Joanna was a delight and a bit complicated. I soon realized she had a number of health conditions needing attention. One of them immediate. When I asked her who her physician was, she told me she had regularly seen Dr. Quisling until he retired, but could never decide who to go to after that. I believe he had retired 30 years earlier. Thankfully, I was able to set her up with a great medical team. I remain grateful to Dr. Michelle Schroeder podiatrist at Associated Podiatrists and Dr. Tyler Steward from the UW geriatric clinic who carefully and compassionately cared for her—always aware of her desire for minimal intervention. Joanna had developed dementia and severe cataracts that rendered her blind. Because of the large size of the cataracts, they were removed in a long surgery. They had gotten so big that her cornea was never able to heal enough for clear vision. However, she was again able to know if it was day or night and to see just enough around the edges of her visual field to improve her balance and see color.
Although her short-term memory had failed her, her long-term memory was filled with more information than the average person retains. To the day she died, she was able to come up with more answers than the staff and residents combined in areas of Opera, classical music, astronomy, geography, history and classical literature. She seemed to have many Dicken’s novels nearly memorized! She could tell us not only about music and literature but also about the history surrounding the works and about the lives of composers and authors. Joanna was a delightful story teller. She loved movies from her era and knew a great deal about the actors and actresses in those movies as well. She taught us a great deal and broadened our appreciation for Opera and Dickens.
Although her short-term memory was not reliable, over the years she lived with us, she did get to know all of the care givers at Hope & A Future. Occasionally there would be some confusion of the facts, yet what was clear is that she genuinely cared about everyone and she was aware of topics important to each person. As the RN Executive Director, she would ask me how my meetings went and listened with genuine interest, often making suggestions. She often asked about her dear care giver Karen’s grandsons, as well as the classes our daughter Katie is taking as she works on a second degree. Joanna expressed a childlike joy over the dogs that lived and visited in our home. She called all of them honey and loved to hold, pet and give them a few too many treats. We first learned about her amazing sense of humor when we went out for lunch to celebrate Katie’s birthday. Joanna decided we should all have a margarita and we all laughed like school girls! She loved celebrations. Over the last two years, when it was time for Monday Manicure’s she would say to Ruthie, our art/activity therapist, “How about red, it is so nice for the holidays”. It was always almost Christmas—Joanna’s favorite time of year. Joanna also loved Friday fiddling @ Hope & A Future. She would join in choosing favorite pieces of sing a long music for Ruthie and Blaine to play on their fiddles. So, Ruthie was well equipped to select music for Joanna’s memorial service. In the morning, Karen, Rick and Ruthie made sure we had beautiful music playing when Joanna came down to our sunny table for breakfast. On Friday December 15th, when Rick came in to Joanna’s room to deliver her bedtime medication. She was lying on her bed, petting our new puppy Odie and listening to Haydn—music she knew Rick enjoyed. Joanna and Rick began talking about the music and suddenly her breathing was interrupted. She died that night surrounded by the care givers she shared a home with and who had come to love her. In our hearts, we remain a real family of friends. Although we miss her, we take comfort in knowing she now has new eyes and ears. We also hope she heard the halleluiah chorus live in heaven. Because, as she told us, “That is one piece of music that should only be heard live!” I agree.