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Monday, February 18, 2008

shanti shanti shanti

earlier this afternoon, as i sat quietly on a grassy slope high up in the hollywood hills, looking out past the hiking trails of griffith park to the valley below, i thought of jeannie as i picked up stray flower petals and moved them back to the mound of flowers on the ground beside me.

back to rejoin the overwhelming display of love and affection that completely covered the grave of my good friend, jeannie cheung, who passed away last week.

i had first met jeannie many, many years ago during a saturday morning run with our marathon training group. we were running in the same pace group at that time; she used to run at the front of the pack and pull everyone along with her while greg, our pace group leader, kept cautioning everyone to ease up and keep pace with him, not her, because she was running faster than our intended pace. it was her first year with our group and she was training to run her first marathon. as early as then, it was clear that nothing was going to stand in the way of her doing as well as she could. she put her heart and soul into running that first long distance race, and while she didn't win or even come close to winning it, just knowing that she was able to finish it turned her into a racing junkie.

jeannie eventually traveled around the country to run races, many times finishing among the top three in her age division, especially in the shorter sprints. the more medals she was awarded, the more determined she became to win even more. i used to tell her that i was glad we didn't run in the same age division, otherwise i'd never stand a chance of winning... of course, whether or not we competed against each other made no difference; i didn't stand a chance. for me, running was merely something i did for fun and exercise. in fact, the only reason i once placed in the top three of a race was because there were only five women in my age group who bothered to show up that morning... and i beat two of them :)

she was unstoppable. like many of us, she had her share of downtime -- illnesses, accidents, surgeries -- yet she always bounced back, many times even before her doctor gave her the go-ahead to resume running. she was extremely driven (not to mention extremely stubborn), which made her the amazing person she was.

by the time jeannie was diagnosed with lung cancer, it had already spread to other parts of her body. despite the dire prognosis, she felt she could fight the disease if she tried hard enough. chemotherapy, radiation, chinese herbs and treatments -- she tried them all. she successfully made it past the projected six months she was expected to live. she dug in her heels and was in it for the long haul.

slowly though, she lost weight, lost her hair, lost her energy. outwardly, she barely resembled the jeannie we had all come to know and love. yet we knew that the real jeannie was still somewhere in there, struggling to stay alive.

when her older daughter announced that she was engaged to be married in six months, jeannie knew that by hook or by crook, she was going to be there to walk her daughter down the aisle. but she was fading fast. she now had to wear a face mask to protect her from attacking germs. and had to be pushed around in a wheelchair because it hurt her too much to walk.

last november, once it became apparent that there was a good chance jeannie wouldn't make it past the holiday season, her daughter and her fiance decided to move up their wedding date. instead of the big wedding that was originally planned, they had a smaller, more intimate ceremony. and in true jeannie fashion, with some assistance, she mustered up enough strength to walk her daughter down the aisle.

the next week, in a show of solidarity and support for jeannie, our large group of runners and walkers participated in the run for her 5K in beverly hills. joining us were her two daughters, her new son-in-law, his immediate family, and jeannie herself. we took turns pushing her wheelchair along the three mile course. seeing this once vibrant and energetic woman now completely dependent on others to get around was a very emotional moment for all. by the time we crossed the finish line, we were all chanting, cheering, and crying. as for jeannie, she was equally moved and so very, very grateful.

the traditional dinner banquet for her daughter's wedding was held in hong kong over the christmas holidays. and jeannie was there, albeit in extreme pain, to share in the celebration. shortly afterwards, she returned to LA to celebrate her 58th birthday. a month later, as the new moon ushered in the new chinese year, jeannie slipped into a coma and quietly passed away...

i was out of town this past weekend and was unable to attend her funeral. her daughter told me that over two hundred people showed up for the service; an overflow crowd had to stand outside the chapel as friends and family members inside took turns sharing their own fond memories of jeannie. i would have loved to have been there.

instead, all i could do was offer up an intention for jeannie during my yoga practice this evening. while i will miss her, i am glad that she is finally free from pain. and back to running with the angels in the big race course in the sky.

om shanti shanti shanti... peace, jeannie, peace.

6 Comments:

Blogger Yogamum said...

What a wonderful tribute to an amazing woman. Much love to you.

6:57 AM  
Blogger joni said...

jeannie was a source of inspiration to us all. i'm glad i was able to do her justice.
thanks for your kind thoughts!

8:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Joni- it's Lisa here.
I have the same memory of Jeannie running with the 10's group- back when Chuck and Greg were the mentors. I remember the "Don't run with Jeannie, she's running too fast". Jeannie part ran, part frisked along like a puppy.

Jeannie brought me to the Leggers. I first met her at a small running club based at The Starting Line in Marina del Rey. She told me about the Leggers in the summer of 1999, and I then joined. That seems so long ago now...

I also remember Jeannie at several marathons and half marathons going back a couple of miles after she'd finished- to pace other runners to the finish line.

I still can't believe Jeannie got sick and died- or maybe I DON'T want to believe it.

9:33 AM  
Blogger joni said...

hi lisa --
yes, i'm still finding it hard to believe that we've actually lost our always-color-coordinated energizer bunny. it makes us scarily aware of our own mortality and how we really don't have much time to make our mark in the world...

11:04 AM  
Blogger bonnie said...

I am really sorry to hear that my thoughts go out to you

1:21 PM  
Blogger joni said...

thanks, bonnie!

3:13 PM  

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