An earlier version of these reflections was read by Nancy Smyth, Joan’s oldest child, at Joan Iversen’s Memorial Service, September 20, 2013.
My mother was a force of nature–a force for the universe to reckon with — we once jokingly called her “Hurricane Joan” not because she destroyed things, but because she was such a big presence, making her own path in the world, with such a large impact. If she decided that your life needed fixing or organizing, you didn’t stand a chance of resisting.
She taught me many things, but probably the most important one was to make my way in the world, to speak my mind and to take a stand, even if I was afraid and even if I was the only one standing. She exemplified this lesson in so many different ways: when she worked to start the women’s studies program at SUNY-Oneonta (despite the disdainful comments from colleagues that people would next want programs to study the history of cats and dogs), when she worked with friends to establish the first NOW chapter and the first battered women’s program here. And when she brought a feminist analysis to understanding Mormon Polygyny (which I might add, wasn’t appreciated much by the official Mormon Church, although many individual Mormons were supportive) and the Anti-Polygamy Controversy in the first wave of feminism. But she demonstrated this same quality of spirit when she divorced my father in the 60s against the strong objections of her Italian Catholic family, and when she and Jack, together, chose to form a blended family long before our society became comfortable with such ideas.
I know she had some ambivalence about teaching me this lesson, starting with the time that she agreed, after my insistence, to let me wear my girl scout/brownie uniform to the Christmas pageant at our grade school. I can only imagine how she felt with me–in my brown uniform– standing up there amidst all those kids dressed in their Christmas best. As a mom, I know she was afraid about the consequences I might have to bear in making these choices, whether it was about my decisions on how to live my personal life, or the stands I had to take professionally. But she always supported me on my path.
Last week, when she was in the hospital, I explained to the nurse in charge, Barb, that my Mom shouldn’t be called “hon”… I told Barb that if you were to look up the word “feisty” in the dictionary that there would be a picture of my mom there. She was definitely not a “hon.” Even at the end, when she was mostly sedated or sleeping, mom managed to express her political opinions — Barb was teasing her, asking if she wanted to watch Fox News, and my mom’s arm came up, very clearly giving Barb the finger, managing to communicate her opinion in spite of the ventilator that kept her from talking.
She was still a force in the universe up until her death. As a result, she leaves a huge hole: in our hearts, our lives, and the world. Her lesson and challenge to each of us is to live our lives in the same way. Mom, I hope we will be able to live up to your legacy.
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