We bring our years to an end, as it were a tale that is told.
Last week we buried my mother, Joanna Evans Funk Campbell. This is her story:
My mother was part of a prestigious old Southern family, the Middleton-Manigaults. The Middletons signed the Declaration of Independence. The Manigaults loaned George Washington a half a million dollars to finance the Revolutionary War. In my grandmother's house was a spindly, uncomfortable white wooden chair where Lafayette sat and discussed strategy for the conflict. You can't go anywhere in Charleston SC without seeing a name connected to the Middleton-Manigaults. For example, they owned part of Kiawah Island. They owned the breath-taking Middleton Gardens, they built the Manigault House, and their plantation Brookgreen is legendary for its beauty.
Mom was justifiably proud of her family history, and she made sure that each of us three girls, her three children, had scrapbooks with family photos and lore in them. She found the world a fascinating place and she loved pointing out historical tidbits or scenic wonders. In fact, my sisters and I still laugh about the way she'd drive us through the mountains around Chattanooga with one hand on the steering wheel and the other pointing to the mist over the valleys. "Oh, look, girls," she'd drawl.
We, meantime, screamed back, "Watch the road! We're all going to die!"
Mom was, at her heart, a teacher, an instructor who enjoyed passing on her knowledge. After dancing with the Atlanta (Georgia) Civic Ballet and the New York City Ballet, she ran a ballet studio. Her method for teaching students to do "grand jetes" (big leaps) was simplicity itself: she drew an oval on the floor, added wonky "fishes", and said, "Now jump over the puddle and don't let the fishies bite your toes."
When I asked her why she didn't continue her career in New York City, she shared a litany of reasons. She had seen how the other dancers starved themselves, and she wasn't interested in that. A partner had knocked her foot out from under her during a "pas de deux" (dance for two), and her ankle was seriously compromised. She'd watched another dancer finish a piece, step off stage, untie her satin ribbons, and dump blood from her toe shoes. But most compelling, Mom wanted a family.
So she had us. Me (Joanna Ward or "Jonie"), Jane, and Margaret.
She also had a crappy marriage with an abusive alcoholic, my dad. When he left us, we all went on welfare. Then Mom embarked on a second career. She went back to school and got a degree in nutrition, which allowed her to work in the food service industry.
For the past 20 years, she lived in Florida with my sisters. Three years ago, she survived a bout of cancer of the larynx. In January of this year, a scan showed two masses, one in each lung. Mom clung to the idea that chemo would again save her life. But on July 17, a hospice nurse, Sally Lippert, came to assess her situation. Mom had been struggling, but once a performer, always a performer--she'd done a great job of hiding how sick she was.
When Sally asked Mom in private, "Do you know why I'm here?", my very proper Southern belle of a mother said, "Yes, and it sucks."
On July 19, Mom slipped into a coma. My sisters and I cared for her in Margaret's home. With the help of hospice, we administered morphine regularly, cleaned her, and kept her comfortable.
It broke my heart to see her beautiful legs--as shown in the photo above--so bowed and distorted. The cancer had infiltrated her bones.
On July 26, my mother died.