DJ: Larger than life

DJ circa 1958

My sister-in-law, DJ, passed away on July 18, 2022; the day before my birthday.

That seems like such an odd sentence, but it will make sense by the time I’ve finished this post.

She was born in the last week of December 1940.  Her “middle brother” was born in 1945 and my husband was born in 1950.  She remembered WWII, learning from the austerity of that time the “womanly” arts of sewing, cooking, embroidery, and cleaning well before the birth of her last brother.  One of her grandmothers was a Native American who taught her the art of herbal medicine.

Most people born after 1980 don’t understand why women’s liberation was so important.  It was not about abortion-on-demand, it was about dignity.

Women were the invisible half of a marriage.  My granny wasn’t Georgia Deever, she was Mrs. Albert LeGendre.

Before 1960, it was still that way in the USA.

  • Women couldn’t own a business in Florida in 1950.
  • Women couldn’t have a credit card unless her husband approved of it.
  • DJ’s parents could force her to marry at the age of 18, for a woman out of high school couldn’t get a job that would pay the rent on an apartment.

There were a few determined women who rented 2 bedroom apartments, where 4 women shared the rent.  That was as unusual as a woman who was independently wealthy.  Most were secretaries, nurses, or airline stewardess, and very few could break through the “glass ceiling.”  In 1960, a stewardess could not be married and was fired after the age of 35.

Yes, that was the United States of America before the feminist movement in the 1960’s!  

Now, maybe you’ll believe me when I say that DJ wanted to go to college, she didn’t want a husband, nor did she want children.

Her parents said no, and her only choice was to marry.

Her husband wouldn’t ask for sex, she’d be asleep, he’d roll on top of her and, as she told me many times, “It’s not something you sleep through.”  He said she was his wife and she didn’t have a choice.

After two children, lack of sleep from his incessant need for sex, and her murdered possibilities for a decent life, she left him.

Women didn’t leave their husbands in the early 1960’s, and many women stayed in horrible marriages so they weren’t branded as a disgrace.  I lived with a woman who had divorced her husband and never told anyone.  She married a man who had divorced his wife and never told anyone, either. The world believed it was their first marriage.

Yet DJ, in a time when she was shunned for doing so, left her husband and her children.

Yes, I understand that in today’s world, a woman is not branded as a “loose woman” nor is she shunned by her community.  YOU have to understand that in the first half of the 20th century, times were VERY different.

After she left her first husband, I don’t know the details well enough to write out what happened to her, only that at one point she was a singer in a Miami Beach hotel and the “arm decoration” for a mobster who couldn’t let it be known that he preferred men. It would have ended his career.  She never spilled his secret, for she understood what it was like to be treated as pariah.  He treated her like royalty, and she loved her new life.

Her first husband re-married.  She became friends with his wife, and was the first to tell her why she left her husband, for he was doing the same things to his new wife.  His second wife didn’t feel so alone, and was brave enough to say, “NO! Marriage doesn’t give you the right to own my body!”

His second wife raised DJ’s children, and DJ gave her the respect she deserved for doing so.  I’m not certain, but I believe that after his second wife left him, DJ remained friends with her throughout her lifetime and grieved when she died.  If I’m not mistaken, DJ befriended her first husband’s third wife, too.

DJ’s second husband met her several years later, in the late 1960’s, and they moved to a home in the California mountains.  She said that her neighbors were Lloyd Bridges and his family.  She used to race cars during that time and said that once her husband found out she was the one who beat him in a race, he chopped up her car and dumped it in the driveway.

That story made her laugh, for she said he was a jealous bastard.  He couldn’t take away that win, and other sponsors wanted her to drive their cars — even after learning her true identity.

I asked her many times if I could write a book about her life.  She always said, “Maybe later.”  Unfortunately, later never came, and all I know about her life is written in this post.

I met her at her mother’s home during a family reunion in 1997.  She had hair as white as the picture below, and eyes so blue they pierced through your soul.  We became friends instantly!

Her 2 children from her first marriage were there, with her son’s 3 daughters and her daughter’s 4 sons.  The first thing I noticed about her mother was her feet as she relaxed in a recliner — they were exactly like mine:  long and skinny.

When her mother was dying in the hospital, we were with DJ.  When her 3rd husband left her, we helped her to sell her trailer in a 55-or-older mobile home park.  She was raising her grandson — the only child of her youngest daughter — and was asked to leave.

I can describe DJ’s youngest in 3 words:  Selfish, narcissistic bitch. Yes, she was that bad.  Her mother gained custody of her youngest daughter’s son due to parental neglect.  Unfortunately, the mobile home park didn’t care.

We offered to give her the huge porch lined with windows to live in — one that is as big as most 3 bedroom homes.  It had a kitchen and bathroom, and she created a divider between her grandson’s area and the place she chose for her bedroom.  That is how they lived for nine (9) years.

Those were the best years of our lives!  She had no rent, I paid her to help me with my small business, and she had the opportunity to homeschool her grandson.

She found a job on a ranch helping with the horses, and loved one most of all (see the picture above). Life couldn’t get any better for all of us!

Then, her youngest daughter (selfish, narcissistic bitch) had no where to live and DJ asked if she could move in.

That lasted for less than a year.  There are some mistakes in life that can’t be undone.  She was told that it wasn’t her house and she couldn’t let just anyone come into our part of the countryside.

This is what the road leading to our house looked like.

My job was such that I didn’t want people knowing where to find me, and we discouraged visitors to my island of calm.  DJ understood this.  Her daughter didn’t care.

Wherever her daughter lived, she was going to own everything and everyone. That’s when I found out that her youngest daughter was just like her paternal grandmother, and her father — which is why DJ left him.  I wish I had known that sooner.  Had her youngest not moved in, DJ might have continued living with us.

The day DJ’s youngest arrived with a strange man, I was appalled.  I told her daughter that was not going to happen again.  She laughed and said, “Watch me.”

I had to tell DJ that her daughter couldn’t live there any longer.  That’s when DJ found a two bedroom trailer and moved out.

To understand the hardship that cost all of us dearly, DJ knew everyone in our neighborhood.  She could make friends easily and there was peace when she lived here.

Sadly, her youngest daughter “reconnected” (if you can call it that) with her son’s father, and found a way to ruin her son’s life, too.  Her son wanted to move in with his parents, for it was a dream he’d wanted all of his life.  He was months away from getting a high school education, and that died when his mother left his father a few months later.  He was abandoned without a thought and had to find a job on his own.

The place DJ had moved to quickly was an area with a lot of theft.  She looked for just the right place and found her last home around 2012, a small one-room mobile home with more than 2 acres, a huge porch in back, and a smaller screened in porch in the front.  She was the one who asked me to be friends again, using our love for scrabble as the catalyst.  Her landlord loved her ability to transform the yard into a paradise, and keep her home clean.  She was never late with the rent, either.

DJ had smoked since she was 18, when her doctor had advised her it was good for her health. Yes, you read that right.  Until the early 1960’s, women were encouraged by their doctors to smoke!  In her late 60’s she stopped smoking,  the cost of cigarettes was so high it left her with little choice.  As it was with all else in her life, this was hard, but not impossible.  That one piece of “advice” given by her doctor gave her a life-long reason to distrust them.

Around 7 or 8 years ago, her youngest daughter was homeless…again.  DJ opened her home and gave her the only bedroom in the small trailer, while DJ slept in the place that should have been the living room.  To tell you how “well” that went, someone in the community called aging and adult services to say that her youngest daughter was verbally abusing her mother.  Oh, and it gets “better” (if that’s a word you can use to describe domestic hell)  DJ told her to leave, but because she had opened her home to her daughter, she couldn’t make her move.  Finally, her daughter found a better patsy to live with for a time.  When that didn’t work out, she asked to move back.  By that time, DJ had a restraining order against her daughter.

By the time DJ said I was right about her daughter, it was a bittersweet moment for both of us. I wished she had felt that way before she’d moved away from my home, for we had missed each other’s friendship terribly.  But…would I not have done the same thing for my family?

In December 2021, DJ began to experience shortness of breath and saw a pulmonologist.  That’s when she discovered she had cancerous nodules in her lungs.  Her doctor made another appointment to see her in January — if she lived that long.

She was never without oxygen filtering into her nose through clear tubing from that time on.  Her last visit to a doctor was in January 2022, where he suggested chemo and radiation.  DJ had learned from Sue Vincent and Mary Smith’s experiences, as she had followed their blogs during their treatments.  They went through hell, and at the end of their lives it might have given them a few extra months.

“I’m going to die at home with my dogs by my side,” DJ told her doctor.  “I’m not going to take your poison!”

She did well for the next 4 months, using herbal treatments learned from her native American grandmother.  She did her research and found that her cancer was aggressive and she might extend her life for a few months, but there was no cure.

The youngest daughter told her family that she wanted to live with her mother to “help her.”  Her other 3 children and her brothers knew what that meant.  DJ was the first to say, “Hell, no!”  The last I heard, the youngest was in California being dragged to jail for yet another crime.

We played scrabble each week for years until 2 months ago.  DJ wrote to me the next Saturday saying she didn’t feel up to playing.  A month before she died, I went to see her.  She was making food for her 4 remaining dogs and was about to drop the pot.  She asked me to help her feed them, which I did.  She made it to her bed, where we talked for a while.

I forgot to mention that DJ never took her dogs to the vet, and they were the healthiest I have ever seen.  The oldest is a dachshund around 15 who acts like a puppy.  DJ was once a vet tech, too, when she lived in California.  Did I mention she could talk to animals?  I know how that sounds, but emergency animal rescue in California brought her the hard cases to save.  All the dogs she had in her home at the time of her death would have been put down had anyone else been their doggie mom. She used Native American knowledge to help them become well again.

Given the dramatic changes in her abilities over a period of one month, I asked if she needed help and she said, “No, my friend down the road is helping me.”

Two weeks before her death she said she wanted to see her kids.  I contacted them and was told, “Mom isn’t dying!”  When I described that she was bedridden skin-and-bones, all three arranged to visit her.

A week before she died, I found out from her 2nd youngest daughter that the “friend” helping DJ was sick and couldn’t come over.  I went to DJ’s house twice a day, did all the laundry, tried to do some cleaning,and learned how to keep the well primed.  For someone who has the mechanical ability of a lizard, that was quite a feat.

I remember telling DJ that she had more strength in her little finger than I had in my entire body, for she had only her TV and her dogs to keep her company, and she was in pain.  Still she stuck to her plan to die at home.

Three of her 4 children arrived 3 days before her death.  They wanted her in a hospital, but understood that Hospice provided her with a hospital bed and a CNA.  No one wanted the youngest daughter anywhere near the place.

My kids had planned to visit me for my 72nd birthday, a plan that had been in the works for 2 months.  My sister-in-law told me to have fun, enjoy my time with them, and not to worry about her.  She had often said that we needed to live life to the fullest.  She had purchased her burial plan years before and it didn’t include a service.  She said, “If people don’t want to see me when I’m alive, they don’t need to see me when I’m dead.”

The night before her death, I found her straddled across the short part of the bed gasping for breath, her TV off.  Her oxygen wasn’t filtering through her nose, it was on the floor!!!!!

I scrambled to find the lead and finally had it in her nose again.  I stepped on the bed, her urine on my feet, and pulled her up into a sitting position.  Then I changed the disposable pad that was under her.  She refused to allow me to change her underwear and pad.

“Go!” she said with a harsh whisper.

I finished the last of the gargantuan amount of laundry that I had been doing during the week — in between keeping the well going. I had her TV on again, and she was watching it.  I had a strong feeling of foreboding and didn’t want to leave her alone.   I asked again, if she need anything to drink.  With her last ounce of strength, she pointed at the door.

I asked my better half to go to her home the next day, for I had to go to work.  He called me at work in the morning to say that she had died sometime during the night, all 4 dogs by her side.

Her 4 dogs are now with us, her dachshund follows me everywhere and she’s becoming the light of my life.  The other 3 are still upstairs, trying to find their way, but they sleep each night with my better half — I suppose he smells enough like his sister to suffice.

I enjoyed my afternoon of the 18th, my birthday with family the entire day, and the next morning with my daughter, son-in-law, son, and granddaughter, while my better half began the task of clearing out her home.  We talked about DJ’s life, and the fortitude she showed during the time she was dying.

My sister-in-law loved life, she loved gardening, she loved her family, and she told me months ago that no matter what happened NOT to dwell over her death.

DJ would have been so proud.

PS:  I did well until last night.  My better half came into my office and handed me the scrabble game that DJ and I had used for several years.  I’m ashamed to admit how violently the tears flowed.