When we first moved here, of all the people we thought might come to visit wild and woolly Costa Rica, Mam, Hal's mom, would be the very last. Not just because she had never shown particular interest in traveling to foreign lands, but because she had been quite ill during the preceding year. She was a shadow of her former self, a mere slip of a girl at 79 years old, quite frail, frequently needing oxygen.
Eh, those minor details didn't stop her. Practically the day after we landed, she and her sister, Sally, flew in for a week. We still grin and shake our heads about that. We expected my mother, who hiked the Himalayas at 70, had been to Costa Rica for a 10 day trip by herself a few years later, had lived in an RV on the beach in Mexico for a couple of years, to hop on down any minute. Oddly, I finally had to drag her here. (I did not have to drag her away…)
Not Joanie – she couldn't get here fast enough! Then, she wanted to see everything. So we did. It was a wonderful trip. I'd been married to her oldest boy for 15 years by then, so we were fairly well-acquainted. But that trip sealed the deal: we laughed, we talked, we hung out, a good time.
Mam did pretty well the next few years, still living alone in her Naples condo. She went to mass every morning at 5:30. She quilted and crocheted for the church goodwill store. We'd spend the night with her when we flew into the U.S., hang out for a couple of days.
Then, earlier this year, Aunt Peggy called us. Aunt Peggy is my sister-in-law, married to the second best-looking man on the planet, Uncle Brian, Hal's brother. See any resemblance? Peggy had just spoken with Joanie and Joanie was very disoriented, couldn't finish a sentence. Peggy drove right to Naples and spent the next few weeks with Mam, taking her to doctors, sitting with her while she spent time in the hospital, taking care of her, making her laugh. Most of the time, you wouldn't know Joanie was sick: she was a riot.
She was not a riot at this particular moment because she couldn't put her thoughts together. It turned out she had a tumor pressing on her brain. They went in and took it out, assuring us she could then finish her sentences.
Apparently, when you have an operation on your brain, at first, the electrical impulses are flying everywhere – your synapses are not meeting like they used to – and your personality changes for a time, hopefully a short time. When she first came out of that operation, Hal was there. He said she
was a pistol: very angry, threw her dinner tray on the floor, demanded
to be taken home, pulled her IVs out. She was definitely finishing
sentences: short, declarative ones. Joanie is tiny, I tower over her, and here she is
challenging the male nurse to a showdown. Very
upsetting for Hal and his four siblings at the time, but the telling
of it paints a pretty wild scene. Thankfully, within about three days, she started getting back to normal.
While she was recovering, and after the first couple of escape attempts, the hospital drugged her big time so she wouldn't try to leave again. This did not sit well with the kids. Hal looked up the drugs she was getting online (I wonder where he learned that trick). Pretty powerful stuff. The doctors wanted her unconscious so they wouldn't have to deal with her, but the kids wanted her as conscious as possible. For one thing, she was not happy. For another, if she couldn't walk, she could get pneumonia. She sure couldn't walk on those drugs. So Hal approached the doctor:
Hal: "We'd like my mother to be put on a different drug. She's not happy being so unconscious and we'd like her to be able to walk. Could you put her on something so that she is more conscious?"
Doctor (with an attitude): "What are you, a doctor?"
Hal: "No, but in my work, I've learned a lot about drugs and we don't want her on this one."
Doctor (kinda haughty): "What's your work?"
Hal (nice as he can be): "I'm a malpractice attorney."
That pinhead doctor didn't say another word and Joanie got her drugs and got to walk and left the hospital as soon as she was able. But she left with sad news: she had brain cancer. The doctors told her she probably had 2-3 months to live. She could get radiation treatment and extend her life by one or two months. She opted for radiation. That was in June.
She went to live with Peggy and Brian in Key West. She did really well. Although she slept a lot, she was with it and funny and enjoyed herself. Like for July 4th, since she had no hair and since Uncle Brian notoriously had his bald head airbrushed on all major holidays, Joanie did, too. What the hey, you only live once.
All five of her remaining kids and Aunt Sally spent a week with Joanie in Key West mid-September. Hal brought back some great photos of them all, a very happy time.
Brain cancer is not such a bad way to go, if you get to pick your cancer. No pain because there are no nerve endings in the brain (it hadn't metastasized to other areas), and you die in your sleep. On Monday, 26 October, Joanie did, she died peacefully in her sleep. It's still very sad. We miss having her on the planet. We are grateful we knew in advance. Hal and his siblings got to enjoy their mom till the very end.
Hal wrote the obituary. It's really beautiful. Joanie would have loved it, especially the part about the mustang. It's here:
Having celebrated 82 summers, Teresa Joan O'Boyle, Joanie, to her many friends, died quietly of natural causes on October 26, 2009 at the home of her son and daughter-in-law in Key West, Florida.
Joanie was born in 1928, the third of five children in Scranton, Pennsylvania to Elizabeth and Thomas Moran, the former manager of the Scranton Times. She grew up spiritually and literally in the shadow of Saint Patrick's Catholic Church in the Moran home on Jackson Street, where her sister Jean still lives today.
The Morans lived so close to the church that the ringing of the great bell hushed conversation and invariably drew from Grandma Elizabeth a whispered, and always mysterious, "Hark, hark, the dogs all bark." The habit became a quirky reflex to ringing church bells that Joanie passed down through generations.
Joanie attended West Side High School and Marywood College in Scranton. She eloped with her high school sweetheart, Claude J. O'Boyle in 1949, a union that lasted until Claude's death nearly 50 years later.
Claude and Joan left Scranton for Brockton, Massachusetts, in the early 60s with their first five children. They would have one more in New England.
In the 1970s Claude left the corporate world and the family moved to Cape Cod where they owned and operated the Whydah Restaurant in South Yarmouth. Joanie charmed the customers with her unique brand of cheerful abuse, while Claude provided memorably tasty fare in the Sicilian style of his mother, the formidable culinary mistress, Grandma Ruth. After they sold the Whydah, Joanie learned graphic arts from scratch to produce the advertising publication that she and Claude owned until retiring in the 90s to Naples, Florida.
After Claude's passing in 1998, Joanie devoted her extraordinary skills as a seamstress, crochet artist, and craftswoman to benefit the Saint Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church in Naples.
Joanie's later years illustrated her often repeated words, "Just because there's snow on the roof, doesn't mean the fire's out inside." She drove her yellow Mustang convertible, her snowy hair flying in the breeze, until she realized fellow drivers were "just too damn slow for their own good," and reluctantly left the driving to others.
She outlived her husband of 49 years, Claude; her daughter, Megan; and her brother Thomas.
She is survived by her children: Harold O'Boyle and his wife, Sally, San Jose, Costa Rica; Larry O'Boyle, West Dennis, MA; Bridgid and her husband George Webster, Diamond Head, MI; Brian O'Boyle and his wife Margaret, Key West, FL; Molly Ann Murphy and her husband Steve Moore, South Yarmouth, MA; Ed Johnson, the widower of daughter Megan, Smithfield, UT; three sisters: Elizabeth Vournakes, of Chambersburg, PA; Jean Rhue and Sally Kearney, of Scranton, PA; eleven grandchildren, and a bright yellow Mustang convertible.
A service will be held and announced at a later date in Scranton, PA, where Joanie's ashes will be interred beside those of her husband.
The family would like to express our gratitude for the kind help of Hospice Visiting Nurses Association of the Florida Keys, where donations may be sent in lieu of flowers in the name of Joan O'Boyle, C/O Hospice Care of Southeast Florida, 91256 Overseas Highway, Tavernier Towne Center #11, Tavernier, FL 33070.
We also want to thank Joan's sister, Sally Kearney, whose irrepressible good cheer and loving companionship brightened the last years of Joanie's life immeasurably, and Joan's son Brian and his wife, Peggy, who cared for her in her final months with the kindness and love we can all only hope for as our own lives come to a close.
"The song is ended but the melody lingers on."