few days. It’s harder than it seems to think of anyone (other than one’s self) constantly. But I’ve been thinking about Joan. Constantly.

I went up to Suzuki Roshi’s room not long before his death. He was in bed, extremely weak, his skin discoloured. He bowed, and I did the same. Then he looked right at me and said, not with a loud voice, but firmly, “Don’t grieve for me. Don’t worry. I know who I am.”

Friends who go as far back in time as the Hornsbys are rare. Friends who were first grown-ups when you were a child are rarer still. And most of the time it seems like they were always around. You can’t remember not knowing them.

Except for the Hornsbys. Their arrival in our family’s life is a story we still tell today, over 40 years later.

My mother was a journalist. In addition to her full-time job with the local Catholic newspaper, she freelanced for the New Bedford Standard Times and it was up to her to find interesting stories for their Sunday edition. When she heard about the Hornsbys, she knew she had that week’s story sewn up.

Both Harvard graduates. He, an Episcopalian minister; She, then, a young mother of two.

Mom went to their house to interview Jim. She found them neck-deep in a wall-papering project. Their two little girls were trying to help. Jim was thrilled to be released to talk to the newspaper reporter. Joan, left now to manage not only the wall-papering but also the girls, was furious. Jim talked. Joan glared.

Mom had seven children herself. She cut the interview short, then said, as only my Mom could say: “You know, I’ve got a little girl just about your daughters’ age. Why don’t I take them home with me so you can get on with your work?”

Nobody but Mom could have made such an offer. Nobody but Joan could have agreed. But that day, a perfect stranger (literally) took two little girls away from their parents and into our lives and the rest is a friendship of over forty years – built on trust and unconditional love.

Joan went on to become a clinical psychologist. She and Jim had a 3rd child. And somehow – who knows how? – she became our family’s Guardian Angel, the one we all turned to in times of crisis, the one we all felt we could confide in, the one whom we knew would understand.

We talked to her about our parents; about our marriages; about our children, our fears, our triumphs, our failures. There was nothing we couldn’t share with her because she was beyond judgment. She simply did not judge. She listened. She heard. She received our stories and then she gave them back to us.

“Don’t grieve for me. Don’t worry. I know who I am.”

I can hear Joan’s voice right now. My brother Owen went to see her this weekend. I told him how sad I was about her imminent death and he wrote back: “Be happy. She is. She is very much at peace. She uplifted me more than I her; Of that, I am very sure. She said she has had a very good life.”

A very, very, very good life. My heart is breaking right now as I consider a world without Joan. I ache for Jim and for Alison, Liz and Jen. But oh! How I bless the day we met Joan! How I give thanks for her life and her witness! How did we get so lucky, that we got to know her and love her and be loved by her?

God speed, dearest Joan. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


Showing 2 comments
  • Patti Harney

    I, too, have been thinking about her for days knowing she is at the end. She has been a wonderful resource in my life as well for many years. I am so glad that your brother went to see her recently. She is one of the smartest and most caring people I have ever met. I miss her very much already.

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