June 17, 2023

Joan Adele Vietinghoff (Bias)

Today is my mother’s birthday. She would be at 92 years today. She passed away on June 5. It was a good death. In her Last Five Wishes, wriiten in 1990, she described how she wanted her end-of-life care to proceed. She had designated me to be the executor of her Last Wishes. She was comfortable, and out of pain. Her body will be cremated next week, and her ashes scattered in a “cool, green place.” Those are her wishes.

Baby Joan

On June 3, her grandaughter and her grand-children drove from Mississippi to Tucson to visit her, and they were present when she died. She passed in the middle of the night, sometime between 11 PM on June 4 and 1 AM on June 5. My brother Rick was there, as he has been for the past 15 years. The official time of death was 2:07 AM on the 5th. It was quiet, and she was at home, as she wished. A good death.
I know that the presence of her children, grand-children and great-grandchildren was significant for her. She was mother to all of those children. She was the matriarch for all of us.

Throughout a diverse, and problematic, family, she was the core, the center of direction. She raised not only her own three children, but essentially raised her grand-children and their children. She was grandma and “nana.” She loved them all.

Joan in Chicago

Her home was filled with photographs, all held in Dollar Store picture frames. All the moments of all the lives were recorded, and remembered. She had a bookshelf filled with small gifts that she had been given and collected over the years. Childhood drawings, notecards from friends, some old family photos – all were on the walls and shelves. She called them “her treasures.”

She was fiercely independent, which meant that her life was filled with difficulties, and her victories were her own. She struggled through most of her days; she ran the long mile, and for a long time.

Joan and me

She worked, and some of those jobs were ones that I wouldn’t have taken. She did it because she was Mom, and had three children to feed and clothe. She worked a long time. She was once a manager at the Planned Parenthood office in downtown Tucson. One time, she was involved in a robbery attempt at Planned Parenthood, by a young man with a knife. She convinced him that the office had no money, because the services at Planned Parenthood were free. She suggested that the young man try robbing the grocery store a few blocks away, as they would have money on hand. He then followed her advice, left and she immediately reported this all to the police. It was a failed robbery. Suspect apprehended. Good job, Mom.

Here’s my favorite memory of my mother, a memory from before I was born.

She told me this story: When she was dating my father, she would get dressed up, and drive out to the end of the runway at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base. There she would park, get out of the car, and wait for the B-29 Superfortress to arrive – the one carrying my father who was Flight Engineer. I like to imagine those moments: a young woman in love at 22, driving in her dad’s green Buick, waiting in the desert at the edge of the runway, watching the skies, waiting for a handsome young airman to arrive. Then, they go out together for the evening. My dad was not around long; soon he was sent off to Guam for active duty, and that was that.

So there was my mother, a single mom. Not a postitve event in 1950’s America, but she made the best of it. There are photos of the happy mother and son. Then, she continued on, with two more children. Not lasting marriages, but the family still remained.

And so her life went on, mostly an uphill run. She was the strongest person I ever met, and my respect for her has grown over the years as I matured, lived some real life myself, and grew to understand more of what she had to go through.

And now she’s at rest.

Joan Bias

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