An Ordinary Woman

An Ordinary Woman

From Chicken Soup for the Latter-day Saint Soul

An Ordinary Woman

Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.

Prov. 31:10

Joan and I were an unlikely pair. She married her high school sweetheart right after high school; I went to college and married my college sweetheart halfway through. She was a homemaker; I am a businesswoman. She did handicrafts; I write. She did not like to entertain; I love to entertain. She had barely ventured outside Utah; I had traveled the world. I loved teaching and speaking; she hated it. She had lived in the same old house for forty years; I moved every ten years. Her husband had the same job for forty years; my husband and I are entrepreneurs. But for some reason, Joan and I clicked the first time we met, and we stayed in touch, no matter where I ventured.

When Bob called and asked, rather angrily, if I had been getting Joan’s messages, I knew something was terribly wrong.

Joan and I had been friends for more than twenty-seven years. We were neighbors for twelve years. Our husbands served in a bishopric together for five years. I had worked with her daughters in Young Women. My husband, Sherm, had worked with her sons in scouting. We’d been fellow Beanie Baby collectors, so much so that I dedicated my bestselling My Beanie Baby Binder to her. We never had a family event when Remunds weren’t at the top of our guest list, even before family, because, to us, they were family.

Joan and I talked on the phone at least once a week, went to lunch together at least once a month, remembered each other’s birthdays and exchanged Christmas gifts. We kept each other posted on our favorite soap opera, neighborhood gossip, family news, the latest Beanie finds, and we read books together. I would never intentionally fail to return her calls.

Bob handed the phone to Joan and she meekly told me that she had a spot of cancer in her lung.

Joan was the type of person who never drew attention to herself, quite the opposite of me, who demanded everyone’s attention always. Bob wanted her to tell me about the cancer; she did not want to tell me, or anyone. She did not want to draw attention to herself.

I hate to recall this for fear the very thought somehow affected the end result, but my first thought was, Joan’s going to die.

Joan had had a persistent cough for some time. When she finally sought medical advice, it was the worst possible news—cancer. And so unfair. Joan had never smoked. Only people who smoke get and die of lung cancer, I thought. It was not only unfair, but also illogical.

Joan bravely underwent chemotherapy for six months; after each session, she was violently ill for days. Then she would be well for a few days, which is when we would get together, before the process started all over again.

Bob took time off work to attend every treatment with her. I offered to take his place a time or two, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He and Joan had been together since high school. He was not about to leave her side. Fortunately, he had hours of sick leave built up at work.

Joan lost her hair and replaced it with a wig that was so identical to her real hair that I could hardly tell. It made me grateful for the kind and sensitive people who take care of such things for cancer patients. Joan once said, “It’s so much easier than doing my real hair that I may shave my head and wear a wig for the rest of my life.” I laughed, and then wondered how we could laugh in the face of something as deadly as cancer.

Once chemo ended, radiation began. Another six months. This time Joan didn’t get quite as ill, but she was tired all the time and less interested in getting together. We vowed to do better once the radiation ended.

In August 2003, Bob and Joan and Sherm and I went to dinner at Chef’s Table to celebrate. The chemo and radiation were over and Joan was cancer-free. We were triumphant and celebrating at the best restaurant in town, our treat. Our friend, owner and chef Kent Andersen, was so happy for us that he hovered over us all evening, wanting to make sure everything was perfect for Joan. It was a delightful evening.

On the first Sunday in September, Joan stood in fast and testimony meeting and announced to her fellow ward members, who had tended her so kindly, that she was cancer-free.

The first of October, I called Joan to tell her that we were headed to New York City to meet our new grandson. Our oldest son, Jayson, and his wife, Cori, had been unable to have children and Joan had mourned with me over the years as they tried and failed and finally decided to adopt. In fact, her oldest daughter, Teressa, who had seven children, had had a surprise pregnancy and I had teased her the whole pregnancy that we would take the baby for Jayson. “Tell Teressa her baby is safe,” I said, and Joan and I laughed and laughed. Joan did not tell me that she was not feeling well. She did not want to spoil my joy. And she never drew attention to herself.

Whenever I left town I always called Joan and said, “If I die enroute, remember I loved you most of all.” I concluded our conversation with that line and we both chuckled, as we always did.

When we returned from NYC, I immediately called Joan to tell her all about our new grandson. But she did not call me back, which was most unusual for her. She was even better about returning my calls than I was about returning hers.

A few days later, Joan’s youngest daughter, Amy, called. “I guess you don’t know what’s going on,” said Amy.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Joan’s in the hospital in Hawaii.”

I had forgotten the whole Remund family had been planning a trip to Hawaii for a year. It was so like Joan not to mention that she was leaving on a trip when I called to tell her that I was leaving on a trip, not wanting to diminish my news, not wanting to draw attention to herself.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“They’re not sure,” she replied.

“Is the cancer back?” I asked.

“They don’t think so,” said Amy. “They think it’s pneumonia; she’s having a hard time breathing.”

“Keep me posted,” I said.

“They’re going to fly her home Sunday.”

“I’ll call Monday.”

When I called Monday, Teressa answered. “Is Joan there?” I asked.

“No,” Teressa answered.

“Is she still in Hawaii?”

“No,” Teressa answered more slowly.

“Still enroute?” I asked more anxiously.

“No,” Teressa answered.

“At Utah Valley Hospital?” I asked, growing more frantic.

“No, she’s gone,” Teressa said.

“Gone where?” I almost screamed.

“She passed away yesterday.”

I was dumbstruck.

Then I started crying.

I had not expected that. I had expected to visit her. I had expected her to get well. I had expected her to meet my new grandson. I had expected to grow old with her. I had not expected to go on without her.

The next few days were a blur. I was so depressed that I could hardly focus. Though I had lost family and friends before, I had never lost a best friend, a girlfriend. It was a whole new experience for me.

I napped a lot. And dreamt of Joan. I awoke crying her name once, and was slapped in the face with the reality that she is no longer here. I kept thinking of things I needed to tell her, only to realize that I could not. I spent a lot of time talking to Teressa. And calling Bob. Who did not return my calls.

As Joan’s oldest, dearest friend, who is also a writer and a speaker, I fully expected to be asked to speak at her funeral, and was not, which hurt me deeply. I wanted to do something. I wanted the whole world to know the Joan I knew. To know how it felt to lose her. I sent a beautiful floral arrangement. It sat on the guest-book table. That was something.

The line at the pre-funeral viewing was long. Bob and the kids worked the line. When Bob reached us, he said, “Come in for the family prayer,” which made me feel better. Like family.

When it was finally my turn to approach the casket, I burst into tears and openly wept for several minutes. A lady I did not know watched me, then touched my arm and said, “Bless you.” For what, I wondered. For missing Joan and not being ashamed to show it? Bless me to survive without her? I needed that blessing.

Joan did not look like Joan. The final illness had left her looking different. She was arrayed in her beautiful temple clothes, wearing her wedding rings and a beautiful silver heart on a chain that I had never seen before.

The funeral was perfect. So many flowers. Such lovely talks and music. I was mentioned twice, which made me feel better.

I went to the funeral thinking I was Joan’s best friend. I left the funeral learning that everyone thought they were Joan’s best friend, and that was her gift. It humbled me, and I vowed to be a better person, a better friend.

I cried throughout the funeral. Then my cell phone rang in my purse during the closing prayer. I sat on it. While we were walking to the car, my husband, Sherm, said, “Maybe it was Joan calling to tell you to stop crying,”which made me laugh and cry all the harder. Oh, that that were possible . . .

We followed the funeral cortege to the cemetery. We were invited to the family lunch at the ward building. Then we left. I had never felt so alone in my life.

Sherm took me to the mall and bought me the same silver heart necklace Joan had been wearing. I wear it nearly every day in remembrance of her.

When we returned home, my three-year-old granddaughter, Halle, called. “I’m sorry your friend Joan died.” Whenever I wear my silver necklace, she toys with it and says, “This is for ’membering your friend Joan, right?”

“Right.”

Then the holidays came. Thanksgiving. With no Thanksgiving card or note or pumpkin cookies or visit from Joan. Then Christmas. With no Christmas card or note from Joan. No hand-made gift in a gift bag handmade by Joan. No visit from Joan. No pecan log from Joan. I hung the “Twelve Days of Christmas” cross-stitch Joan had worked on for two years before giving it to me and stood in front of it and cried and cried. I called and called Bob to talk, to ask questions. He never took or returned my calls.

After the holidays, I finally reached Bob and invited him to dinner. He came with my Christmas present from Joan, which made me cry. He had gathered and bound all her recipes and gave them to me. He had copied her funeral program on audiocassette and gave that to me. He had copied her life sketch on CD and we watched it together. He hooked up his digital camera to our TV and showed us his last pictures of Joan, surrounded by her family in Hawaii. Then he told us the story. The story I had been wanting to hear for the past three months.

Joan was pronounced cancer-free in August. Then she started getting sick again. The doctors determined it was the side effects of chemo and radiation. Instead, it was the cancer. Joan had never been cancer-free.

While vacationing in Hawaii, she started having a difficult time breathing. She was hospitalized. She grew worse. She wanted to go home. She would have to be sedated in order to make the trip. And that trip would have to be made on a medical jet with a medical crew, at a cost of $40,000, which Joan did not want to spend, but spent anyway.

The flight went well. When she landed at the Provo airport, an ambulance and crew were waiting to take her to Utah Valley Hospital. She never awoke. She slipped away Sunday afternoon, surrounded by her family.

That was seventeen months ago at this writing. Bob has sold the house he and Joan shared for forty years and built a new home on family property he is developing in Midway. Something he always wanted to do, something Joan never wanted to do. His oldest son, Lynn, built a house next door. The other three children have lots there, too. Bob is busy with kids and grandkids and his development and seems happy but also very much alone.

I had a dream about Joan recently. I visited her in Heaven. She was a greeter at a temple there. Though she was happy to see me, she was busy and referred me to someone else to give me a tour of Heaven. Because I grew up on a farm, I was shown a farm. It was just like the farms here, only perfect. Perfect fences, perfect fields, perfect buildings, happy families working together. Because I work in advertising, I was shown a printing press. It was just like the presses here, only perfect. Clean and organized, perfect printing, happy workers. I was so surprised and so pleased. So pleased to see Joanie happy and busy. So surprised to learn that life goes on as usual in the next life. Only better.

As different as Joan and I were on the outside, we were very much alike on the inside. We loved and served the Lord and our families and our neighbors. The same things that irritated her irritated me; the same things that made her laugh made me laugh. We confided things in each other no one else ever knew. We were like sisters, with none of the negative history.

On the surface, Joan appeared to be an ordinary woman, yet she was one of the most extraordinary women I have ever known. She loved with all her heart, something I have yet to master. She gave her all, something I do, too. But Joan always gave expecting nothing in return, something I am still trying to learn. While I have spent my life on a treadmill to the next achievement, the next accolade, the next acquisition, Joan quietly, meekly walked the path of life, stopping wherever and whenever she was needed for as long as she was needed.

It is that example in my life that I will miss, and emulate ’til we meet again.

Peg Fugal

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