Posted April 15, 2011 in Memorials:
A Letter to Joan

by Réjeanne George.

Dear Joan,

We had a memory night in your honor a couple of evenings ago. Did you hear how much we laughed as we remembered shared moments with you? In a spiritual family of unique individuals, you remain indeed, most unique. You are and ever will be "our Joan."

I couldn’t add to the stories that night. Why? There was between us an unspoken bond. To try and express that didn’t fit in with the way the evening developed. I wasn’t ready.

The family needed to remember the light, funny happenings. The shock of the deaths of both of you was still too overwhelming. We desperately needed to laugh, to unwind.

It wasn’t at your expense. It had to do with your slowness to respond at times, and on the other hand, with your gift of terse response to the obvious.

Who else but you would have thought of the sign you put up when you were painting outdoors: "Do not disturb. Artist at work. If you can read this, you are already too close."

You and I share a profound reality in our family. We were both poustiniks, as well as neighbors on the island. Very often when we met on one of the paths, we merely nodded. As time went on, we would sometimes stop and chat, standing there like two old buddies, getting wet, shivering in the cold, or enjoying the light through the pines.

It was you who came upon me at the head of the bridge the night I broke my ankle. Thank God you came by and went to find help. It was a very cold night.

We had encounters about your cat. I discovered myself to be secretly relieved when your first cat left this world. Not that I wasn’t pained for you; I most certainly was. However, I have a well-attended bird feeder. That cat’s appetite for birds was insatiable.

Thank you for training the next cat, that gorgeous white Good Boy, to prefer his warm home with you to roaming the island.

I know you were concerned about being a poustinik and having a cat. You said to me barely a week before you left us, "Sooner or later the cat will have to go—but not yet."

Would it have helped if I had reminded you that Yvonne, one of our first women poustiniks, had a cat for years? And so did Catherine for a short while. "Snowball" she called it, and it too was white. Like you, she would sometimes stand on her porch and loudly call it to come home.

Catherine had such a special place in her heart for you. I reread the collection of your letters from her and the staff letters and spiritual reading transcripts relating to iconography, the day after your funeral.

How tenderly she wrote, "I know you are with me, darling. I need you very much—your quiet silence, the funny little way you twist your hair. I remember them all."

She sent you to France to study French and iconography, that ancient and holy art. Both were daunting challenges. We had so little sense of their historical and spiritual realities and of their forthcoming role in our appreciation of the Eastern Churches and our own Russian spiritual heritage.

Catherine foresaw it. She wrote to you in 1972: "You are studying iconography because someone in Canada should really know how to do it. It will be a very special apostolate in times to come."

She was right, Joan. You paved the way. There was a cost. I always had a sense you felt you hadn’t lived up to Catherine’s expectations. You never said it in those words, but there were chance remarks you made about yourself, about your work. You must see things differently now. I don’t want to speculate.

There is one more thing I want to add. I want to tell you how much I was touched by the care you took of your sister Margie, who had moved into the local area.

Her illness pained you so deeply, and you did everything in your power to help her. You poured yourself out for her. I was so moved when at your wake, Deacon Probert told me how grateful the parish was for the icon you gave them as a thank you for the help they were able to offer Margie.

My heart feels very full as I write this. Words are so inadequate. Thank you for being you. I still automatically look out to see if the lights are on in your studio at night. I believe this is simply "au revoir" or "see you later." Pray for me that I, too, hold the course.

Your sister and fellow poustinik,




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