Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Don't swear to God...Janet Moore is up there!

The end of August is always a transition time. In L'Arche, it's the departure of one crop of assistants and throwing open the doors to welcome a new crew. In the family, it's buying pencils and duo-tangs and new jeans for the much-anticipated back to school. And in nature, the evenings get cooler and the leaves, regrettably, start to show hints of turning colour.

But even though I am an old hand at the end of summer change, this year I feel that transitional dis-ease in much deeper way. Over the past few months, I feel like I have been confronted with all these "opportunities" to look at myself and my life in a deeper, more honest way. Am I satisfied with where my life is today? Am I an active participant in deciding where I am headed, or do I just let the current carry me along?

For sure the event of the summer that really stirred me up happened in July. My friend Janet died. (I've written about Janet before, here and here.) More than a friend, Janet was a babysitter, an entertainer, an inspiration, and the founder of this community that has become my home. Her death, and also the days and weeks leading up to it, marked a passage in my life and the life of my community, and has pushed me to live up to Janet's example of a life of intention and engagement.

Janet's death was not a tragedy. She lived a good life, and she had a peaceful and sacred passage from this life to the next. We supported Janet with dignity and helped create an environment where she could reveal her gifts and thus transform the people and the world around her. But still I am sad. I miss Janet. I don't want her to be gone. I want her to me at my house, snuggling with my husband on the couch when I pop in for lunch asking me "What are you doing here?" I want her sitting next to me in the Chapel, holding my hand and checking me out for a good long time before realizing, "Jenn Power! It's you!" I want her to reach out for kisses and hugs from my boys, to marvel at Maggie's accomplishments, to ask, "Today Thursday?"

Instead, she lingers just at the back of my mind and the middle of my heart, reminding me to stand my ground; choose life; allow others to help me, even when I don't want to; be faithful to my friends; celebrate every small victory; be silly at least once a day; give my kids a lickin' when they deserve it. Janet Moore set the bar pretty high and now I need to do my best to reach it.

There is so much more to say about Janet. Maybe I will just post the Words of Remembrance that Silas wrote and shared at her funeral. He said a lot. Here it is:

Janet Evaline Moore
July 17, 1947 – July 16, 2010

I am deeply honoured that Wilma and the rest of Janet's family have trusted me with the task of remembering Janet in words. It is a privilege and it is also a burden. These words have been difficult to write. Writing them means I am saying goodbye to this woman, and goodbye is the last thing I want to say.

I am not unique in holding Janet so dear. As we sat with Janet this past week and more we have been overwhelmed by the messages and visits we have shared with her. So many people, from her own baby sister to the priest who is celebrating this service with us today, to the many children she has “lovingly and firmly” babysat, to the dozens of former L'Arche assistants who are spread across Canada, England, France, Germany, Poland, Finland, and Australia, say they wouldn't be the person they are today if not for Janet.

How is it this one little woman has meant so very much to so very many people?

Janet had many qualities that made her who she was. She was a woman of character, a woman of charisma. She was a woman with dignity and stateliness, a sense of self-worth that was not grasping or competitive (Of course she also knew how to be silly.). Janet was a woman of determination, and a skilled negotiator. Crossed eyes and a furrowed brow were never so eloquent or effective as on Janet Moore. Janet was a woman of music and of laughter (“There's a snake on your back!”).

If all I had to do here was to tell the stories we've been sharing these last days, I could keep you here for a week. I never knew a woman who had so many stories told about her.

Some stories are just one word. Janet had a way of making up her own words, especially names. My name, by the way, is “Salad.” Over there you see Vince Smith, or “Prince Sniff.” Neither of those is as much fun as her old minister, Wim Creeft, who went by “Wimp Creep.” (“I saw my missiner today, Wimp Creep!”).

Some of Janet's stories are just one line. Janet's lines were very important to her. Good luck becoming Janet's friend if you hadn't learned her language. “You old hen!” “Wash it, you're older than me!” “Are you cracking up?” “I cracked up two weeks ago.” “Now you're cooking with gas.” “Put that in your pipe and smoke it.” “I can't smoke!” “Sorry about that, chief.” “Are you feeling okay??” “I swear to God, Janet.” “Don't swear to God.” “Why?” “My parents are up there!”

Other stories are summed up in one line, although really there's more to tell: how she began her university talks with “Good morning boys and girls, my name is Miss Moore.” How she described her nephew: “Michael George, he works in the army. Yep, he shoots people.” Or: “That Anne Gunn, she's preg-a-nant again.” Or: “That weatherman should be shot. We should take him to Louisbourg.”

Some stories really are stories, and they need to be told. When our community was in its infancy, with just Janet and Tom and Anne and a few kids, Jim and Elsie came to Corinthian House for a meeting. They had trusted Tom and Anne with their daughter for one month, and this meeting was a chance to sit down and see whether that trust had been well-placed. Toward the end of the meeting Tom asked Janet if there was anything she would like to say. Well, yes, there was. With all the earnest gravity of her 34 years and her extra chromosome, Janet looked her parents in the eye and said, “Mom, Dad, Tom Gunn took advantage of me.” As Tom's heart sank into his boots, along with his shattered dreams of community, Jim and Elsie knew that for Janet, being taken advantage of meant that she hadn't always gotten her way, but had had to learn to compromise. Trust well placed.

There is another story that I think says even more about Janet, one I heard just this week. Janet always valued official processes, and having her voice heard by the authorities, and as we all know, she would get most exasperated with the people she was the closest to. On one of her weekends with Wilma and John, Janet complained so much about her housemate Angus that finally John said, “You know what, Janet? I'm going to put him in the book.” He took out a little book that had the Nova Scotia Power emblem on the cover, and wrote down Angus' name. Well, that was just what the doctor ordered. For some time thereafter, whenever Janet would get especially frustrated with a person or a situation, John would write it in the book, and Janet's troubles would be over. One fateful day, Janet's baby sister Wilma got her name in the book, I'm sure for being too cranky, or for bossing Janet around one too many times. But touchingly, before she went to bed that night, Janet came to John and made him take Wilma's name out of the book.

We can all be grateful that Janet was a woman of family. She was loved well her whole life long. At a time when parents were given no encouragement or guidance whatsoever about disability, Jim and Elsie somehow knew in their bones that Janet was theirs, that she had value, and that she belonged at the heart of their family. Wilma has described to me how she and Janet grew up more like twins than ordinary sisters, sharing a room, sharing toys, sharing friends, sharing walks to the store or to Sunday school (and later, sharing boyfriends, if Janet had had her way). Janet was loved much and well.

Janet was a woman of family, and therefore, a woman of community. Janet knew she was the Founder, and she carried that role with dignity, as a responsibility rather than a title or a privilege.

In L'Arche we talk about three pillars of community life: welcome, celebration, and forgiveness. Even after 27 years, and who knows how many people had come and gone from Janet's life at L'Arche, she still invited people in. She still delightedly told everyone “You know what? I got a new girl!”. (This year, as it grew harder and harder for Janet to learn names, Tommy was surely glad when Freda arrived, so that he was no longer Janet's “new girl”.) Could anyone celebrate like Janet? Who else could take so much delight in a meal, in a song, in a tuppa tea, in a balloon birthday hat? As for forgiveness, although she may not have been good at choosing the words (“I'm sorry. Now don't do it again.”), in her heart she forgave us over and over again. How else could she keep opening that heart? Janet took the love she received from her family and brought it here. Now look what it has grown.

Janet was a woman of generosity, with her love, especially for babies, with her home and her community, always glad to share it with someone new, and with the spotlight, which she loved but which she also loved to share.

She was a woman of faith and faithfulness, a member of the United Church who mainly attended Presbyterian services, and who got a blessing at every Catholic Mass she could get to, and who is finally being celebrated today by a Catholic priest and an Anglican.

Finally, Janet was a woman of strength and of weakness. At L'Arche we often speak of the weak or the poor, two words which I think apply poorly to Janet Moore, at least in her prime. But she did always have her worries – anxiety about whether it was Thursday, whether it would rain, or God forbid, whether there would be thunder. So much of Janet's life was a search for security, an attempt to keep her fears at bay by drawing good people toward her, people she knew would help her to be safe. She brought people together through her reliance on them.

In her latter years, Janet became more and more a person of weakness. As she grew older, Janet gradually lost much of her sight, most of her words, and almost all of her independence. These were often difficult times for Janet, as her anxieties did nothing but grow, and her ability to communicate those anxieties, or to receive comfort, diminished. But they were not without their beauty.

Over this past year I have been touched again and again by the tenderness of this woman, who had always been so tough, tolerating no nonsense, and certainly no mushiness. I first noticed how our early morning banter, as we left her house each Wednesday for our babysitting day, went from joking to serious. I used to call out, as if I were Janet's voice, “Goodbye, Katie! Goodbye Tommy! I miss you! I love you!” and Janet would say, “Oh stop it. You sound 'idiculous.” But this year she hardly ever crossed the threshold without saying it herself, “Goodbye! I love you!”

As Janet needed more and more help to get through her day, much to our surprise, this independent woman accepted our help with grace and gratitude. She held fast to the tiny accomplishments of an ordinary day, where just getting into the van, or making it from the couch to the table, was something to celebrate.

At a certain point in my relationship with Janet she began to need help in ways I never thought I would have to help her. I had to choose between my discomfort with intruding on Janet's dignity, and my desire to preserve our time together. I chose for us to stay together, and one day, as I was helping Janet, and feeling awkward and embarrassed, Janet turned to me, and with eyes brimming, said simply, “I love you. I love you. I love you.”

Janet lived through her death just as well and wisely as she lived her life. Bathed in the love of family and friends, and surrounded by music, Janet quietly, peacefully, held on for all she was worth. I've been joking this week that I never knew someone who came to her own wake before. But that's what she did – she gave all of us a chance to say goodbye.

Cathy Brady had a chance to sing, to pray, and to weep over her. Ed had a chance to make up a new song as he sang it to her. And Mary LeBlanc made her love for Janet complete, and this will be my last story. Mary's own health is not strong, and her communication is limited, as arthritis has all but eliminated her ability to sign. She gets things across mainly by facial expression and by literally digging in her heels when she needs to. When Janet took to her bed at the end, Mary, whose room was across the hall, refused to sleep. For four nights running, Mary didn't sleep, and none of us knew what to do. Finally someone thought of putting a cot beside Janet's bed, and there Mary happily lay down and slept like a baby.

Last night we waked Janet at home. As the evening grew later we tried to help Mary to bed. Three times we wheeled Mary down the hall, and three times Mary dug her heels in and refused to go to her room. Finally Jenn asked her if she wanted to go to Janet's now empty room instead of her own. Mary happily agreed, and then just as happily got in to Janet's bed, where she spent the night.

I don't believe Janet would think much of this eulogy, neither the length nor the sentimentality. Janet was always matter-of-fact about death, and I will close with the few words I have heard Janet say about many a dear friend who has “gone up to heaven” ahead of her. I believe she would say: Whissht! Up she goes! Now don't swear to God, because Janet Moore is up there.