Good evening friends

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 Kevin’s brother, Gary Ward. (click here for Gary's eulogy)

Now we will hear from Joanne’s co-worker and friend Odette.

Finally we will hear from Joanne’s friend, my husband Ed Chapman. (Click here for Ed's poem.)

For those of you who don’t know me my name is Norma and I’ve 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 nobody’s path is ever really easy. If you think someone has had an easy life it probably means you don’t 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 doesn’t seem fair. Joanne’s path was like that in the last part of her life. And what I’ve heard here all day and evening again and again is “Why”.

I’m 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. I’m going to change the question for a little while from “Why” to “What can we learn from this? “ What can we learn from Joanne’s life and her death to take with us and make us better people? That’s what she wanted me to say tonight and that’s what she would want as a tribute to her. For her to be an example. For her to be our hero. Let’s talk about Joanne’s life.

Some people are born into the world to be dignified, serious, and somber and to take life’s trouble and duties as heavy burdens - shining examples of mature serious adults --- and Joanne Lois Siwak Ward - wasn’t anything like one of those --- or she would never have had anything to do with most of us.

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. I’ve talked to so many people about Joanne in the past couple of days. I’m 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, I’m 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 tape.

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 Joanne’s 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 he’s 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 Joanne’s 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 wasn’t an investigator for a living. For a month or more Joanne was saying to Kevin. “We’d better get nice outfits ready -- mom’s throwing a surprise party for us.”

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 people’s lives must be so important that you need to relax and ease the tension when you’re not working. I say that by way of explaining how truly crazy Joanne’s work crew is.
One time years ago a supervisor was having a birthday. He must have complained that people weren’t 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 Joanne’s 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 didn’t 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 we’d 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 hadn’t 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 we’ve had since in perfect weather, that rainy one is the one it makes my heart the happiest to remember.

I’ve 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 I’m going to end with isn’t so easy to listen to. Remember - that’s why Joanne asked me to speak. Sometimes the most valuable things aren’t so easy.

I spoke about paths before. I’d like to talk now about the last part of Joanne’s 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 wasn’t 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, it’s not. It’s 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 they’d never seen anything like her recovery. “She’s 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 didn’t 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 I’m not saying she was never scared either. You wouldn’t 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 wouldn’t 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 I’ll 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, don’t 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 don’t just be sad about it -- choose to fight. Let Joanne’s courage give you courage and make your life a little bit better. Be a hero. That’s what Joanne can teach us and what she can leave us with. Be a hero. It’s the single best thing you can do to honor the memory of Joanne. And I know it’s 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.

--Rev. Norma Hoffman, Senior Druid, Grove of the Other Gods, ADF

Click here for the Gravesite Service.

Click here for a eulogy from Joanne's brother-in-law, Gary Ward

For her obituary click here.