SERVICE FOR JOANNE SIWAK
WARD - MARCH 7TH, 2007
Welcome to a service in celebration of the life of Joanne Siwak-Ward.
We will begin with some memories shared. The first person to speak tonight
will be Kevins brother, Gary Ward. (click
here for Gary's eulogy)
Now we will hear from Joannes co-worker and friend Odette.
Finally we will hear from Joannes friend, my husband Ed Chapman.
(Click here for Ed's
For those of you who dont know me my name is Norma and Ive been
a friend and spiritual councillor - but mostly a friend - to Joanne for
almost 20 years.
Each of us has a path to walk through life. And, you know, I think nobodys
path is ever really easy. If you think someone has had an easy life it probably
means you dont know them well enough. But sometimes a path is so steep
and so hard that it just barely seems possible to follow it. Sometimes a
path is so hard that it doesnt seem fair. Joannes path was like
that in the last part of her life. And what Ive heard here all day
and evening again and again is Why.
Im not going to sugar coat anything or offer you worn-out platitudes.
Joanne would never have asked me to speak if she thought I was going to
do that. Im going to change the question for a little while from Why
to What can we learn from this? What can we learn from Joannes
life and her death to take with us and make us better people? Thats
what she wanted me to say tonight and thats what she would want as
a tribute to her. For her to be an example. For her to be our hero. Lets
talk about Joannes life.
Some people are born into the world to be dignified, serious, and somber
and to take lifes trouble and duties as heavy burdens - shining examples
of mature serious adults --- and Joanne Lois Siwak Ward - wasnt anything
like one of those --- or she would never have had anything to do with most
Joanne loved to laugh. She loved to sing. She loved to help people and play
gentle, loving jokes on people. She loved to be alive. And when you were
around her it was hard to keep from sharing her enthusiasm for whatever
it was she was doing.
Let me tell you some things about Joanne that you may know, but you may
not. Joanne was many different things to different people in her life and
for her short time in the world she had a very full life. Ive talked
to so many people about Joanne in the past couple of days. Im blessed
that that is part of my job in crafting a eulogy --- to hear the stories.
Let me share some with you.
Joanne was a Jersey girl. She was born in Secaucus and grew up in Iselin.
She had a great time in high school and had a group of fun and crazy friends.
Let me tell you a story from her best friend Gail. Gail and Joanne were
walking to work one day. They worked at Woodbridge mall and they walked
everywhere they went. On the walk this day they found a piece of old stuck-together
tape. Apparently this was very special tape because they adopted it. Nope,
Im not kidding. They named the tape JoJo Abbot and passed it back
and forth between them for years. Lots of books have been written lately
about sisterhood things, but I bet none of them ever talked about sisterhood
While Joanne was in college -- in an English class -- she met a young gentleman
with dark hair named Kevin. This was 32 years ago. Kevin was struck by Joannes
red hair and by her smile. So he figured out how to start up a conversation
about schoolwork. One thing led to another and they started dating. The
courtship probably would have gone more quickly if it was up to Kevin. The
first year they were dating he sent her an over-the-top mushy Valentine
that sent Joanne running to her mother saying Oh no hes way
too serious too soon. But they took things slowly and dated for 3
years before Kevin proposed and they were engaged for a year.
So 28 years ago they were married. They honeymooned in North Carolina, starting
in the mountains in Asheville and ending at Ocrakoke Island. On the way
home they followed the Outer Banks and that started a lifelong love of that
place for both Joanne and Kevin.
A few years ago Joannes mom and family threw a 20th anniversary party
for Joanne and Kevin. A *surprise* anniversary party. I know some of you
remember that. For a month or more we were all tiptoeing around trying not
to give away the secret. Right. Like Joanne wasnt an investigator
for a living. For a month or more Joanne was saying to Kevin. Wed
better get nice outfits ready -- moms throwing a surprise party for
Joanne worked at the Middlesex County Board of Social Services as you heard
Odette say earlier. And she was a darned good investigator. I think that
must not be the easiest job in the world and working so seriously with peoples
lives must be so important that you need to relax and ease the tension when
youre not working. I say that by way of explaining how truly crazy
Joannes work crew is.
One time years ago a supervisor was having a birthday. He must have complained
that people werent doing enough to celebrate his birthday or something,
because while he was out to lunch Joanne and her work friends blew up balloons.
They blew up enough balloons to completely fill his small office. The last
few balloons possible got stuffed in as they wedged the door shut. And then
he came back from lunch and opened the door. Oh my.
For all the craziness Joanne and her co-workers were a close group, helping
each other out and supporting each other. And her co-workers were there
for her as so many of her friends were, through all of her fight with cancer.
Joanne loved her mom dearly and she enjoyed spending Sundays cooking and
visiting and sometimes playing cards or a board game with her mom and her
brother Wayne and her aunt Josie and Uncle Freddy. Joanne loved her family
a lot. She shared her love of the Outer Banks with her mom and aunt and
uncle as they went on vacation together. And Joannes mom and brother
and aunt and uncle gave a whole lot of love and support to Joanne.
In 1989, Joanne and Kevin bought a house and settled down in the Morgan
section of Sayerville, near the Raritan bay. They filled their house with
pets. Many cats and dogs and even a bird. They owned and were owned by two
beloved dogs: Bonnie a dachshund / mutt combination who adopted Joanne and
Kevin while they were still living in their apartment, and Annabelle a black
lab who they adopted as a puppy. Joanne loved to walk the dogs by marina
and the bay and talk to the water there. Joanne and Kevin liked the same
music and the same sports team -- the Yankees -- and if you picture them
together picture them holding hands as they always did to express the emotions
that words didnt say.
Around that time I met Joanne at classes at a local book store. A small
group of us started to meet to talk about books and music outside of the
store. And then we decided that wed all like to learn to play hand
drums, so we bought a bunch of drums and pretty much taught each other.
And we taught each other to play together as a group and over the years
the group started to feel a whole lot like family. We all started going
camping together so we could drum under the stars and by a fire. I remember
the first time we went camping together most of us hadnt camped before
and we were all excited about getting what we were calling the real
camping experience. So we set up our tents after work in a state park
on a Friday under a beautiful moonlit sky. And awoke to the sound of pouring
teeming rain on tent canvas on Saturday morning. It rained the whole weekend.
It poured. No fire, no stars, just wet clothes, cold food, sodden drums,
flooded tents and good friends. And, for some reason, of all the campouts
weve had since in perfect weather, that rainy one is the one it makes
my heart the happiest to remember.
Ive told you some stories about Joanne. There are so many of them
it was hard to pick which ones to tell. Have I made you smile? Good. Because
what Im going to end with isnt so easy to listen to. Remember
- thats why Joanne asked me to speak. Sometimes the most valuable
things arent so easy.
about paths before. Id like to talk now about the last part of Joannes
path and why I consider her a hero. Six years ago Joanne was diagnosed with
cancer of the tongue. After the diagnosis I remember crying and Joanne cracking
jokes to make me laugh. The wonderful doctors at St. Peters hospital pulled
no punches and told Joanne that she might lose her life and would probably
lose her tongue and her ability to speak. She said no. That wasnt
going to happen. One of the doctors mentioned a new experimental treatment
that might possibly save her tongue and Joanne told him to go for it. The
chemo treatments where she had to lie still for hours were terrifying and
the radiation that Joanne described as like the beating of giant wings
was more terrifying. And through all of that Joanne kept her sense of humor
and she kept her will to live and to keep her tongue. Several of the doctors
told her that what was being attempted was impossible. She said No,
its not. Its going to work. And she was right. For six
years Joanne did the impossible. She survived with her tongue and her voice.
She laughed again and she sang. She chose to survive and she managed to
pull it off very much against the odds.
The cancer returned in the spring of last year. And once more, she chose
to fight. She chose the radical surgery that would give her a chance to
live. The day after the surgery, when she was still supposed to be unconscious
and on life support machines, she was awake and making hand signals that
she wanted her glasses. The nurses in the intensive care unit said theyd
never seen anything like her recovery. Shes a real fighter
they said. She bought herself a little more time with her bravery and her
will to live.
She fought to recover and in the early fall she was getting her strength
back and taking brief hikes to see the tree s and the sky and her beloved
water. Sadly, that didnt last long, and soon it was clear that the
cancer was back and was spreading. And she fought again, even though she
was tired. With Kevin by her side, she fought through weakness and hospitalization
and chemotherapy. And Im not saying she was never scared either. You
wouldnt be a hero if you were never scared and fought through the
fear to going anyway. Fearlessness in the face of what Joanne was going
through wouldnt make you a hero -- it would make you a fool, and Joanne
was most decidedly not a fool. She fought, and she still laughed and enjoyed
her friends visits, and spoke with the nurses by writing in a notebook
and charmed them by being kind and funny, even though she was weak.
The Monday before the Saturday that Joanne passed away, she made a choice.
She chose to stop fighting. She chose to die and be at peace. This is how
much strength and will -- this is the kind of power Joanne had. In five
short days after she stopped fighting she passed away. And Ill tell
you that I believe that her strength and her power and her will were what
kept her alive for 6 miraculous years and what helped her, after all the
fighting she did, to slip away peacefully at the end.
And this is what I want to say to you. If you want to pay a tribute to Joanne,
dont cry -- fight. Take care of yourself and fight to be as healthy
as you can be. Choose to laugh and to love life. Find what it is you want
to change in your life and dont just be sad about it -- choose to
fight. Let Joannes courage give you courage and make your life a little
bit better. Be a hero. Thats what Joanne can teach us and what she
can leave us with. Be a hero. Its the single best thing you can do
to honor the memory of Joanne. And I know its what she would have
wanted for each of you.
This service and this viewing are now ended. Go in peace, and blessings
and strength and love.
Norma Hoffman, Senior Druid, Grove of the Other Gods, ADF
Click here for the
Click here for a eulogy from
Joanne's brother-in-law, Gary Ward
her obituary click here.