Losing a friend-of Mom’s, and mine

Almost a year ago, I wrote about how Mom had accompanied friends on their honeymoon to Spain. One of my lunch lady friends, as I call them, had found some old pictures of Mom and gave them to me. I called her JW at the time, not sure if she’d want to be identified. Now, I think it is OK. Her name was Joanne Wisemiller. She passed away, suddenly and unexpectedly, on Jan. 24. It is just unbelievable to think that she is gone. And of course, it stirs up all sorts of thoughts about her and her husband and daughters, who are close to my age, and memories associated with Mom.

Joanne and her husband were Mom’s friends for as long as I can remember, having bonded first over their love of bridge. For years and years, Joanne and Gerry hosted July 4 parties at their house along the Upper Arlington parade route. I’m pretty sure I drank my first bloody mary at one of those parties, sneaking sips when no adults were looking. As I got older, I especially appreciated Gerry and Joanne for their humor, and I always thought they were such fun friends for Mom to have. They also took good care of her.

The last time Mom got drunk (as far as I am aware) was at a party at their house in celebration of a mutual friend’s wedding. Mom wanted to leave before the party broke up, but her keys had been taken away. So she started walking home, but pooped out about a mile into her trip. She called me from a pay phone at a gas station on a busy street corner – but not busy at this time, which was about 1 a.m. Lucky for Mom, I was home from college for the summer and was able to pick her up. I found her sitting in the grass at this corner. When she got in the car, she asked me for a cigarette, though I didn’t even know that she knew that I smoked. I gave her one. And after turning on the lights inside the car, I discovered that someone had used eyeliner to draw a mustache on Mom’s face. It must have been some party, and Mom had obviously had a good time. And the hosts didn’t let her drive drunk.

All this time that I knew Joanne as a kid and young adult, I was not at all aware of her professional life. After I had been at Ohio State for awhile, I discovered that she was a high-level administrator in our agriculture college – but I still didn’t know her history. I learned years later, when I was invited to join the lunch ladies, that her past included communications work at Ohio State – which is what I do. The lunch ladies all worked together years ago in the medical center or in university communications. After I left the medical center communications office, a friend still working there introduced me to the lunch ladies, and I became part of a longtime weekly lunch tradition. I have always felt fortunate that they brought me into their fold. And it was a bonus to see Joanne so frequently, and to be her friend. Since I joined the group about seven years ago, we’ve been a party of six. And now, five.

Joanne and I would occasionally talk about Mom at our lunches. Often, we recalled something funny, or I would give brief updates on her health status. We had that shared history, but we had just as much in common as friends who appreciate good writing and reading, some therapeutic girl time and a cathartic rant. She and Gerry were such excellent partners in life and have always led an incredibly active social life. The lunch ladies and I corresponded over email all day today, worrying about Gerry and mourning our friend. I find myself thinking, as terrible as it sounds, that it’s not fair that Joanne has died and that Mom still lives on with this terrible disease. There is nothing sadder than the gradual and painfully lengthy loss of my mother. The jolt of losing Joanne intensifies the sadness. Mom is not dead, but the Bonnie we all knew is long gone. And now a significant part of her life, and mine, is gone, too.

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12 comments so far

  1. Sara Strong on

    Lovely remembrance, Emily. Will you share with the Ladies?

  2. Laura on

    What a shock! What happened?

  3. Jeff Caldwell on

    Oh Emily, this makes me very sad to hear. I remember those July 4th parties. And yet, I found myself giggling at the story about Mom walking home from the party, and you discovering a moustache drawn on her face. That must have been some party indeed. And good for them for taking her keys. I’m glad to hear that you and Joanne had such a friendship recently.

  4. momsbrain on

    Sara, thank you. I considered sharing it and will if you think they’d appreciate it. Laura, from what I understand, she had a heart attack Friday and was hospitalized and died on Saturday. She didn’t come to lunch Thursday because she was feeling ill, which in hindsight, of course, is telling, though I have no idea if she had been having pain or problems leading up to that. Jeff, that story about Mom is funny. Really funny and silly and so memorable, and a good example of how Joanne and Gerry looked after Mom.

  5. Mary Jane Metz on

    Beautiful tribute, Emily. Gerry would like to read it, I’m sure. I was so shocked when he called me and, like you, worried about him. A lot of your mom’s friends have wonderful memories of get-togethers at the Wisemillers. . . Fourth of July, bridge games, Book Club, etc. It’s hard to lose someone suddenly, just hard to get your mind around it. She will be missed. Thank you for your blog, Emily.

  6. momsbrain on

    Thank you, Mary Jane. I need to send Gerry a card, and I will include it – it helps to know you think he’d like to read it. I imagine that what I am aware of and recall about events at their house is just a small fraction of the gatherings they hosted. I have found myself thinking that I am glad for Joanne that she didn’t suffer or have fear – but the sudden loss is so stunning, for so many. Thanks again.

  7. Suzanne on

    So, so sorry to hear this. Really enjoyed working with Joanne when she was here. I also enjoyed a couple of those Fourth of July parties, and joined the lunch bunch a few times. Sad.

  8. David Hoover on

    So sorry to hear this. I worked with Joanne at OSU back in the 80s–we were on the first Communications Council together and I have a picture of us with President Jennings! Sorry for your loss as well. It is a small, small world.

  9. Gemma McLuckie on

    I understand the conflict you feel. Mom died in just a few moments. Dad was ill for 3 years. Both were horrible, but I pray for quick.

  10. momsbrain on

    Suzanne, I thought about you because I recall seeing you on July 4 once. David, I knew she knew you, but I didn’t know what the connection was. Gemma-it’s true, the loss of parents is horrible, no matter how it happens. Thanks to you all for commenting.

  11. Jennifer Knowles on

    Hi Emily, I am sorry for your loss!!! It is weird having my Mom gone. It is so final and I will never be able to talk to her again. I am religious and hope my brother Mark welcomed her into heaven. She did not know her son had passed away and we chose to not tell her. She had been gone for quite a few years before she passed.

  12. momsbrain on

    Hi, Jennifer-great to hear from you. I definitely share your hope that your mom and brother are together. My mom would not be able to comprehend the news of a friend’s death so in that way Alzheimer’s is sparing her the pain of losing a friend. I hope you and your family are well!


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