A Celebration Of Courage
By Carol L. Allen
Feb. 23, 2007 — Joan Sumner ("Joanie" to me) had been a close friend since the early 1960s. She and I had our first teaching jobs together at Viscount Bennett High School in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
We enjoyed many years of friendship, sharing the raising of our children and participating together in a multitude of community activities.
The year before my family and I moved from Calgary to the Valley of the Sun, the Sumners had already been Arizonans themselves, living in our Tempe home for the year that Bill completed his M.Ed. degree at ASU.
Until tonight, Joanie was fighting cancer. It was hard to know this, of course, but more important was seeing her determination to fight hard against her body’s enemy. In fact, in spite of her physical battle, she continued to be an inspiration to her family and to friends like me.
Her happy spirit was as strong as ever. She made it possible for us to speak honestly and freely about what she was going through and to find joy not only in the sharing of our memories but also in the present.
This past summer, Joanie, her daughter Janine and granddaughter Julia, from Toronto, were re-visitng some of the Sumners’ favorite trails in West Bragg Creek (near Calgary). The wet ground made maneuvering Joanie’s wheelchair difficult, so, at Joan’s insistence, Janine and Julia went on ahead while Joanie waited in a sunny spot on the trail.
Soon, two strangers walking their horses saw Joanie and stopped to chat with her. When she told them that her daughter and granddaughter had gone ahead, the strangers suggested that Joanie get on one of the horses and ride up to meet her family while one of them would accompany her on the other horse.
And, typical of Joanie (who, by the way, had rarely ridden a horse), she said yes, mounted the horse, and rode up the trail.
Well, the surprise on their faces when Grandma Joanie met Janine and Julia on their way back was truly a Kodak moment. (In fact, the story and photo were featured in a July issue of The Calgary Herald.)
Then the strangers, who often take kids on short rides on weekends, hoisted Julia onto her own horse, and she rode back down the trail beside her grandmother — a moment to remember.
Joanie’s life always was like that: embracing new ideas and experiences and joyfully celebrating the special moments, no matter how small, that life offers us all along our own journeys.
Did Joanie know pain? Fear? Of course she did; she was fighting cancer. But, part of her fight was the determination she had not to be a cancer "victim" (she refused to accept that term).
Instead, she was a fighter. And, her strong spirit has been an inspiration to her family and friends — to us all. We celebrate her courage. May we learn much from it — riding on life’s trails with the joyful, open spirit that Joanie had all along her own.
Editor’s Note: I decided to run this celebration of my friend’s life, even though Joanie died just before we went to press. When I visited her in early January in Calgary, she was delighted to know that her "happy horse story" would run in our paper. So, to keep our plan and to honor her beautiful life, here is her story — altered only in tense. I think she would have been pleased.
To Joanie’s family and her many friends, we send our deepest sympathy. Weren’t we all fortunate to have had her in our lives? I know I was. "Thanks for the memories," dear friend.