Joy Frandsen was born on April 14, 1929 in West Virginia, the oldest of four sisters. Her family moved up north to Brooklyn when she was five when her father worked for the Navy Ship Yard, but she never altogether lost her southern roots, the sense of being the lady that her southern belle mother had raised her to be. As little girls, her daughters would always go out into the world wearing their white gloves.
In Brooklyn the family’s life revolved around the Lafayette Presbyterian Church. It was here as a teenager that Joy met the love of her life, Harry Frandsen. They were married young; and motherhood came very early for Joy with the birth of Ruthann, earlier perhaps than Joy was prepared for. In those early years Harry was seldom home; working full time, going to college at night, playing competitive basketball. The family didn’t have much, materially speaking; Joy made do with what they had. Harry was determined that they would make it on their own.
Eventually the family moved to Long Island, where life began to become a bit more comfortable. Her younger sister Mary — not yet grown up — came to live with them for two years during this time. Wherever Joy went, she made close friends. Bobby Hannah, a neighbor from Port Chester, Long Island, made the comment recently that she had learned more from her friendship with the outgoing Joy than she had learned from all her time in school: that she “would have been an old prune” without Joy’s friendship pushing her to go out to embrace the world.
When Ruthann was in her teenage years the family moved to Framinghan, Mass (where Joy would live for the next 28 years.) Two years after arriving in Massachusetts, Joy gave birth to Ginny. Harry’s work had prospered, and the family now lived in a more well-to-do community. Joy, however, was never a snob.
Joy was always an outgoing, people person, and her social nature found ample opportunity for expression in the wide range of community volunteer work Joy undertook. For many, many years, Joy was active in the Cushing Hospital Auxiliary, serving terms as president, looking out for the quality of life of the aging residents in the state nursing Facility. Joy organized fund raisers. She had a special concern for the patients who never received visitors, going out of her way to help them feel loved, wanted, and needed. Both Ruthann and Ginny followed their mother in serving in the Auxiliary.
Joy was also active in the Garden Club, giving expression to her love of beauty. She served in the Newcomers Club running Harvest Balls. She always enjoyed a good party with lots of people together having a good time.
When Harry was 51 and Joy, 49, Harry suffered a serious heart attack that almost took his life. Joy’s life revolved around Harry, and the realization of how easy it would be to lose him left her emotionally devastated, at the point of collapse.
Arising from the shock of Harry’s heart attack, Joy saw life from a new perspective, as something to be appreciated in the moment, not to be wasted in feuding and arguments. Time, now had become very precious.
She had almost lost her Harry. She didn’t want to waste the time she had left with him. In the last ten years of Harry’s life, Joy and Harry lived again like young lovers, tenderly holding hands, finding pleasure simply being together in the same room. They loved going out to dinner together, which they did often. Harry and Joy adored one another.
Harry died in 1988. Joy, of course was broken hearted. Many who knew Joy doubted she would be able to survive without him; her life had been so connected to his. Joy left Framingham where she had so many friends to move to Parsippany to live with Ruthann, Jimmy and JR.
Added to her grief was the uncertainty caused by some financial investments that had gone bad. Joy, having grown accustomed to living without any financial worries, found herself having to make do with little more than social security. (As Joy would say, she’d been rich, and she’d been poor, and rich is better. But without much money to spend, she came to realize that true wealth doesn’t have anything to do with money — it has to do with the friends one has.) And in Parsippany, as everywhere else she had been, Joy made friends. She got to know everybody in her neighborhood. She worked all day at the polls on election days.
Not long after moving to Parsippany, Joy discovered the Parsippany United Methodist Church thanks to her neighbor, Betty Polen. In time all of Joy’s friends spread out across the country were hearing about the Church, and how much love she had found here. She particularly loved the hugging.
Joy grew spiritually these last years of her life. She found strength she didn’t know she had. She became both softer and stronger, becoming more comfortable with telling those nearest and dearest to her that she loved them. She learned how to say simply, “I’m sorry” when she had harmed another rather than to drag out an argument.
She learned that there is more than enough love in this world to go around if you are open to it. As time passed, Joy came to depend on Ruthann in a variety of practical ways, but Ruthann felt the caring between them was definitely a two way. Over the years Joy had learned how to be a wonderful listener, and could be there for her daughter when she needed to unburden her heart.
Joy was always the lioness, protecting her lion cubs.
She could be a nag, but she was also fiercely loyal, and if she thought you had harmed one of her loved ones, she would let you know it. She was also her loved ones’ biggest promoters, singing praises of their virtues to anyone who would listen.
She had a special affection for her niece Lynn, who would come to visit her in her apartment with ten children in tow.
Included in her lion’s den were Joy’s grandchildren. Her granddaughter Jessica remembers how when she was little, visiting her grandmother, she would be frightened by the harsh sound of local fire alarm. Her “Mamau” (Mamoo) (as Joy was called by her grandchildren) would comfort her, holding her and reassuring her that “the firemen are our friends”, and then Jessica would loudly repeat this information that grandmother had consoled her with: “They are our friends!”
When Derek was a baby, Harry and Joy would often give Ginny a breather, taking him back to their house to look after and play with. Years later when Derek learned his first song on the cello, appropriately enough, “Ode to Joy”, his grandmother was tickled pink.
Joy loved the hugs that her grandson Charlie gave her, how he would tell her he loved her. She was so proud of Charlie’s accomplishments, and expected Charlie to grow up to be the family patriarch when she and Harry had passed on.
She adored Debbie, her heart breaking when Debbie left this world suddenly in a car accident back in 1998. Joy was a second mom to her grandson JR when he was growing up, looking after him while Ruthann was at work.
She had a big, big heart that felt the emotions of life intensely. If someone she loved was hurting and she couldn’t make it better, Joy would become deeply frustrated. When those she loved made poor choices in life that brought them pain and misery, Joy did not reject them; she was there with open arms to welcome them back when they regained their senses. She was in your corner.
In the last years of Joy’s life she found comfort in seeing what seemed like loose ends coming together. She was very proud of her two strong, wise and loving daughters, Ruthann and Ginny, the challenges they had met and overcome. She had learned how to be her daughters’ friends.
Joy took great pride in the ways JR was doing so well in soul, mind and body that Derek was doing well in college and that Jessica in high school.
She was so proud of Debbie’s husband Dwayne, of what a good father he was for her great grandchildren, and what fine woman he had married in Judy.
There was peace among her beloved sisters Ruthie and Mary.
Ginny was getting along well with her children’s father Darren, and she was looking forward to her marriage to Victor. Things were coming together. Not perfect. But the hand of God could definitely be seen at work. She had seen the impact of God’s touch upon her own soul. She was a woman who had been changed by the grace of God over time. She could see the hand of God in those she loved.
There are so many little things to remember about Joy. There was her sense of humor — the stories she would tell that could bring a smile. She was the final act of our talent show — no one could follow her — when she did her Fanny Brice act as “Mrs. Cohen” and brought the house down. She was one of the dancing Cumberland Girls. (In the reception afterwards, there will be a videotape on display that will show both of these unforgettable performances. One interesting God moment in the Cumberland Girls video: in the background is a church banner that says the word “joy” on it.)
There was her love of flowers and her attention to the beauty of our altar.
There was that huge bag she always carried around, threatening to whack you with it if you got out of line.
There was the way she drove. (Need I say more?)
The way she worked the phones: if you needed to find something out about what was going on, Joy was the person to contact — she was the hot line.
The way that when she cooked chicken she insisted on adding lemon pepper, because that was the way it was done, and don’t tell her otherwise.
The way she was so generous; she would give what she had to a loved one in need.
The ways she had of making friends, and of making the friend she was with feel like he or she was her “best friend”.
The way she would smile and nod, which didn’t necessarily mean she agreed, but rather that she knew well enough to keep her mouth shut.
The way she loved the sunshine, the beach, the poolside, the water.
The ways she would take bites of her family’s food to make sure that it wasn’t poisoned.
The way she hummed to fill the empty spaces.
The way her whisper could always be heard no matter how far away you were sitting.
The way she adored Dominick, and was so grateful for his friendship.
The way she would see the good in the people she would meet, like complimenting the tollbooth worker on his great hair, bringing a smile to his face.
The way she cared about the less fortunate — the underdog.
The way she loved a good party.
Incidentally, Joy will be canceling her subscriptions to the local newspapers. The papers said she was 77 at the time of her passing, when, in fact, she was only 74.
Time was a big deal with Joy. She learned in life that once time was gone, you can’t really get it back, so you better enjoy it while you have it (so she didn’t want the newspaper adding three years you hadn’t gotten to live yet.)
Joy’s body couldn’t keep up with her spirit. She lived in a lot of pain. Her knees caused her extraordinary pain and frustration. She had the one knee done, and toughed out the rehab, charming the physical therapists.
But the other knee continued to deteriorate. She couldn’t live this way in such agony every time she moved. She was determined to have the other knee done. Her body wasn’t up to the surgery though, and her kidneys shut down.
Her passing from this world was peaceful. Her family had come to her bedside to say their “I love you”s.
Through the last night of Joy’s life, God placed at her bedside these wonderful nurses who attended to her as she walked through the dark valley. When the end drew near, a Haitian nurse angel began to say a prayer. When she finished the prayer, she began to sing the words to Amazing Grace. The final verse goes like this:
When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise, than when we first begun.
By the time she had finished this last verse, Joy’s heart had stopped beating, and she had entered the gates of heaven.
The thing that strikes me about the last verse of Amazing Grace is that it speaks about time; a major preoccupation of Joy’s. “We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise, than when we first begun.” No time constraints in heaven. She’s back with her adored Harry now, with endless time to spend. She kept her hair long for Harry who liked it that way; she kept it up in her perpetual bun, now she can let it down for Harry. She got time to be with Debbie and with her mother and father. One day we will all be invited to join her in that great party that is the kingdom of heaven.