We lost our dear Joanna this week, the first of our little group called Sisters of Sorrow and Hope. We are alumni of the first cancer caregivers writing group founded in 2005 at the University of New Mexico Cancer Center by psychologist and cancer survivor Anjanette Cureton and artist, writer and cancer survivor Eleanor Schick. That group continues to this day as Family and Friends Journaling Together .
Members of that first group formed a tight bond. We cried and laughed and shared our deepest secrets, fears, and hopes. We lost husbands, lovers, parents, and friends. We encountered depths of feelings we had avoided confronting, and we supported each other.
Eventually some of us moved on (after those we cared for died). We no longer needed support to survive. New people joined the group, but they did not know all we’d shared with each other. It was time to make room for the new people with their fresh pain. But we missed each other. So, after a year or two, we informally connected again – no longer meeting weekly, but getting together every two or three months. We realized how deep our friendship was and how precious the bonds that united us. We were sisters who shared our sorrows and our hopes.
We met in each other’s homes and shared food and wine along with our stories and writing. We continued the structure established by Anjie and Eleanor, who sometimes joined us. Check-in, meditation, writing, and then reading or sharing our writing. We scheduled our first Zoom meeting for early January 2021. Then news came from Joanna that a recent CAT scan had revealed metastasized cancer and she did not have long to live. Her time was, indeed, short. She died yesterday morning, leaving her beloved dog Ziggy to her friend/sister-in -sorrow-and-hope/dog-walking companion, Melissa.
Joanna was not only our sister in sorrow and hope; she was a renowned cellist who shared her talent generously, playing in benefit concerts, the local Sunday Chatter group, and at the university’s cancer center. She was also a devoted care-giver. Announcing her final professional performance at Chatter in 2017, the Chatter group shared a three-part video of the young Joanna de Keyser many years before, playing in a Master Class with Pablo Casals.
This morning I tearfully listened to that beautiful recording of Dvorak’s music, pondering the mysteries of life and death and our grief at our loss of Joanna’s talent, generosity, and friendship. What happens to all our talents and all our accomplishments when we die? Other than some bits remaining in memories legacies they are gone. My thought is: be generous, give of ourselves now, for our gifts are ours for only a short time.
Blessings on you, dear Joanna. May you be making music with Pablo Casals and the angels this morning. Your spirit is with us.
Note: I just did a Google search for Joanna de Keyser. There are several recordings and stories about her amazing career, including a review of a recital at Carnegie Hall in New York; but to us she was mainly our cherished sister in sorrow and hope.