I've finally had the opportunity to understand why I've been in such a funk for a while. It wasn't the budget situation in Puerto Rico, although that was very discouraging. It wasn't the myriad problems we've been having with Hyde for the last few months, although those have been maddening. And it isn't because I've been fried by the past couple of months' worth of El Niño's potty training and erratic sleep cycles.
My spirit knew before my mind did... that one of the most influential people in my life died in Puerto Rico on March 12th. But none of the people who knew felt compelled to let me know before today. So, I've just found out, and I'm hurt, bewildered and *pissed*.
Joan Miller was an incredible woman. She had a PhD in Special Education, and dedicated her career to training her college students to be the best, kindest and most creative teachers. She met me when I was 11 years old, and I immediately adopted her as part of my family. I needed someone as funny and loving as her in my life. She was nothing like any other woman I knew, and I loved her for it. At that time, most of the women I knew -- my mother and her friends -- were militant feminists who blamed men for everything that was wrong in their lives (that kind of militant feminists). I had a real problem with that. Joan never married but she also never had that disdain or contempt for men that I saw in the others, and that I certainly heard every day from my mother's lips.
Through the years, Joan took me under her wing much the way a loving aunt would. I could go to her home and hang out, relax. We could talk about anything because she would actually listen and treat my thoughts and feelings with respect. When I was 15, my boyfriend died and she sat with me for hours, talking until I was finally talked and cried out. She would travel the world every year, and once I got old enough she'd leave me to dog- and apartment-sit, which was like a paid vacation because she lived two blocks from the beach. Her dogs were strays: Rosa was a spaniel mutt she found as an abandoned sick puppy in a parking lot, and King was a mutt she found on the beach. She was good at loving strays, like me. I got her hooked on reading Agatha Christie mysteries when I was 14, she returned the favor by getting me hooked on Sara Paretsky and then Patricia Cornwell. She proudly hung on her dining room walls two watercolors I'd painted when I was five years old. That act in itself made me feel loved. See, my art had never been good enough to hang on my parents' walls...
When I got pregnant at 21 and had to drop out of school, she didn't hold it against me, because she knew how screwed up my life was then. She got Hyde a gorgeous wooden rocking horse that he loved, hugged & kissed like a puppy. Every year, she got him a present for Christmas, something my mother didn't do. She would send him postcards from every place she went to, and I think I've saved them all for him. She loved on him like a proud grandmother, never saying anything negative to him or to me. When he was diagnosed with ADHD, she sent me information on how to deal with it and also get the school system to help.
Joan didn't get to meet Mo, she wasn't able to attend our wedding almost three years ago because she hadn't been feeling well and she had too much going on at work. Of course, she got us an awesome present. A couple of months later, she had a massive, paralyzing stroke. I never got a chance to tell her about the new baby on the way, to tell her how happy I was/am and how Mo was worth waiting for all those years. I wish that I'd had the chance to share my new happiness with her. When I think of her, I see her smiling, her blue eyes bright and twinkling. I see her eating ice cream, and chuckling at the dogs' sillyness. I've been letting her go for the last two+ years, since the stroke left her in a hospital bed unable to even communicate, and yet it still hurts to think that she's really, truly gone and I won't see her again. During one of the last conversations we had, she promised that she'd be sitting there the day I graduated from college. That promise lives in my heart.