Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Tale to Be Told

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.


Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Joanna, this post is a beautiful and fitting memorial to your wonderful mother. My sincere condolences to you and your family in this time of loss.

G.M. Malliet said...

You brought a few tears to my eyes, Joanna. Your mom was clearly a classy and talented lady and you painted a clear, compelling portrait of her here.

Sending my sincerest condolences on your loss.

JStantonChandler said...

I am so sorry for your loss, Joanna. This was a beautiful and elegant celebration of your mother's remarkable life. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. My prayers are with you and your sisters.


Beth Solheim said...

My condolences to you and your family, Joanna. What an honorable tribute to your mother as you celebrate her life.

Alan Orloff said...

Condolences, Joanna. A very moving and heartfelt tribute.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Joanna, I'm sorry to hear about your loss. You've written a moving tribute to your mother here.

Terri Thayer said...

Wonderful post, Joanna. Your mother should be very proud of you.

Keith Raffel said...

Joanna, Am so sorry. I wish you strength durig this difficult time.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Oh, guys, now you all made ME cry, and I'd just stopped for a while.

Thank you for your kindness.

And don't you love the fishnets?

Chrispea said...

I'm so sorry for your loss. Cancer sucks, it stole my mom, too, way too early.

Sylvia Dickey Smith said...

What beautiful memories to cherish over the years.

Kay said...

I'm so very sorry to hear of you loss. It sounds like your mother was quite a lady. I will keep you and your sisters in my thoughts and prayers.

Michelle said...

I'm so very sorry for your loss. I will pray that you & your family are given strength & comfort during this difficult time. Blessings to you always.
~~Michelle N. of eastern PA

Becca's Dirt said...

I am so sorry for the loss of your mother. It is so tough to loss someone you love and depend on. What a nice story about your mom. She must have been a classy lady.

PattiM said...

What a beautiful story of your Mom. I smiled and I cried while reading your tribute. Very well done, Joanna. I'm so sorry for your loss. I lost my Mom to complications from cancer too. CANCER SUCKS BIG TIME! Sending {{{{{{PRAYERS & HUGS}}}}}} during this difficult time and I hope you feel peace fall upon your shoulders.


(Pattie's passion)

I Scrap So All Moments Are Remembered!

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

Thank you all for your kind comments. I need to be sure my sisters see what all of you have written. I know it will comfort them as it has comforted me.

Dianne said...

The story of your Mom is touching, beautiful and showed what a wonderful person she was. One of the things that I enjoyed the most...was the loving humor that came through in your writing.
You have my prayers and thoughts.

ralang said...

My condolences to you and your sisters. It's in time like these where one realizes how important scrapbooking can be. Timeless memories captured for eternity. Thank you sharing your mother with us. May you and your family feel the warmth of His love and strength in this difficult time.

Julia Buckley said...

Joanna, what sad words for any person to have to write: my mother died. I'm sorry for your loss but thankful that you shared your mother's story of gumption and character.

Glynis said...

What a wonderful tribute, thank you for sharing your mother with us. I am sorry for your loss and hope the memories support you during such a sad time in your life.

Anonymous said...

Joanna, My heart aches for you and your sisters. Cancer stole my mother also. As a true writer, you told your mother's story with depth and passion. Hold on to the good memories. God bless you during this time of healing.