This weekend I read a beautiful yet heart-rending message by my friend, Debbie Goetz, publisher of the College Park Community Paper. On Sunday, June 1, her dear, dear friend Joanna Francis died after living with terminal cancer since 2008.
Please note that I said “living with,” not “dying of.”
For years, Debbie has shared her concerns for Joanna’s well-being and her admiration for Joanna’s outlook. As cancer intruded further into Joanna’s life and future, her attentions focused on her three sons’ well-being — and on the lives of other patients she met in the course of myriad doctor appointments. By her own experience, Joanna understood the difficulties in meeting the many non-medical needs of day-t0-day living with cancer. As she networked with other mothers enduring similar medical prognoses, she recognized their serious financial struggles in living with terminal cancer while raising children.
Joanna’s thoughtful awareness went beyond good wishes. She created a foundation to provide financial help for patients like the many she’d gotten to know. In 2011 she co-founded, along with Jennifer Taylor, the Joanna Francis Living Well Foundation.
As Joanna’s friends share their experiences with this remarkable woman, their words honor her memory. As they spread the vision of her foundation, they look for its mission to bless the lives of many more women facing terminal cancers like hers. They, like Joanna, want something “good” to come from her experience. As Debbie Goetz told me, “She truly was a special person who believed it was her destiny to go through this so she could be a witness to so many.” [Quoted by permission.]
Though saddened by her passing, her friends honor Joanna’s memory in positive ways. Another friend, Bob Gabordi of the Tallahassee Democrat, wrote this uplifting tribute that concludes with a call to remember her for what she accomplished and to contribute to the dream she shared: Joanna Francis: The face of love and living.
In his article, Mr. Gabordi also mentioned Joanna’s ongoing concern for her sons. Her foundation made her a public figure as she lived with terminal cancer, but for her three sons the knowledge that their mother had terminal cancer was — and is — personal.
If you know Joanna’s family, please reach out to her sons. They will need your support and understanding in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead. (Yes, years.)
- Listen to them. Allow them to share their feelings of mourning. As proud as they are of their mother, they miss her.
- Write your memories of their mom to share with them throughout the year and/or in the years ahead.
- Be sensitive as every new season and holiday approaches.
- Acknowledge how much you miss her, too.
- Validate their feelings. Children (and adults) need to know there is no “right” or “wrong” way (or time) for grief to manifest. Tears, anger, numbness, laughter, frustration, nostalgia–all are “normal” and healthy reactions to loss.
- Don’t claim to know how they feel. Her absence will be harder than you can possibly imagine–unless you also lost a parent while in your youth, and even then, your relationship was yours, not theirs.
Even if you don’t know the Francis family, please keep them in your prayers. If you’re in a position to do so, please consider honoring their mother by contributing to the Joanna Francis Living Well Foundation.