Photo: Courtesy of the Davin family
A Cause for Celebration
She Taught How to Live. She Taught How to Die.
Joan with husband, Paul
The Davins, with their young son Michael who has just finished college this past December.
Just days away from death, her body wracked by disease, Joan Davin was being led from her bed to the bathroom by her dear friend Patty Foley when Joan came to an abrupt stop.
"Patty, just imagine: They took that crown of thorns and they pushed it down onto His head," Joan said. "Then they scourged Him and spit on Him and mocked Him. What I'm going through is nothing compared to what Jesus suffered for us."
Family and friends packed the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in Weston, Mass., on Jan. 14, to celebrate Joan's life and mourn their own loss. Joan — a woman who lived gracefully — died gracefully on Jan. 10, at the age of 55.
Putting Others First
Celebrating her life was the easy part.
"Joan was gifted with an extraordinary ability to love," said the Rev. Joseph P. Casey, S.J., in his homily. "God gave us His Son, Jesus, not only to redeem us, but … to help us know and to relate to God, and to have a human model for the way to live. But it seems God puts people in our lives who, as it were, translate that human-divine model into someone more like ourselves. Joan was that for all who knew her."
Mourners were given a flyer at her funeral. The flyer had photos of Joan through the years. You wouldn't know she was in pain by her smile. One photo has her with her husband Paul and their son Michael, just after Michael's birth in 1988. In another, she's sitting seaside beside a message she carved in the sand for her husband that says "Joan Loves Paul."
A picture may tell a thousand words, but Joan could be summed up thusly:
"With all her hardships, I never once saw her depressed," said her husband, Paul. "I never saw her get angry and say 'Why me?' She always put others before her own needs. She loved God. She was beautiful."
With Loving Detail
After years of suffering, Joan was told by doctors in December that her form of bone cancer had become untreatable. Death was imminent. This was no surprise. Nonetheless, Joan kept her medical appointments to prolong her life as long as she could — but not for her own sake.
"She was worried for her husband and son," said Donna Dec, a friend and caregiver. "She sought to prolong her life until she felt they would be okay. She was ready, but she worried that they weren't prepared yet."
Joan even made friends promise they would get Paul a dog so Paul would be greeted when he returned home from work. Detailed oriented, she instructed that an electric fence be installed and dog doors built.
Here are some of the other things she focused on just before her death:
• Just before Christmas, she made a list of gifts for her nieces and nephews.
"No easy solutions for her — like giving gift certificates," said Fr. Casey. "The color of the gift was of concern. Even the wrappings."
• The Saturday before Joan died she dictated a letter to be sent to the patients of the dental practice she and her husband ran together. In the letter, she extended her "profound appreciation and love."
• Practically unable to annunciate words anymore, Joan called the Marian Fathers here in Stockbridge, Mass., to make sure they received the donation she and Paul made to the Marians' Seminarian Fund. The Davins have helped support the Marians' ministry since 1998.
"I was drawn to tears," said the Rev. Fr. Kaz Chwalek, MIC, provincial superior of the Marians of the Immaculate Conception in the United States and Argentina, who attended Joan's funeral. "Here was someone whose health was quickly deteriorating, and she couldn't receive any more chemotherapy. She believed in the work we do. She wanted to make sure we received her gift. She had so many things to think about, and yet she was thinking of the Church and helping the Christian faith to grow and be promoted by future generations of priests."
For those able, Joan requested that memorial donations in her honor be made to the Association of Marian Helpers, in Stockbridge.
Inspired by St. Faustina
Born in Brooklyn on June 23, 1956, Joan would be plagued by serious health problems throughout her life.
Joan and Paul met at Georgetown University Dental School and married a month after graduation in 1982. The couple moved to the Boston suburb of Weston and opened their dental practice in the nearby town of Belmont. Each year, the anniversary they celebrated was that of their first date — Feb. 8, 1980.
Twenty years ago, doctors discovered a blood vessel abnormality in Joan's spinal cord, which left her with severe right-side weakness. While she could no longer practice dentistry, she ran the office and treated patients like family. Over the years, she was diagnosed with other major illnesses: Crohn's Disease, brain tumors, fibromyalgia, and eventually multiple myeloma and amyloidosis.
Throughout her life, Joan was a woman of faith. But her faith would grow stronger as her health grew weaker. She had a major spiritual awakening in the late 1990s. She developed a deep devotion to Our Lady after an impromptu pilgrimage she and Paul made to Medjugorje, site of reported Marian apparitions. Around that same time period, she developed a deep devotion to The Divine Mercy after reading the Diary of St. Faustina. Joan went on to introduce the Divine Mercy devotions to her parish.
"Joan was inspired by St. Faustina to offer up all her aches and pains and medical issues to God in hopes it would help relieve the suffering of others," said Paul.
Paul said he recently found a letter Joan had written to him in 1998 when she had just been informed she had a brain tumor.
"She wrote how she was hoping for a miracle for herself, but not for the sake of herself — but for Faustina," he said. "Joan wanted a miracle through Faustina so that Faustina could be canonized. "
Joan never experienced physical healing. But through her witness of faith, God has made miracles happen in the lives of so many people who knew Joan.
'Fully Present in the Moment'
For those who gathered for her funeral Mass, mourning their own loss proved to be the tough part.
"Joan was limited, physically, but she was unlimited spiritually," said her sister Karen Murphy, who lives in Wading River, N.Y. "I miss her so much. Her main message was to trust in Jesus, and she trusted in Him through the end. 'Keep things simple, and trust in Jesus.' That's how she lived. She introduced me to Divine Mercy, and she explained how to pray the chaplet. Through her, I grew in faith. She'd say, 'Just talk to Jesus.' She would send me little prayers. She was there to spread the Word to everyone."
"In this day and age, when everyone is in a hurry to get from one appointment to another, Joan was the exception. She was the one person you could always count on to be fully present in the moment," said Sally Helfer, a friend of Joan's from Hong Kong. "Life was a gift, and she never took a single day for granted. To Joan, even the smallest moments were cause for celebration, and nothing delighted her more than spending time with the two great loves of her life, Paul and Michael. …
"On a personal note, it was my belief for many years that Joan knew something about life that most people do not," said Sally. "When it came to her final days, I was confident that because she had taught us so much about living, Joan would also teach us about dying, and that she did, with a similar humility and grace. Just before Christmas, Joan Skyped me from the hospital bed set up in her family room at home. Despite her grim prognosis, Joan expressed profound gratitude for the many blessings she was receiving from family and friends in the community. These blessings came in the form of rides and meals, cards and letters, planting flowers, bringing communion, trimming her Christmas tree and giving her leg massages. Tears came to Joan's eyes as she expressed just how good God had been to her. At every turn she said she was giving thanks to God, because at every turn someone was doing something special for her. At that moment, it was clear to both of us that as Joan's body was slowly becoming weaker and breaking down, it was also mysteriously offering life to the community around her. God's mercy was showing its beautiful face to Joan through the service of those who loved her."
"I would rub her feet and her hands and try to make her feel better," says Patty, "and I felt like I was rubbing the hands and feet of Jesus. She was just so selfless, always putting others' needs first, always trying to make sure others were okay. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world — just to be with her and caring for her."
When Joan came home from the hospital for the final time, "word got around," says Donna Dec. "On Saturday, Jan. 7, we had 20 people come to her house and pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Joan was just tickled. She just smiled and smiled."
"The circle has grown large of people who love Joan and want to be like her," says Sally.
At Joan's funeral it was announced that Joan had two requests:
• That all who knew her pray a decade of the Rosary.
• That all who knew her perform a random act of kindness.
Joan's niece, Allison, has already announced she will volunteer at St. Jude's Hospital ministering to children with cancer.
"Alison's friends have now said they want to join her, too," says Karen. "It's spreading. Joan is smiling."
In his eulogy, Michael Davin thanked friends and family and said:
Caring, faithful, and thoughtful are only some of the words that come to mind when thinking about my mom. She instilled a great sense of faith within me, which is something that I will carry forever.
I can remember from the time I was a child throwing tantrums to fighting up at Lake Winnipesaukee over board games, and going to her favorite stores — she was always patient with me and put me before everything. I was so fortunate to have a mom who cared so much and was such an integral part of my life. Always wanting to know about school, personal matters, anything she could think of she wanted to know. I think we can all agree she could certainly talk your ear off, but it was always in good spirits with amazing intentions. She taught me many valuable lessons over the years, such as not to steal, which I can vividly remember a time when I stole Lifesavers from the pharmacy as a toddler, and she threatened to call the police on me. I was not too slick as when we got home I was so nervous I threw them into the trash. Over the years we had some amazing times from traveling through Europe and Alaska, vacationing in the Caribbean and Lake Winnipesauke, to just being at home relaxing in Weston. I think I can speak for everyone who knew Joan that we all hold a special place in our heart for her.
We all miss you mom but we know that you are in a much better place alongside God, your parents, and are free of your physical restraints and are no longer suffering. I'm positive you are up there looking down upon us joyfully and patiently waiting with God. I know that you are always around in spirit and I can talk with you whenever I may choose. You better be listening!
One day Dad, you and I will all be reunited again with each other. I love and miss you so much,