Eulogy for Joanna Lee Francis, Honorary Founder of Living Well
For those of you who have known my relationship with Joanna Francis, you will know that for every event we have ever had through Living Well, I have had to write a script for her. I found out very early in the public appearance process that Joanna needed exact words in front of her. Left with her own thoughts she would look around the room and see the support and love being directed to her and she would simply melt into a puddle of tears. Well she and I had a deal and that deal was that she would write exact words for me to say about her after she left us. She knew that on this occasion I might be the one to melt and so she said she would write down her own sentiments and I could simply relay those words on this page. She wrote a note and slipped into her journal that she had been using to plan the days and weeks after her passing. She told me not to open it until I was ready to think about “life after Joanna.” At some point, I decided it was time, I opened the note and it simply said “speak from your heart, I trust you.”
I am ashamed to say that my reaction was a very loud stop of my foot and I ripped that paper into 1 million pieces. At this point I would pay big bucks to have that paper back because after a few hours of brooding over the task at hand I realized that she was not shrugging the responsibility off on me but rather telling me exactly what she wanted me to say.
See if you had the chance to really know Joanna, you would recognize that the words she wrote to me were vital to what was most important to her. “SPEAK FROM YOUR HEART” , that was her motto! That was what made each and everyone of us in her life feel like we were her very best friend. She always spoke from her heart….even when her words were tough to hear herself say out loud. She managed to make us feel like we could TRUST HER enough to do exactly that with her and she wanted to know that she could TRUST US TO ALLOW HER TO DROP HER FILTERS AND SHOW US HER TRUE SELF. She would humor us if we rambled off some shallow explanations for decisions we were making or positions we were taking but once we finished all of that she would challenge us and the conversation would go on as long as we were willing to speak from our hearts. In the last few years Joanna has become much less interested in the social chitchat and has devoted her time to more meaningful conversations with each and every person she came into contact with. Even the strangers in the grocery store were worthy of her complete attention if they were offering her honest, heartfelt sentiments.
In one of Joanna’s journals there was an entry written on November 3, 2013 in which she wrote that the one most important word that she has learned in her entire life was the word “COMPROMISE.” She said that she had misunderstood that word for 40 years of her life. She had been confused into thinking that the word compromise meant giving in or giving up. Only through her journey in the last 10 years has she come to realize that compromise isn’t always comfortable but it should always land you in the spot that allows for the most peace for everyone involved. She said that she has learned that relationships will always collide. That includes the relationships you have with God your self and maybe even cancer. But in every single relationship there is a place of peace that will feel like home when you find it.
I asked joanna to tell me what it is that she wanted to be remembered for when she was gone. She laughed as she listed all of the things that she has been in her life and the things that she wanted to be that she never concentrated on long enough to achieve. She was a candy striper and to salesgirl, she hoped to be a dentist and she eventually found her calling as an artist. She was a daughter and a sister , an aunt and a friend to many. She was a wife and a neighbor and most importantly she was a mother. She said that she would like to profess that her greatest joy in life was sitting at the baseball park watching Bowden and Harrison play or watching John Michael Row. However she confessed that in truth she would much rather have spent her time listening to the boys puttering around the house and laughing in the room across the hall. She was completely comfortable with the extra faces that appeared in the afternoons and evenings and loved knowing that so many teenage boys considered her to be their second mom. She had a “coolness factor” that she was quite proud of even though she could never explain it.
What made Joanna “cool” was something that people told her over and over but she didn’t quite understand until close to the end of her life. The two words AMAZING and STRONG were used about her on a million different occasions. These expressions were generally met with at best a puzzled face and occasionally a Facebook rant full of frustration. She didn’t consider herself to be strong. In fact she wanted to give out the exact opposite message. She told me that if there was anything amazing in all of this growth she had experienced, it was her willingness to show her weakness. She realized that her strength came in her decision to tell a friend that she needed help to get a second opinion which would result in a trip to MD Anderson in Texas. That was her first step toward feeling empowered to find that compromise with cancer which gave her a voice in so many other areas of her life. Her strength came in accepting help from a friend’s cleaning service when she was too weak to do the job. She found the strength to ask friends to help prepare meals for her boys and drive countless carpools to sporting events. She was strong enough to share her cancer journey with anyone who would listen in an effort to move others to action, to speak up for women who might not know how to be vulnerable.
Joanna was and still is a force in all of our lives. She found it difficult to believe that Joanna Francis Living Well could be as successful as it is today but if it continued she said it’s message should not be solely about her. Joanna wanted all eyes on the possibilities of each and every person involved with Living Well.. Hearts still beating and capable of showing unlimited kindness to each other. She hoped that we would say a quick hooray for the fact that she is now in the company of her Savior but then move forward with her charge for us to open our hearts to each other and do just a little more to soften this life and take this journey together with compassion. Joanna’s call to action was for us to Live Well, as simple as that sounds. She wanted us to embrace the lives we are entrusted with, tarnished blessings and all. My hope is that through the efforts of Joanna Francis Living Well, we will do just that!
Jen Ervin Taylor