I received the news in the form of a text message. My friend, and former coworker, had passed away the day after Mother’s Day, May 14, 2013. She was 70 years young.
This isn’t the first time I’ve learned of a death electronically. Once upon a time, we learned of death through letters, then phone calls. Now, we text one another or message each other on Facebook, the “talking drums” of our generation. I was at work when I received the news, printing up paperwork, fighting with our tired printer as it complained. Loudly. I’d loaded the fresh reams of paper “all wrong,” the printer cussed in its own way, a language consisting primarily of obnoxious warning beeps. Just a typical workday.
I’m convinced ALL the equipment at my workplace hates humans and their incompetence, barely tolerating us, which is why our computers and their companions rebel against us so much and at the worst possible times. But, “Mama Furniture” is used to dealing with the peculiarities that come with refurbished equipment and machinery. I’m not afraid to take things apart as necessary. There’s a reason I’m on first name basis with all the good folks at Help Desk.
Perhaps this is why I wasn’t in the right frame of mind when my phone went off in my pocket. I’d already dealt with one naughty gadget. I wasn’t ready to deal with another. I stared at my outdated cell phone. I knew I had read the message wrong. I put the phone back into my pocket and then took it out again. I did this several times. I don’t usually text people nor do they text me. I don’t even have texting as part of my cell phone plan.
But…there it was.
My friend was gone.
A friend I’d worked with, for many years, had died. A friend who shared her stories and listened to mine while we toiled and sweated through muggy Michigan summers, and froze our tushies off during harsh Michigan winters. Cleaning up messes, mopping floors, shoveling snow…there’s more to management than just managing. Most days, you accept that your going to have to get your hands dirty, but it helps to have another manager, someone you care about and respect, getting just as filthy, working beside you. Perhaps that is why it was fitting that I learn of her passing while at work. I think she would have enjoyed the irony. If she had been looking down on me at that moment, she would have enjoyed my battle with the misbehaving printer, too.
I’ve known Joanne McBride for over a decade. She was there for me when my mother passed away. She gave me advice when I was pregnant with my own child. Joanne was the type of person who could start a conversation with, “So, what did you have for dinner?” and that mundane chat could lead to some of the most important conversations of your life! She was gifted that way. Heck! I’m convinced that if it wasn’t for her and her motherly advice, there’s a good chance I might have accidentally given birth at home, being clueless as to what to expect when the “Big Day” arrived. My kiddo was in such a hurry to be born, if it wasn’t for her advice…we might have been a statistic.
I try not to think, “What if? What if? What if?” You hear stories on the news about women giving birth in cars and on bathroom floors and you think, “How could they not KNOW they were having contractions? Are they stupid?” Well…I didn’t KNOW, not at first, not for sure. I felt sick to my stomach. It felt more like I had the worst case of food poisoning of my life, not at all what I assumed the beginnings of labor to feel like.
I’m soooo grateful Joanne had shared her own stories with me, in all their gory details. I’m so grateful she asked soooo many questions regarding my pregnancy and shared her wisdom accordingly. If I hadn’t listened to her, if I’d stayed at home because I’d misinterpreted what was happening to me, there’s a strong possibility that I would have had some serious complications. It took TWO doctors to put “Humpty Dumpty back together again.” It took the doctors longer to put everything back the way they found it than it did to give birth! If Joanne hadn’t been in my life, hadn’t been my friend…I don’t know what would have happened that day. Because of her, my kiddo and I are both healthy. She was and still is our family’s blessing.
Over the years, we’ve talked about these things. I’ve thanked her many times. Deep down, I’ve often suspected that…she knew, almost in an “I told you so” sort of way. Maybe it was because she’d been there before, being both a mother AND a grandmother. She was very intuitive. I remember her face during these talks. She’d look at me, an impish twinkle in her eyes and a playful smirk, and say something along the lines of, “See? That’s why I told you. Those doctors won’t tell you anything.” In this case, she was right. My doctor’s hadn’t prepared me at all.
That was Joanne! Irreverent. Knowledgeable. Feisty! Caring. Sassy. Funny. She was full of surprises. Her own enigma. She used to pull me outside when she knew I needed a break, sometimes dragging me along by the sleeve of my shirt, as if I might try to get away. “Come on, Juli! Let’s go have a cigarette.” Meaning, she’d smoke, while I sat beside her and took a fresh air break.
I often thought Joanne’s mannerisms didn’t quite matched up with the rest of her tomboy exterior. She was a thin woman. She wore her hair cropped short and rarely wore any makeup, as if she couldn’t be bothered with such frivolities, though in my memories, her outfits were quite colorful. Tomato-red pants and a floral print top? Why not! Who was going to stop her? In my mind, I can still see her sitting outside, legs crossed at the knee, her body language screaming there was much more to this woman than her outward appearance would suggest. Sometimes, I’ve even gone as far as to wonder whether there might have been a bit of aristocracy hiding in her lineage…somewhere. Joanne was a proud woman, in the best sense of the word. You could see it in the way she carried herself, the way she sipped her coffee, the way she held her cigarette poised between her fingers, just so. You don’t meet women like her everyday, if ever. She was special.
Joanne LOVED her family. They were everything to her. Her grandkids, her husband, her children…they were her world. I don’t know what it was like to be related to her, but from my perspective, a person on the outside looking in, she seemed to have her priorities together. She seemed like she’d figured out how to balance her work and home lives, and still find time to do the things she enjoyed, like going out to play Bingo. Being a wife and mother myself, I KNOW that’s not easy.
Sometimes, Joanne would share stories about her past, before she’d become a wife and mother. She told me she used to climb in and out of windows and sneak out to see her friends, back when she was a teenager. I use to laugh and laugh as I imagined Joanne during her wild child days. When we first met, Joanne was about to turn sixty. I was half her age at the time. And yet, the differences between our ages weren’t really important. It wasn’t a big deal. She could run circles around me. Not only did Joanne march to her own drummer, she’d tell him what to play! I tried to see her as a person and friend first, and everything else second, but when you’re young, you don’t always think about the details of a person’s life. You see the outward appearance first, in this case, someone’s grandmother. You sometimes forget they were once young, too! I’m glad she took the time to share these things with me. I think a respected her all the more because of it!
Eventually, Joanne “retired” and I changed job locations. I’m sorry to say, I lost touch with her these past three years. It happens, I suppose. Life gets in the way. I lost her phone number. I could have hunted her down through mutual friends, but I didn’t. Even after we stopped working together, she’d call me out of the blue to say hello and make sure I was doing OK. I miss those conversations and her quirk of NEVER saying goodbye at the end of a conversation. She didn’t like goodbyes. When she was done talking, she’d hang up. That’s just how she was. Even at work, when she was done talking, she’d hang up when the conversation was over, whether you knew it was over or not.
When I received news of Joanne’s passing, I didn’t know that her husband of 45 years had passed away only 45 days prior. She loved him so! Most of the family members I’ve talked to felt Joanne had died of a broken heart. I believe it. He was such a sweet man. I remember him giving roses to the woman Joanne worked with during Mother’s Day weekend. That’s kind of guy he was. A good person. In fact, in my experience, ALL of Joanne’s family are generous like that. Good, loving people.
I went to her funeral on Monday, May 20, 2013. I’m glad I was able to see Joanne’s family once again, though I wish it had been under different circumstance. When it was time for the funeral to begin, the minister got up and talked about Joan McBride and her life. I did a double take. Joan? He must have said her name wrong. But…as the various members of her family got up and spoke, they all called her by the name “Joan.” And now…as I sit here and write, bitter sweetness mixed with sad, I realize that only a handful of those in attendance knew her as Joanne, the rest knew her by her given name, Joan. I don’t know WHY she called herself Joanne at work. Her best friend called her Joanne. Perhaps the woman I came to love was even MORE multifaceted than I thought. We used to tease her because she’d sign her paperwork different each time. Sometime it was just J. McBride. Sometimes she’s throw in an A at the end, Joanna. Why? As she used to say, “It’s MY name. I can sign it any way I like.” It just goes to show, you never REALLY know anyone. Perhaps there’s a joke behind this as well. I’d like to think Joanne’s watching me as I type, having a giggle over my quandary.
In Loving Memory Of
Joan K. McBride
May 8, 1943-May 14, 2013