Saturday, June 24, 2017

In Celebration of the Life of Joan Kenny

Three weeks ago today, my mother died.  Mom spent the final twenty years of her life exactly where she had always wanted to be.  She lived at the beach.  Her home in Jupiter, Florida was located directly across A1A from the Jupiter Reef Club. It was located "one-tenth of a mile" from the ocean, which fact she never, ever tired of telling anyone who asked.  The beach was Mom's happy place.  More than that, however, it was where she found peace.  

Therefore, it is at the beach that we shall gather to celebrate Mom, her life, and how much we loved her.  

Saturday, August 12, beginning at 4:00 PM, a Celebration of the Life of Joan Kenny (a/k/a "Mom Fest") shall be held. There shall be food. There shall be drink. There shall be music. There shall be pictures. More important than any of those, however, is that there shall be stories told and there shall be memories shared.  The festivities shall take place in Belmar, at the beautiful, newly rebuilt Taylor Pavilion, which is located on the beach side of Ocean Avenue between 5th Avenue and 6th Avenue.  Feel free to consider this to be your invitation because, well, it is.

Mom's life is one worthy of celebration and the laughter on that August Saturday evening will undoubtedly be mixed with tears.  It shall be a celebration tinged with more than just a little bit of sadness.  

I can offer no better salute to Mom than this one, which comes from the heart and the soul of my sister, Jill.  I call it "Wilma's Words for Mom", a sobriquet that has about as little chance of gaining popular acceptance as "Mom Fest" but...

Wilma's Words for Mom

It's been exactly three weeks since the world has lost one of its greatest treasures, my mother Joan. I keep waiting for the excruciating pain that I feel at her loss to step back even an inch but alas, still not an event I have felt. Truthfully I am one of the luckiest people on the planet for not only did I get 52+ years with Joan Kelly Kenny as my mom, I had the last decade or so years where I saw mom almost daily for 3 to 4 months, and in the past 6 or so years 6-7 months a year.  What a blessing that I was able to know my mom as an adult. The woman possessed the wisdom of Solomon but unless otherwise pointedly asked never, ever uttered an opinion. Her reserve equaled her wisdom. What a truly remarkable human!

And lest you should think that mom walked an easy path in life, please allow me to set the record straight for all. Waking up on Sunday morning May 31, 1981 to NOT smell eggs and bacon cooking would be the first moments in the new direction for my mother's life. Awakening to realize that her 57-year-old husband had died in his sleep overnight from a final (and fatal) heart attack without any life insurance (from having said heart attacks earlier in his life) and without a will would have brought almost every other person to their knees but not my mom. She somehow seemingly knew what she was doing (or so was the perception of her then 16-year-old daughter) and we viewed and then buried my father in due course. One of life's greatest ironies is that those few days that felt so chaotic to me in my mind and heart would actually be looked back upon as 'peaceful' for after all the funeral machinations were over and done and everyone else went back to their lives, mom's along with Kara's, Adam's and my lives were forever on a changed path.

As if mom's plate weren't full enough as a result of 5/31/81, less than 2 years later mom's mettle was tested again with her diagnosis of stage IV metastatic breast cancer (winner, winner chicken dinner NOT!). Radical mastectomy and immediate chemotherapy along with radiation was mom's course of treatment- all to happen while working full time as a secretary for the Director of Development at the private school that Kara, Adam and I attended. Convalesce at home? Sleep in, lounge to heal her body? Absolutely not! I can remember most days where we would drive mom to Muhlenberg Hospital in Plainfield BEFORE school/work so that mom could get her treatments and then she would work a full day. That was my mom. She simply did what needed to be done and never bothered to complain about it (although she surely had plenty to complain about!) and just forged on. 

Eventually mom would sell the home she and dad built for their “retirement that never was” to help pay for her extensive medical bills for she was from a generation that paid their bills, she was never one to 'pass the buck' on anything in life.  As Adam and I made our way through college mom took jobs closer to where she was living eventually landing at Princeton University's Annual Giving office (honestly lost count of how many times her 'home' moved after she sold the home, again mom never complained). Mom worked for exactly ten years and one day to ensure that she would qualify for PU to pay for her healthcare coverage in perpetuity. She knew with her having had cancer she would never be able to afford insurance on her own.  For a time while working full time, mom would work some nights and weekends at a bakery part time as she needed extra money to pay for her dental bill that her paycheck couldn't stretch to cover. Once again, all was done as it simply had to be done. No complaints were ever heard.  Not from Mom.  It wasn’t in her nature.

I probably should have mentioned at the start that I am one of six children. While this is true, I can tell you that I grew up with just Kara and Adam with yours truly being in the middle. Our older three siblings were so much older that they were grown and out of our parents’ house by the time I was 10 years old. Needless to say, I don't know how they grew up but as they were living in other places and spaces by the time I was 10 they don't know how I (along with Kara and Adam) grew up either.  Mom often told me that she felt as if she had raised two separate families of three children, given the difference in our ages. No doubt, as he was at the time of his unplanned death, my father was commander in chief of the family. “Mr. Brady” he was not. With we younger three he was tough and demanding and would hear no excuses.  I have every reason to believe he was all the more so with his oldest three children.

All water under the bridge starting June 1, 1981.  Joan was now at the helm. Her command was equally as firm and directed but done in a kinder, gentler manner.  Mom was strong, not hard.  That was always her nature.  Mom was never one to yell even when as teens we tried to 'convince' her that our tales were true. She saw through them all, every time, for mom listened like none other and retained everything we said (which was never a good thing for us).  Living with mom finishing high school and during college breaks I knew all too well that mom was fully aware of what I was doing.  She knew always what her children were doing – even when we were thousands of miles away.  Right, Chuck?  Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of mom, whose beauty was boundless, was that from her children she expected progression, not perfection.  My knowledge of that always enabled me to be so honest in speaking with mom.  She listened.  She never judged.

She would listen and listen and listen. If never asked, she never offered her opinion. Not once ever. I am forever grateful for those incredible opportunities to have conversations with her about any subject.  I can simply say they were truly priceless. Mom made me a better daughter by listening as well as a better mother to my own daughters by teaching me how to listen. My missing mom is knowing that those future conversations in which I would look for her wisdom and perspective will never happen. The last conversation I had with mom was one in which Kara who sat perched with mom in her hospital bed had called to ask me to tell mom 'to let go' and that 'it was ok to go' for mom would listen to me. I did as Kara asked although my voice broke several times saying those few words and ended with my thanking mom for always being such an amazing role model and for loving me even on days when I had no love for myself and my telling mom 'I love you'. 

Would that I could tell her those exact words ever again for her to hear. I would say them today, tomorrow, forever.  

See, I told you I could not express the essence of Mom any better.  Now you know I meant it.   


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