Remembering Jane – Bears Loop and memorial gathering (Sunday – June 10, 2012)… this is the long version of what i submitted for the special July WT edition. I left it long becuz partly it’s a story of how people we know even briefly and relatively superficially can still affect us profoundly and… even if only temporarily… remind us to reach out to others in a more personal way.
The ride was beautiful. I felt Jane’s presence on the back of Mark’s tandem. The gathering so moving, a mix of friends and associates from Jane’s life spanning work, cycling and family, all integral pieces in the puzzle that makes up a life. JoAnn spoke her heart so courageously. With Jane’s illness, we got the fun part, and JoAnn got the hard part. Still, it spoke volumes that so many Grizzlies and so many of Jane’s coworkers and also people who only knew Jane through JoAnn showed to honor Jane and support JoAnn.
Here’s a picture show of some photos i took with the cruddy little camera on my SmartPhone: https://picasaweb.google.com/106182625120157861208/JaneBailowitzMemorialRideSundayJune102012?authkey=Gv1sRgCIuN1uve6L6ExwE#slideshow/5752675176582423170
This is what i remember about Jane: From first impressions, she used to post some whacky questions to the list, of the type i’d think “huh? really?”. . . . but also some extremely clever quips, and I learned quickly to appreciate that humor. And later, I also learned to appreciate that unfailing sense of fairness and straightforwardness, no-nonsense approach; like my old boyfriend’s tagline for their rock band Zebra (“Keine Halbheiten” – No Half-Assing!!). That was Jane, through and through. What I came to know along the way in my dealings with Jane made me also remember that sometimes you toss out the first impressions, and just hold on to the better under layer of a person that takes more time to surface.
My own memories are mostly as Island Rest Stop coordinator and later as a fellow GPC “Additional Director”; for Jane, this was aside from her role as GPC clothing Coordinator. In 2009 Jane replied to my rather detailed “welcome & what to expect” email that requested “i’ll need most of you here at 6 a.m., we’ll probably be done with cleanup by about 11:30 or noon.” in characteristically to-the-point fashion: “Sherry, i never knew you had such great organizational skills,” then stated that she would be bicycling up to Island at a certain time (7:30) and do some fruit cutting and serving, as needed for a few hours. Day of, ended up not coming up after all, she had taken ill with a cold a day or so before and bowed out. Or maybe it was a no-show but she emailed me shortly afterward that she’d been sick.
The next year (2010), once again Jane was on the volunteer list for Island, but when my email went out to my volunteers, Jane replied that she would likely not be able to help out, as she was at that time starting her cancer treatments. I said come if you want to, as an extra. In several separate emails, we exchanged information about her newly modified cycling efforts, and she said she was looking forward to seeing a revival of my “Middle Years & Mellow” T-Paced ride listings. Wow! I am admittedly inept at dealing with illness, never know what to say, never know how to behave. But i appreciated the vote of confidence and outreach by Jane.
By 2011, Jane’s cancer was in remission, and she was leading comically named rides in response to some of the rest of our whacky efforts; instead of “2 Bakeries” or “Double-Dip Diablo,” Jane’s idea of a good ride was “No Bakeries, No Double Anything!!”. Again, no nonsense, just the ride, please!
Also, at that point Jane was quite involved in the club business, dove in head first, not only as an “additional director” (as I was), but also clothing coordinator. Jane was so very organized, and deliberate in a caring way; cylinder of steel around a soft, loving core. It shows in the way she dictated her memorial ride wishes to Mark later, it shows in how she spent the extra time to come up with comical, endearing solutions to move the old GPC clothing inventory (XL arm warmers as leg warmers for small people, hair ties from “cuff less” socks, skull caps for bald guys from arm warmers. Also in 2011, the frenzy about hand-sanitizing was at its peak, and Jane showed up with her own packet of bright pink gloves to do duty as the primary hand-sanitizing patrol at Island; some found it a bit over the top, but in the rash of communications and feedback on the Century, I was ready to defend both the concept and the execution, like a protective Mama bear defending her cub.
In 2012, i was still in that mode‚ but with a different base approach…. we’ll serve food with tongs as our primary method, as well as kind reminders about running water in teh restroom and the available hand-sanitizer bottles for use on the grill “table” adjacent to the food spreads, but if anyone dares challenge our simple request to keep their foul bike-gloves out of the food, bring it ON! By the time the Century was approaching, Jane had volunteered to be my designated coffee fetcher; I knew I could count on Jane to get the order straight, and if Peet’s had gotten it confused (again!), that Jane would diplomatically but firmly handle it and make sure we got the proper donation promised by Peet’s. She asked if she might have Jean also assist with that duty, as she’d need help physically. We had a full complement of volunteers for Island, so i agreed the tag-team approach would be fine. But closer to the Century, we got the sad news that Jane was not going to be at Island, at all. I still had my Mama Bear attitude and armor on, approaching the day of the ride, as by that time, Jane had lost her battle with the big “C” and we had all lost a friend.
I have had a sneaking suspicion for some time now, that Jane was slyly giving JoAnn a little preview of her GPC life and GPC pals in taking over the clothing duty‚ slowly, little by little, people dropping by to try on GPC clothing, as if to send the message “see – they’re not so bad, as folks go; yes, i’m going on another ride, love you, see you later. Sick, yeah, and getting better. I may be denial, i’m going to get better but in case i don’t, i want you to know my bike friends, grab some joy it gives us‚ they’ll be there for you when i’m gone.”
Jane was smart that way. it’s a good thing.
From one of my favorite Hindi films, a nice quote comes to mind: “God doesn’t give everyone the same good fortune‚ you have to grab your share, sometimes.” Jane knew that, and I think she wanted to spread that message. She lived life robustly. Took chances, campaigned for the things that mattered where it counted, pioneered HIV/AIDS treatments in her practice as a physician and Medical Director at Castro Mission Public Health Clinic, but didn’t differentiate socially between political causes that affected her life immediately and associates that didn’t experience those battles personally. Jane was private, yet inclusive in her approach to friendship.
From the time we learned on April 5th that Jane had chosen to discontinue her meds and was having home hospice, it was a long haul and I’ve spent a lot of time trying to collect my thoughts, in a slight muddle on this topic since early April. Occasionally in my life, I have what can only be described as prescient connections i can’t explain. I think most of us experience this, but most of the time we forget to believe we can know things in that way. This time it happened the morning we got the news about the change in Jane’s condition. Only I’d had my “moment” several hours before I read the email. There were some hints along the way in the previous week, maybe my synapses just picked that up and connected the dots‚ who knows?
In the characteristic comedic panache we had all come to cherish, Jane had listed an April Fools’ ride in the Wheel Truth, as follows:
SUN APR 1 5!!/LTMB/250-500 International Space Station Meet at North Berkeley BART at 9:00 a.m. for this challenging uphill ride through the stratosphere and up to the International Space Station for lunch. Return via space shuttle or optional parachute-guided descent. All ride levels welcome. Anti-gravity devices recommended, but true “B” riders should be able to muscle up to the stratosphere on their own. Leaders: Jane B (skinnyweakling@LTpace.net) and Mark A (firstname.lastname@example.org)
and as a followup, posting to the email list the evening before 3 small walls (a ride I was co-leading as a GPC century prep event), Jane sent out a note equally humorous, saying the International Space Station ride was cancelled but people should consider the 3 small walls ride instead, and that she’d be there with the new caps to sell.
i noticed and corrected the start location (Del Norte BART, NOT El Cerrito BART), and she said “oops” and indicated to the list we’d see her there the next morning. But that didn’t happen. What did happen is Jean came, and when I asked where Jane was got the reply “well, she really wanted to, but didn’t have the energy today, but she’d be here, in her heart,” and i just took that to mean she was tired from the medication and needed to take a slow day. I had just seen Jane about 12 days earlier at Krehe & Kathy Ritter’s for the regular April club meeting, and she seemed especially hale and chipper, although I knew enough to realize that conditions varied from day to day. Still, i was under the impression, as i think most of us were, that she was successfully in remission.
A few days later we had the final GPC century planning meeting, Wednesday, April 4th. The topic of century jersey artwork project (for next year) came up, and Mark A explained that Jane would not be able to chair that effort as initially anticipated. Again, I thought, OK, she’s just scaling back some activities. But underneath, something told me differently.
The following morning during my bike commute to work, as I climbed Los Angeles Ave between Marin Circle and Shattuck (at the point which is a direct line eastward uphill toward Jane & JoAnn’s home), I suddenly had a very clear vision of a gathering, and there were a bunch of us, Mark, Nancy, Chris & Pat, JoAnn (whom i’d only met briefly on clothing pickup visits, so had a somewhat accurate, but also fuzzy visual memory), and many others, and we were all gathered around Jane saying goodbye. Characteristically, Jane was the one who was still presenting a funny, upbeat mood to the whole affair, although she was sitting on a bed and clearly in a weakened state: “Jeesh, why all the long faces, I’m the one who’s dying here!!” An hour or so later, after I had arrived at work and settled in, I decided to check my personal email account, and saw Jean P’s message of that morning telling us that Jane had decided to stop her treatments and was in home-hospice care. It was devastating, shattering news, made even more ominous by Mark A’s follow-on message from JoAnn explaining that “the time for visiting has come and gone too quickly”. It was only later that I worked it out in my mind that this visual/mental message was in fact my private time for saying goodbye, and that somehow Jane would know of it, the same way I’d connected the dots before the actual “information” had come over the wires.
At the time I read Jean’s message, however (and then Mark A’s), I felt a sense of helpless confusion, and went about the office controlling my sobs privately as best i could. This went on for days. Made worse by references by others on the next Saturday ride as we complimented Jane as a person who did her best to get everything prepared ahead of time‚ someone said something along the lines about her being gone, which confused me more and made me think maybe i’d missed some critical detail in one of the postings. There’s a strong conflict, when someone is critically ill or dying, someone you admire and care about, but don’t really know well enough to impose a claim of close friendship, between one’s own wishes to lend support and say farewells, and allowing those closer to home the time to have all the time necessary, to squeeze every last bit of time together, so much to do, so many loose ends, and so little time to do it with end in sight but the exact timing completely intangible. Nancy & Michael posted their beautiful photo/video tribute, and then Jean sent out a message that Jane had come out of her coma and stated she’d decided she could hang around a few more days. i jumped on that as a signal to tell the folks in GPC there was time to send their thoughts and wishes, and cards, anything they could do to lend support to both Jane and JoAnn. For myself, i grabbed some irises out of my garden, wrote a card and biked over on my way to work, just to leave it off. Maybe she’d be conscious enough to see them or not, maybe the scent would awaken some sweet reverie to help in the transition. A kind woman I now know to be her mother-in-law, Helen from Minnesota, answered the door, and smiled wistfully as she took in the irises and told me “oh, these are beautiful, she’ll really like looking at these” and that was all i could hope for.
in the same manner, I kept tending the stalk of irises on my own dining room table which Ben had picked for me the day of the Cinderella, cutting off the old, wilted blooms and watching the new buds spread into full flower, cutting the bottoms of the stalks and refreshing the water in the vase to maximize the life of these flowers, just as I hoped my efforts would translate into a similar effect in the buds i’d brought to Jane’s house. I was obsessed with keeping those stalks healthy. Every day i’d talk to Jane through those flowers on my dining room table, a new bloom would mean she was still hanging in, still fighting, not quite ready to throw in the towel, still things to do…
intermittent email reports from Jean would confirm the magic was working, and i’d tell Jane, through the flowers on my table, you just take your time, do what you need to do, hang in til you’re ready and need to go. I’ll try to stop by‚ and if i wait another day, you’ll wait, too. Torn between wanting to make that contact and say “Thank You” for being such an outstanding person, and leaving the small time between Jane and JoAnn as sacred, private time. My anthem for this time was “Last of me” (Cher’s power ballad from the musical “Burlesque”) and I’d play various clips from YouTube over and over, singing along out loud while sobbing, cheering Jane on over the airwaves, even if the situation wasn’t exactly parallel‚ because I knew we weren’t going to have a happy ending on this one‚ “I’ve been brought down on my knees‚.. but you haven’t seen the last of me” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YOOYYyJ9C18), which i also realized is equally appropriate for JoAnn.
Barely holding on
But there’s just something so strong
Somewhere inside me
And I am down but I’ll get up again
Don’t count me out just yet
I’ve been brought down to my knees
And I’ve been pushed way past the point of breaking
But I can take it
I’ll be back
Back on my feet
This is far from over
You haven’t seen the last of me
You haven’t seen the last of me
But then the day arrived, coinciding exactly with that last weekend, that no matter how many times i’d changed or freshened the water, or cut off the old blooms to make room for the new growth, tended the new buds, that the stalks were suddenly full of buds that looked like they could bloom any minute, but closer inspection showed they were frail, brown, papery dried and that the blooming was done. They wanted to bloom but just didn’t have the energy to open. I’m sorry, i told Jane‚ to the flowers, i really tried, guess you’re just tired, go peacefully, sleep well. We miss you.
(Here’s a picture of those irises:
We got the notice of Jane’s passing the next day, Monday – May 1st. MayDay. I look back in time and realize this is also the anniversary of the day something else in my life changed, irreparably. May 1, 1973, my sister delivering bouquets to friends in town, car gets broadsided by a drunk old guy with an expired license running a red light‚ Hearst & MLK, i think‚ who knows. Weeks in and out of a coma, suddenly better, lucid, coherent, about to be released from hospital, suddenly a blot clot works its way up into the brain, my brother in law has to make the decision to tell the docs to turn off the machines. Couldn’t help then, either. Only found out weeks after it was all over, even the memorial services. Family too muddled to send earlier notice to me away at school over the seas in Germany.
I made up my mind then not to wait to say i care…. but somehow, sometimes still you hold back anyway, honoring family time more important than our own fantasy of somehow mattering or factoring in to this equation.
We come into each others lives and have an opportunity to touch, be touched, learn something, change a bit for the better, maybe somehow be that torch for someone else, no matter how small, every little spark counts. Say it now, don’t wait. We have today only, future sometimes doesn’t come.
p.s. – there’s something else, relevant to friendship and to what happened on the Memorial Ride. One of our buddies took a chance at the regroup after Bears at Camino Diablo/Bear Creek-Wildcat, and told me his wishes for when he goes, along with the confession that he IS scared of when it happens…. being alone, leaving….also the type of ride he wants us to have, the route…out the Bay Trail to Pt. Richmond… “ok, and i’ll do it my extra hilly way, right?” I asked, and he said “No… NO HILLS!!” So I just want you to know, buddy… that touched me… I paid attention, and that time comes if i’m still around, i will be sure to make it happen!!