“To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.”—Thomas Campbell
Ryan drove me to Trinity Lutheran Church on that Monday afternoon. Everything that needed to be done had been done, and there was nothing left to do but have the service that would “Celebrate Her Life,” as we had come to say. By the time the day was done, celebrate her life we did, as was the custom of both the Kallberg family and the Wigen family.
We were told to be there an hour before the service, during which time it would give me a chance to meet and greet all of Joanie’s friends who had come to pay their respects and to share stories about her. We had four big poster boards with all of the photos I had amassed, spread around the vestibule and there were people around all of them.
I stood off to the side greeting people after they had signed the guestbook or had wandered around looking at the photos, and with each one, old memories would come rushing to the foreground. It was an emotional time, but I managed to get through it.
One visitor, I hadn’t expected to see there, was Dorinda, Joanie’s Home Health and Hospice nurse who had done such a remarkable job taking care of Joanie during those final weeks. She came up to me and gave me a hug, and it told me something important about her. I know doctors and nurses are trained to remain detached from their patients, and I think they do that to protect their own mental health. But, here she was, one of those same nurses, and it told me something about how she felt about Joanie. She obviously had cared for her, but more importantly, she cared about her. I knew what effect she had on Joanie, and it was one of complete trust. That Dorinda cared enough to come was something special on a day filled with emotional moments.
The time finally came for the processional and, as me and members of the Kallberg and Wigen families were escorted to our places in the front pews to the strains of Chris Botti’s, “Time To Say Goodbye,” I knew I had made the right choice in music.
Pastor Sathre opened with a prayer followed by scripture readings, and then it was time for Cathy and me. Originally, Cathy was to follow my remarks, but a couple of days before the funeral, she called me and asked if it would be okay if she went first. She told me if she followed me it would be harder for her to deliver her eulogy. I agreed, and after I heard her eloquent words, and I had to follow her, I felt like throwing mine away and just sitting down. Her words, presented here as she wrote them are from her heart, and you have already known most of what I would say anyway, so I give you Cathy’s words, which I think are unmatched in their sincerity, honesty and truth.
For my dear friend Joanie
April 14, 2008
That smile…that beautiful smile. When I close my eyes and think of our dear friend…I see that Joanie Wigen smile. Joanie was a gift…a woman of undeniable strength, dignity and courage. A woman with a bright, positive, and trusting spirit. There was no one like Joanie. We all have our own Joanie stories and I know we could be here for hours and hours laughing, crying and rejoicing the gift that was Joanie.
I am one of the infamous Ya-Ya sisters. Joanie, Kristi, Marcia, Claudia, Steph and I spent the last 25 years celebrating each others birthdays, taking shopping trips to the cities, and having adventures at the lake. Joanie and I had a special bond from the start…possibly because we were only two days apart in age. She was 2 days younger than I was and she loved telling anyone who would listen that I was her “older friend”.
It may appear that the Ya-Yas were her best friends…not true…we were some of her best friends. There were her friends from her childhood, her friends from her jobs at the Y, BSC, and Town House. There were the very special friends that she and Bob shared, friends they hung out with at Peacock and of course her friends from her political life. The Ya-Yas were very important to Joanie but no more than all of you.
When Bob asked me to do this my first reaction was whoa….I’m not sure I can. What a daunting task to try and capture the joy that was Joanie. But also, what an honor to be given this opportunity to say a few words about a woman I loved like a sister. So my friends, I will do my best….for Joanie.
Years ago there was a small book or poster that was entitled, “All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten”. I’m sure many of you remember it. It included things like…
*Don’t hit people
*Clean up after yourself
*And my personal favorite…Take a nap every afternoon
As I thought about what I wanted to say today those words came back to me….that’s when I realized…All I really need to know I learned from Joanie.
Joanie taught me about Friendship: Joanie loved her family and friends and they loved her. She was always the first to call when you were in pain or crisis; she was always the one who convinced you it would be better. Just look at the faces, smiles and tears in this sanctuary. She was a friend to each and every one of you and she treasured that friendship.
The steady stream of family and friends who called and came to visit Joanie in these last few weeks was extraordinary. Bob was the traffic cop and always made sure that it wasn’t too much for her. But come they did to have a few words, a glance or one last touch. Something that, when they closed their eyes in a quiet moment they could remember…something that would help keep Joanie with them always.
When I made some very bad life choices, Joanie didn’t turn away from me. She was there when I needed a true friend, when I needed someone to believe that things would be ok. Many friendships faded…but not with Joanie. She listened and supported in the bad times and boy oh boy did she rejoice and celebrate in the good times.
*Joanie taught me that true friendship in unconditional.
Joanie taught me about Loyalty: Joanie loved politics….well… Republican politics – . Democratic not so much. Her Republican roots were solidly formed at her father’s side. Those roots grew, and as Bob became a part of her life…his role in the Olson administration helped solidify Joanie’s passion for politics. She was hooked.
She was unbelievably committed to make a difference in Governor Schaefer’s and Governor Hoeven’s campaigns. She loved connecting the dots between HER Governors and their supporters and contributors. While she always felt appreciated – Ed and Nancy & John and Mikey & Jack and Betsy made sure of that – many of us felt she sacrificed too much. We were thrilled when she finally had a job at Tourism with full benefits… retirement, vacation, sick time, medical insurance… all those things we thought were important. But when she was asked to come back to the political world she jumped at it. I still remember being with her at Southdale for one of our Ya-Ya Sisterhood outings when her cell phone rang. After a few minutes she hung up and said, “It was the governor, he wants me to come back. They need me.” The smile on her face was childlike….she was home…back in the thick of politics….and she loved it.
*Joanie taught me that loyalty is not earned with money, or power, or even security. It’s about a passionate commitment to a mission, a person, or even a political party. And sometimes it means putting your needs on the back burner when someone or something you believe in needs you.
Joanie taught me about Humility. Joanie was always amazed and humbled by the support and caring of her friends. When she was first diagnosed and we set up a fund to help her deal with the unending expenses that insurance didn’t cover she was overwhelmed with gratitude. While we never told her the amount anyone donated we did tell her who donated because she wanted to thank them. I can still hear her voice: “Godfrey…I can’t believe so-and-so contributed. Why would they do that?” She honestly couldn’t believe that people cared so much.
*When she came home from Minneapolis after surgery and treatment she couldn’t believe that friends had cleaned the yard, planted flowers and made her backyard and pool look like an oasis. She called me and with a lump in her throat told me what they had done. She was so grateful and so very happy.
*When Ed and Nancy called from DC right after Ed was sworn in as Secretary of Agriculture, Joanie could hardly wait to tell me. Again, she was so humbled that they would think of her at this amazing time in their lives.
*There are countless stories like this. The wig that you bought, the bracelets you made, the fundraiser you attended, the prayer shawl that you knit, the invitation to Thanksgiving dinner, the never ending prayers….I could go on and on. Just know that every call you made, every card you sent, every large and small gesture of kindness you showed…was so appreciated and treasured by Joanie. You made a difference in her life and she wanted you to know that.
Joanie taught me that true humility is rare and perhaps the greatest virtue of all.
And finally…Joanie taught me about Trust: For the last twelve years Joanie trusted that she would beat this disease. She trusted that if she did what her doctors said she would survive. For the longest time she did just that…she beat the odds…sometimes because of the treatment she received and sometimes by her unbelievable will to live.
*But most of all she trusted Bob. He was her rock, her trusted confidant, advisor, advocate, best friend…and truly the love of her life. And finally… in these last few weeks… Bob was her trusted caretaker. On my last visit to Bismarck to see Joanie…after witnessing the tenderness and compassion and love he showed her as he was trying to get her to drink something…as he tried to get her positioned so that she’d be more comfortable…I whispered to Joanie, “Bob’s my new hero.” She whispered back, very slowly and very quietly “He’s my hero too.”
*She never doubted Bob’s ability to look at every detail of her care, investigate all options, get clarity from the doctors when nothing seemed clear…and she trusted that he would always be there for her….and he was.
*Joanie taught me that nothing is real or lasting without trust.
In closing I’d like to share a poem from a card Joanie sent to Kristi, one of our Ya-Ya sisters, after Joanie had stayed with her in St Paul during one of those never ending chemo treatment marathons.
And the card said…
“Friendship has a special meaning when you have someone with whom to share
Tears…as well as laughter
Fears… as well as dreams
And Silence… when the time for words is past.
Rest in peace dear Joanie….rest in peace.
Her eulogy was followed my remarks, and then by Harry Chapin’s “Sunday Morning Sunshine,” and later by James Taylor’s, “Something in the Way She Moves.” Then after that song, and the creed and commendation we walked out to the music of Harry Chapin’s “Circle,” as good a song to end a service like this as I have ever heard. It was also one of Joanie’s favorites.
After it was all over, the service itself, and the gathering of friends and family at Peacock Alley later that day and evening, I felt that indeed it had been a celebration worthy of the name, and I think it was one that Joanie would have approved of.