She’s So Brave – Joanne Nicol
So tell us a little about you, who you are, where you are in life right now?
I’m Joanne Nicol. I’m a widow, I’ve been a widow for ten years. I have two children, a son who’s 31, and (a) daughter who is 27. I work for Alberta Health Services permanently, and I’m thinking about retiring in the next four years.
What are some of the things you’re passionate about?
I’m working with a cohousing group, because I’m passionate about community and finding community. I think that’s something that’s more difficult in our older age. The group I’m working with is multigenerational, so we have a couple of families in our group. We are currently looking for land and we are going to build cooperative housing.
That sounds like it’s really rewarding.
Yeah it is. I (also) do some volunteer work with a Syrian family. I work with a group that sponsors a refugee family of five. They have a two year old son (who’s) blind, doesn’t speak, and barely walks.
How did you get paired up with them.
I work with friends who were getting the group together. So I joined, and we decided to take the family on. We missed out on private sponsorship from the Trudeau government, so we are sponsoring this family privately through the Mennonite family resource.
Has giving back like this always a big part of your life?
I don’t know, I think as you get older you need more things to fill your time, and a lot of us turn to helping the community out.
My mother was always really active (too).
A good example for that.
I grew up in a small town, and she was on every committee. (She) did a lot of volunteer work, (so) I really (felt) I should be doing it as well. I have the time, so why not.
So now for the big question… what’s the bravest thing you’ve done in life?
Well you know, I was trying to think of what it was. I’m not so sure if it’s the bravest… brave is one thing, but it’s also sometimes the most difficult thing you do in your life.
Our family went through three years of terrible times. My husband passed away in 2007. And then, in 2008, my sister and a very close friend were involved in a major car accident in Nova Scotia while they were on vacation. (My sister’s) two boys were in the car, as well as my friends’ daughter, so five (in total). And my nephew, who was 11 at the time, passed away. And my good friend passed away as well.
I got a call from the RCMP that my sister was in intensive care and that my eight year old nephew… they didn’t even know if he’d make it. He had a ruptured spleen, they were quite a ways away from Halifax, and he was undergoing emergency surgery.
So you know…
Joanne takes a deep breath.
My mother was in her eighties, and it was very difficult (to mobilize). We got to Halifax, and had to drive up to Cape Breton to actually identify the body. That was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. And you know, (I) hadn’t even gotten over (my) husband’s death, and now (I was) into this. Everybody’s having a difficult time, but you have to be the one.
You have to be strong
Yeah. So then my sister is in intensive care, and my nephew is in intensive care in the children’s hospital. I spent ten days in intensive care with them. Then he moved (a step down in) ICU and we spent another three (days). Now I’m trying to get them home, my mother’s really struggling… I mean, everybody in the family was struggling. My mother came to Halifax but that was the turning point in my life. I became the matriarch and my mother the child. She was still competent, but couldn’t handle the situation.
And we are trying to make arrangements for cremation of my nephew. It was a really difficult time. You have to be strong for the family , but you really don’t have time to grieve yourself.
To be strong for yourself.
Yeah. And then the following year my mother passed away. (And) I became the family go-to. So those were the three toughest years in my life, you know.
Joanne gets a little choked up, but smiles through.
You’re doing fantastic.
And that was tough too because she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and put in a hospice.
It went rather rapidly?
No it didn’t. She was in the hospice for about eight months, and that was just incredible. And you’re dealing with that… it took me about 3 years to come to terms with these things.
To process it all?
Yeah. That month in Halifax was very tough. And you’re dealing with everybody else’s expectations of what should happen. You’re making big decisions about funerals and health care decisions, and this isn’t your immediate family and everybody has an opinion about it. They expected you to be there and to listen to what they had to say.
That just comes down to it. In my family if there’s a crisis “Joanne will handle it”.
It’s not bravery for sure.
Oh i think it is.
It’s doing what you have to do.
A lot of people who are put into situations where they need to be brave, war veterans for example, describe it as “just doing what had to be done”. They are still remarkable acts of valor. I don’t think it’s any different than managing tragedy.
And the whole process, grieving and trying to manage it… everybody grieves in a different way. And then of course, at the funeral for my nephew I had to give the eulogy. A eulogy for an 11 year old… very difficult to manage. It was one of those things… you just do it.
How do you feel it’s changed you as a person?
You have a feeling of how short life can be. The worst thing is… my sister and I (are) not as close as we were. And I don’t know what it is. But I’m definitely very close to my nephew. I think you also learn to deal with these things, and you hope you pass it on to your children; the importance of being able to be strong. These things happen.
You don’t get to choose your battles in life.
Yeah. And you do what you have to do.
View the Online Gallery
An online gallery of all her images is available for the next 30 days. From the online gallery you are able to favourite images, order prints and share the gallery with your family and friends. The gallery can be accessed via the link below and you can contact Joanne directly for her secure password.
We are so fortunate to have had the opportunity to photograph Joanne for She’s So Brave and we thank her for sharing her story of bravery with us!
Images by Calgary Portrait Photographer JM Photography © 2017
Some of my Favourite Photos from Joanne’s Session
Joanne’s Portrait Session Details
Date | 10.22.17
Location | Spruce Meadows
Photos by Cally Arsenault
Editing by Kelly Anne Steel
Blog written by Jenna Anderson
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