TAYLOR, JOAN KATHERINE
November 27 1939 – March 13 2020
Joan Taylor died Friday night, March 13, ending 14 years of living with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL). Joan was first diagnosed in September 2006 and commenced chemotherapy in September 2009. From then until August 2019 she received eight different chemotherapies, some still in clinical trials. Some worked for a while; some worked for two or three years; ultimately, she ran out of possible options. In August 2019, she was told she probably had only four to six months to live. She exceeded those expectations. She did not fight against her cancer – she accepted it, and lived with it. She decided that she wanted to die in her home, where she could look across Okanagan Lake to the far hills and see the birds feeding on her deck. Throughout her declining days she remained calm and cheerful. With the help of numerous friends, she continued to work in the church and the community. Even when physical weakness forced her to give up many of these activities, she remained keenly interested. Joan was an avid stitcher, who created about 20 large banners for her church, dozens of complex embroideries – one of which won Best of Show at a national conference – and knitted endless prayer shawls. At the time of her death, she was working on one final complex piece of embroidery; she had 24 stitches left to complete it when she died. Joan is deeply mourned by her husband Jim, daughter Sharon, two grandchildren Katherine and Stephen, and many friends across the continent and around the world. A formal memorial service will be delayed until coronavirus restrictions are lifted; the eulogy that Sharon would have given at the service follows below. Donations in Joan’s memory may be made to Winfield United Church, the United Church of Canada, the Canadian Red Cross, or the Canadian Cancer Society.
for Joan Taylor
by her daughter Sharon
A eulogy is a tribute after someone has died. To use my Dad’s words, to “weave the many threads of her life into a cohesive tapestry” -- from her childhood in Creston, university and early marriage years in Vancouver, drizzly toddler-mom years in Prince Rupert, working and family-raising years in Toronto and finally retirement years here in the Okanagan. Throughout each of these eras the constants were family, church, work and thread.
Joan came from Creston, then a small town of 2,000 at the base of Kootenay Lake that imposed a 15 mph speed limit on the main highway through town. She had never lived anywhere else. No one in her extended family had ever been to university, let alone to a foreign country. But Mom was not about to let convention get in her way. In school she excelled in Home Economics (particularly sewing) and was off to study Home Ec at UBC in Vancouver in September 1957.
Joan had just arrived at UBC. She had come to a Frosh Mixer at Brock Hall. She went with half a dozen other girls living in the residences down in Fort Camp, all equally bewildered by this new environment they had suddenly arrived in.
Joan was slim, slight, a strawberry blonde. She had barely gotten into the room when a fourth-year student strutted up and asked her to dance.
They danced the rest of that evening. And for the next 63 years. Not always in harmony. They stepped on each other’s toes sometimes. They danced to different drummers occasionally. But they kept dancing.
Coming from a working class family in a small town and marrying into a very well educated, well traveled, worldly family in the big city was a huge change for Joan. Mom quickly learned to keep her mouth shut when she felt out of her depth, which to some appeared as shyness. With age comes wisdom. As anyone who was on a committee with her in recent years can attest... she definitely got over those inhibitions.
The fact is, they disagreed about a lot of things. But rarely about things that really mattered. Like being committed to each other, regardless.
The biggest test of their commitment to each other came when they learned that their first child, their son Stephen, had Cystic Fibrosis. It’s a hereditary disease, something he was born with. Incurable, but treatable. The treatment involved 30 or more pills a day. Two full hours of physiotherapy to pound – literally, to pound – his chest to jiggle out the mucus clogging his lungs. And sleeping inside a mist tent every night. Which meant stripping his bed every morning and putting everything through the washer and dryer, and then making it all up again. Three to four hours every day, looking after his needs.
He was not diagnosed until he was seven, after our family moved to Toronto. Dad was on a three-week field trip through western Canada when Joan received the diagnosis. Joan started his therapy on her own. Dad’s boss’s secretary commented, “She must be an amazingly strong woman.”
He had a good life for another 15 years. Until he died, just short of his 22nd birthday.
I don’t think Joan ever forgave the medical system in Prince Rupert for failing to diagnose his illness. Worse, for blaming it on her; literally claiming that his chronic digestive problems and respiratory infections were her fault somehow. I think she had every right to be angry.
After both kids had finished elementary school, Joan decided to re-enter the work force. She started as part-time clerical staff at the United Church’s national offices about 1978. She moved up through several positions – her favorite role was administrative assistant in the church’s Worship Portfolio, with John Ambrose and Fred McNally; it shaped her view of what a church is and should be for the rest of her life – until she rose to be secretary to the Secretary of the Division of Communication, and supervisor of all clerical staff in the church’s communications and publishing house.
Throughout my childhood, even though Mom was often busy with my brother’s medical needs and later with the responsibilities of work, there was always time for sewing and church. When I was small, she made all our clothes. She taught me to use her sewing machine as soon as I was tall enough to stand up to reach the foot pedal. She knitted our sweaters, scarves, mittens, and toques. She made me the most beautiful ball gown when I was in university, and a couple of questionably awesome bridesmaids dresses. But I think my all-time favourite is the Aran sweater she knitted for my 18th birthday. It took her a full year.
She also made quilts for every bed in the house. We worked together to make a puff quilt for my bed when I was 13, which inspired my love of quilting. At one point I overheard her say that I was now a better quilter than her. To me there is no higher compliment.
But Mom’s true love since childhood has always been thread work. I have in my bedroom two framed pieces of hers dated 1951 & 1952, as well as eight more recent pieces. In fact, her very last trip was to attend a stitchery conference in Victoria. I think that immersing herself in the delicate threads, seeing and feeling the design come to fruition, gave her a sense of calmness and control that she didn’t get from other aspects of her life.
At our home church in Toronto -- Parkwoods United -- I vividly remember Mom and Dad both heading off to their various committee meetings, sometimes on the same nights. And that certainly didn’t change once they retired to the Okanagan. If anything, both of them have had even busier calendars for the past 20 years.
And that that brings us around to when Joan was diagnosed with leukemia. She lived with a death sentence for 14 years. The Cancer Clinic went through nine different types of chemotherapy. Some didn’t work at all; some worked for a few months; some worked for a couple of years.
But in the end, there were no treatments left. And the oncologist had to tell her, “There’s nothing more we can do.”
He gave her four to six months of life. She proved him wrong; she made it to eight months.
When you get that kind of diagnosis, there are two common reactions. One is to deny it, to fight against it, to chase costly miracles in Mexico or the Philippines, to spend hours at a gym trying to sustain a failing body. The other is to turn your face to the wall and give up.
Mom did neither. She walked the tight rope between denial and despair. In some ways they were the best months of her life. She discovered how much her friends and her family cared. She discovered that in her weakness, others found their own strength, and that in receiving their help and caring she could be a gift to them.
At her last meeting with the oncologist at the Cancer Clinic, Joan thanked him for his services to her over the last years. He shook her hand, and said, “It’s been an honour.”
Indeed, it has been.