“I Hope you Help Somebody Every Chance you Get”
Joan Barrett shared a mother-son moment, a would be dance, in a flower and family filled room at Regional Hospice, where her son BJ was married in a ceremony the family and the staff still hold vividly in their hearts.
The song was Rascal Flatts’, “My Wish,” and many of the lyrics, like the title above, echo not only how Joan lived her life, but what they all wanted for each other in her last days, and in the days to follow.
This small gathering was a little piece of wonderful in a difficult time. Both of Joan Barrett’s children got engaged to their partners, BJ to Brittany and her daughter Tiffany to Artie, (within a day of each other!) a month or so after Joan was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Both couples wanted to be very sure that Joan knew that her children would be loved and cared for. BJ and Brittany moved their plans along quickly so that she could be a part of the private ceremony, which was ultimately held in her room.
Marlon Simpkins, resident chaplain, is at the bedside of many heart filling moments, but he counts this scene as one he will keep forever. He remembers that Joan was wavering in and out of sleep that day and that the staff was concerned that she might not be alert enough to enjoy the service. But it was magical, Marlon says. Tim, another hospice employee, had lovingly filled the room with flowers and cupcakes he had baked himself. And then more magic. “ About 30 minutes before the ceremony, she came to life, watching intently.” The staff helped to arrange her hair and makeup, and to dress her in her beautiful blue and gold gown. Marlon remembers a most tender moment when Joan placed her hands on her son’s face to congratulate him, whispering words of affection and instruction on his marriage. Turning to Brittany, she said, “Now take care of my son!” Marlon goes on to recall that there wasn’t a dry eye in the room.
Both Tiffany and BJ tear up, too, as they remember the ceremony, but also the giant and beautiful life their mother lived and created for them. She and her husband William were so good at not only building and renovating houses, but creating Home. Tiffany, who lives with her growing family in the last home her mother made beautiful, remembers how her mom welcomed everyone. She loved to gather family and friends for meals, for respite from their lives, and especially for holidays, even through one last Easter before she passed May 2, 2021.
“Mom was the gatherer,” says BJ and he admits that while they are doing their best to keep up her traditions, it isn’t the same without her. “The world was just better with her in it,” BJ says. Both of her children visit her at her grave to be near her, to tell her about their lives. Tiffany was married, having made a few early decisions with her mother to honor some of her wishes and she gave birth to her son Hudson in February, exactly a year after her mother’s diagnosis. Tiffany was worried that the month would be a painful reminder, but now it is instead a reminder of how much love is in their family. Her daughter, Hope, who was only five when her grandmother entered hospice care, was still able to be a little girl visiting grandma, eager to drink peanut butter chocolate milkshakes and play outside in the playground at the center.
“They’re all angels,” says Tiffany, as she recounts the quiet ministry, so quiet and gentle, both at their home and at the center. How much support was given to her dad especially, who never left Joan’s side. And how the support continued after they lost their mom. Both BJ and Tiffany mention Martha, a social worker, by name as being so, so helpful to them all the way through. “ The center is a godsend,” Tiffany says.
Joan was known for many things: how she overcame hard things with hard work, her bright warm smile, her reminder that this too shall pass (words her daughter would have tattooed in her mother’s handwriting) and in that spirit, to always, when you can, pay things forward, as she did.