Mourning a death in the family

Death is interesting.  It forces you to get familiar with your feelings, emotions and how you process events in your life. We all handle these types of things on an intellectual and emotional level but often don’t think about those differences. Joan Dain lost her battle with lung cancer on Wednesday morning last week. She passed while she slept peacefully a few minutes after her daughter told her again how much she loved her.


Joan was an extraordinary woman for a lot of reasons, but to me, her most significant contribution to this world changed more than half of my life for the better. On December 28th in 1965, Joan gave birth to Deborah Lynn Dain. You likely know her as Deb or Debbie, my wife.

We are pretty open about our lives on our blog and our youtube channel, but on this topic, we have been quiet. We assume readers and viewers come here as an escape from their world, or for information on living on a boat, or how to do boat repairs. We figured people didn’t want to come here for a story that was not uplifting, inspiring or informational. Maybe we are wrong, not sure, but for me, this is part of the healing process.

About 15 years ago, she found out she had lung cancer. They were able to remove part of the lower lobe of a lung and with treatment, it was gone. It was a miracle for sure. A year ago or so they found cancer in her lungs again and were not able to remove part of the lungs as it would have decreased her ability to generate enough oxygen. So they did the standard treatments, radiation, and chemotherapy. After a couple of months of this, it was not reducing in size, and they informed her it was terminal. Joan was pragmatic about these things, at 78 years old, she told us she lived a happy and full life. She accepted her fate with a grace that I only hope to have someday. All the arrangements were made, such as picking out all the accouterments with a funeral home, deciding on the Urn she wanted, meeting the different hospice organizations she would work with, getting the power of attorney’s that may be needed as her health deteriorated. These tasks were solemn, but Joan had a way of finding humor in most things and sharing that with those around her.

When Deb and I were dating, I was invited to dinner to meet her parents. Whew, this was nerve wracking, I really liked this girl and having dinner with her parents was a big deal. I arrived at their house, and they were both so gracious. Joan cooked a great meal, and when the dinner dishes were all put in the sink, Joan came to the table with a lemon pie and pie plates. I was on my best behavior, Yes Ma’am, No Sir, Thank you, I was using them all to show I was a proper gentleman. As Joan cut and served the pie we each started eating it. She served herself last, took a bite, and without missing a beat said, “Wow, that will make your pussy pucker.” Deb started to melt to the floor, Dan shook his head, and I knew I found my people.

‘The pie’ is one of the many stories over the years that we will always look back on with fond memories. Joan was a prankster and enjoyed making people laugh. She was always the one with her tongue out in the family picture. Joan had a full head of brown hair, and it wasn’t dyed. At about 28 I started to turn gray, and at 78 she still had brown hair. When Joan began to lose her hair from the cancer treatment, her big wish was that her hair would grow back gray. For some reason, she was envious of those of us that had gray hair. And you know what, when it grew back, it came back brown again.

She kept this sense of humor right to the end. Joan wanted to be cremated. She wanted no part of being in the ground “where there are bugs and snakes” as she would tell us. So at a meeting with the funeral home to make all the arrangements and pick out her urn, she was presented with the options for what she would be in when she was cremated. I didn’t realize this, but when someone is cremated, they are put in a ‘box’ or ‘casket’ of some sort. It gets destroyed in the process and renders to ashes, but they have some elaborate options. Joan asked many times why she had to pick out a box if she was going to be cremated. If it was an option not to have had one, that is what Joan would have chosen, but apparently, that was not the

case. Her comment to the funeral director was, “So I have to buy this thing that I will never see, and you are going to cremate me in it, so no-one else can see it, what is the cheapest option?”  For those wondering, it is called a craft box.

When Joan’s health got worse, she went on oxygen, became less mobile, started to lose body control and eventually got weak enough that just getting out of bed would take more energy than she had to spend, Deb was always there to take care of her.  With her Dad’s health what it is, he was not able to take care of her the way he wanted to and expected he would be able to. As a proud man, I know this had to be terribly tough on him as well. To admit you need help isn’t easy and I would submit even harder for people in the greatest generation. Deb graciously filled all these gaps and knew how much time to spend with them and how to continue to make sure Joan was cared for and still felt empowered and independent.  Since sometime in March, Deb has gone to her parent’s house almost every day and in the last couple of months has stayed several nights a week there. When Dan would go into the hospital or physical rehabilitation, Deb would stay with her mom 24/7.

Joan had told Deb that she had hoped that she would have the family together for one more Christmas. Deb, again, knowing what to do, arranged a Christmas in August celebration. We would have a big Christmas dinner, exchange gifts and even have a decorated tree in their house. Dan, Danny (Deb’s brother) and his wife Katherine, Deb and I, My son and his wife Ashely, Danny and Katherine’s daughter Kim and Joan’s great grandkids were all going to be there.  The date was set for Saturday, August 12th. Last week Tuesday the Hospice nurse came out and brought the doctor with her. They did their weekly check up, and as Deb was walking them out the door, she was telling them about the Christmas In August we were having on Saturday.  They left, and 5 minutes later they came back inside and asked about the Christmas celebration. “Did you say you were doing it on Saturday?” Deb confirmed, and they suggested that if possible we may want to try to move it up a little bit that the end was relatively close. The hospice nurse must have called the Chaplain as there was a knock on the door shortly after that and he talked to Joan for a while. Joan asked about everyone’s flights for the Christmas celebration and seemed glad that the family was all going to be together. We called Danny and let him know what hospice said, and he and Katherine caught the first flight out Wednesday morning. Deb went in and checked on Joan in the morning; she put a load of laundry in and when she went back in Joan had passed away.  Joan didn’t make it to the Christmas in August celebration but she did get her wish for the family to be together. We tried to celebrate her life as she would have wanted and we did it together.

Wednesday afternoon, we went to the funeral home so that Danny and Katherine could see her since they were in the air on their flight when she passed. Loved ones look so peaceful in the funeral home. It is eerie and sweet at the same time. The four of us spent some time there with her and laughed and told stories about things Joan had done that made us smile. She was providing happiness even at this time, and for the final encore, we got to find out what a craft box is. Yep, it is a cardboard box. They dressed it up with beautiful linens, but it was classic Joan and made all 4 of us smile and laugh.

It seems that we don’t often talk about death and loss from an intellectual perspective and rather focus on the emotional one. It is easy to do, nerves and emotions are raw, and you’re flooded with memories and with each memory brings the realization that you won’t make new ones with that person. This cycle raises the sadness that death brings with it. But I hope we can change that. Celebrate the life rather than focus on the loss. Next Saturday we will have a small service, and I know Joan would want us to have fun. She wouldn’t want it to be sad. I am sure Joan will be looking down on us and sticking her tongue out when we all line up for pictures.

3 Sisters – Janet, Judy and Joan (Left to Right)

Joan’s death has been hard on Deb. Intellectually Deb understands that her mom is no longer suffering and doesn’t require someone to take care of her now. But emotionally, she lost her mom, her rock, her support and the constant she had her whole life. That void can’t be filled, but I hope that she can find solace and peace in this tough time.

I love you, Debbie. You are an amazing woman!

Also published on Medium.

Comments 2

  1. So very lovely, I enjoyed the little life journey you have taken us on and I feel as if I would have loved her too.


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