|Joan Fredrickson - Eulogy
by Mary Petrie
To say that I was a 'reader' as a child would be an
understatement. The characters coming to life on the page were as real
the people I saw every day - except the people in books were far more
interesting. They lived in exotic places defined by misty forests, cavernous
castles and windswept plains. These characters were women and girls:
intrepid, curious, honest, fearless and generous of spirit. Not too
surprisingly, I often misplaced my cousin Joan as one of these far-flung
heroines. She was a mythic figure - the independent, utterly unconventional
cousin who traveled the world, kept the company of soldiers, and knew
even more about books than I did. Of course, as I grew to know Joan
over the years, the real person replaced the icon. And the real Joan
was even better than the myth.
To me, Joan's relationships mirrored the one she had with God. She believed in his love. Did Joan receive God's love - feel this presence? I don't know. But I do know that Joan freely gave of herself- she loved without boundaries, definitions, rules and restrictions. In every community she entered, Joan became a central figure. When she was living in Virginia, she bought a townhouse - coincidentally? - across the street from a monastery owned by the Sisters of the Visitation and began a decade long, rich relationship with the sisters. Joan writes "I was inspired by their selfless lives, yet down-to-earth-attitudes - very much in the here and now. I knew I could learn from them." And she did. In her professional life, she cared deeply and genuinely for the military men and women she served, and in return, they cared for her and folded her in as one of their own. When she returned to Minnesota in the last years of her life, she was equally embraced by residents in her new parish and two living communities-- because Joan didn't just set up house, she joined in, got to know people, asked questions, she lent a hand - she loved. And there was no one she loved more than her niece, Chris. Chris and Susan returned that love and became Joan's closest family. Chris's lifelong relationship with her aunt Joan took a new turn. Without definition or convention-without words - Chris became Joan's daughter and ushered Joan through the journey of life's final years, months and in the end, hours. In a way, this wasn't a gift to Joan but an inevitability. The love Joan fought for and found in God, the love she gave so freely to others, was returned to her tenfold by Chris and Susan.
I recommend mourning Joan - not her life - a life worthy of celebration and joy -- but our loss. People courageous enough to enter the dark night of the soul and emerge are the better for their journey. Everyone around them is richer. Our task - if we're able -- is to emulate the wise men and women of this world. Joan was one of them. Let Joan's legacy be that we nurture in ourselves what we found in her: humor, grace, irreverence, courage, honesty, fortitude and love.