Joanna/Asia/Mama/Babi Kowalski (nee Slawinska) of Pasadena, Maryland, peacefully ascended home before sunset on Thursday, April 14, 2022, at the young age of 69.
Happiness isn’t about getting what you want all the time but loving what you have and being grateful for it.
Joanna was born in Katowice, Poland on May 24, 1952. The oldest of two daughters, her father had been adamant about not giving her a middle name because she had two names combined into one—“Jo” and “Anna.” In keeping with this, she also had to share her traditional Polish name day with her earthly birthday which she later admitted to feelings of deprivation of childhood joy. Traditionally, name day celebrations (imieniny) have often enjoyed a celebratory emphasis greater than that of birthday celebrations in Poland.
Music, once admitted to the soul, becomes a sort of spirit and never dies .
Joanna’s father shared his passion for classical music with her at a young age. It’s suspected she grew to love it in utero, since Chopin was constantly heard radiating through the walls of their flat. For as long as anyone can remember, Joanna can be associated with a choir. Whether it was at school, church, or with her friends, music was always shining out of Joanna’s spirit.
A smile is the prettiest thing you can wear and the shortest distance between two people.
Joanna’s only sister, Jola, was born two years after her, in 1954. Jola describes their relationship as “marchewka z groszkiem,” which is similar to the American saying of “two peas in a pod.” Growing up in a harsh time of social and political unrest in Poland, Joanna’s family needed to cling to the cross in private. Thankfully, her grandmother was able to secretly shepherd Joanna and her sister through the sacraments. Joanna’s mother was a fine seamstress and sewed beautiful dresses for her and her sister. Not wanting to waste fabric, they would often be in the same dresses with matching overcoats. Joanna’s flair for good taste and fashion grew throughout the years. She was always adding to her wardrobe and expanding her costume jewelry. She’d often prepare numerous outfits for the same occasion and change many times throughout. Messy hair, don’t care, “an artistic mess,’ Joanna would say— but matching jewelry/accessories, shoes, and handbag were always vital.
Find a heart that will love you at your worst and arms that will hold you at your weakest.
In 1975, Joanna received her M.A. in English from Maria Curie-Sklodowska University in Lublin, Poland. It was love at first sight when she laid eyes on Wlodzimierz Stanislaw Kowalski, an assisstant professor. Uncharacteristic of the time period, Joanna’s father was able to move heaven and earth to throw his oldest daughter a grand wedding celebration with the finest orchestra, vodka, and food. Uniquely, and almost coincidentally, Jola came with her fiance and were married at the same time on August 2, 1975 in Krasnystaw.
Marriage, ultimately is the practice of becoming friends .
Joanna’s passion for helping others extended into her marriage. Joanna relentlessly nurtured her husband with home cooked meals. She waited on him hand and foot. Many can agree that the most rewarding way she cultivated her marriage was by forcing her husband to leaving his quiet reading room and go out and experience life. She flew with him to Poland and set up reconnections with family. She adventured with him on a cruise ship, Hawaii, the Poconos. She encouraged him to walk, bike, go to the beach, and even fly a private glider. When there was seemingly nowhere to go, she’d find live music and dance. It’s even been reported that Joanna was able to get Stan on the dance floor—if even for a brief moment.
Zna me sie jak lyse konie.
Four years later, on November 17, 1979, Joanna and Stan’s son, and only child, Wojciech Maria was born. Because Joanna found the American translation of Wojciech to be closest to Adalbert, he became known as “Al.” A story often resurfaces of Al alone on the school playground upset and not knowing whether to speak Polish, German, or English. “We are all the same inside,” Joanna would say as she retold the story, “Examine your heart. We all only speak one language.”
Moving on is a simple thing, what it leaves behind is hard .
Another four years later, in 1984, Joanna, age 32, came with her husband and son to the United States. It was an arduous journey but they escaped a Communist regime through a Catholic Church exchange program. Working diligently in a jewelry store in NYC, Joanna spent tedious hours commuting on the train back and forth from New Jersey. She barely minded the trek to the diverse, vast art hub of NYC where she spent all of her free time attending cultural events, always seeking out classical music concerts foremost. Eventually Joanna transitioned to a career closer to her home in South Amboy, New Jersey as an accounting clerk for Raritan Bay Medical Center. The clerical work was long and tedious but Joannas outgoing, compassionate personality created instantaneous bonds with management and coworkers. She looked forward to feeling the warm sunlight on her desk. Some time later when they moved offices, Joanna hung a picture of a window by her desk to continue feeling the glow.
Sense of humor is a major defense against minor troubles .
Even though Joanna was an ocean apart from her sister, they shared every life event together. It was not uncommon for Joanna and her sister to stay on the phone for hours, sometimes not even talking but just “being.” Joanna often recounted the memory of dressing up as Santa in a red suit, red hat, an even a beard-and packing an entire turkey in one carry on bag and all the fixings in her second carry on—first shocking airport security and then surprising family in Poland at the airport. “Of course, we couldn’t completely startle my mother, Bronia,” Joanna always chuckled, “My sister had to drop hints as to not completely shock her.”
You Are The Sunshine of My Life
There was always much confusion with introductions as Joanna, before they were even engaged, always treated and introduced her son’s wife, Pamela, as her “daughter.” At Al and Pamela’s wedding, in Annapolis, Joanna defied the tradition of a slow, sentimental mother-son Kleenex moment. Inviting all the guests to join in, not one person was without a smile as she and Al tore up the dance floor with an upbeat, high tempo Stevie Wonder groove.
Whenever you serve others in any way, you are actually serving God.
Joanna loved on everyone, even strangers, with genuine and heartfelt concern. Her son recalls a memory from his teenage years when they spent the weekend handing out White Castle burgers to homeless people. She always put herself last. When we went over for family dinners she wouldn’t sit down and sometimes never even ate because she wanted to make sure we had everything we needed.
Life is a conversation. Make it a good one.
Joanna loved life. She didn’t worry about what to say or when to say it. When she felt driven by the Spirit to reach out, she did. Her son recalls this trait being embarrassing to him as a child. When out together, they wouldn’t be able to get into an appointment without praying for the security guard’s second cousin’s best friend. Joanna couldn’t go anywhere without serving others. Whether it was with a conversation, a smile, a prayer, or a joke, she emanated sunshine wherever she went.
Do not count the days, make the days count.
Joanna’s personality of always taking care of others continued to shine through when she quit her job and temporarily moved to Poland to care for her sick mother, Bronia, in her last months. Joanna provided Bronia’s last days with sunshine, even in her darkest hours.
Grandchildren complete life’s circle of love .
She returned in time to hold her daughter(in-law)’s hand as she welcomed Ember Bronia, her first grandchild, into this world. She continued her life of service by helping with Ember’s care for months. Wanting to follow the baby book, Joanna respectfully suggested to hold Ember more, and feed Ember more, but respected her daughter (in law)’s decisions. There were a few times Joanna secretly gave Ember bottles instead of waiting for nursing and for that Ember remains eternally grateful. Joanna’s spirit shines through Ember as Ember is often taking care of her younger siblings and helping around the house. Joanna dedicated her life to helping others, just as Ember plans to do with her future career aspirations. Joanna continued nurturing her flair for the arts through weekend concerts, trips to museums, and sharing her love of music with her grandchildren. Anna Helena was born June 20, 2007. Anna’s musical talent most certainly stems from Joanna. Wilson Light was born August 18, 2011. He’s a strong Believer which undoubtedly can be largely attributed to Joanna. Wilson’s tender heart and spirit, much like Joanna’s, helps him evangelize his younger sisters and friends. Cassidy Joy was born August 26, 2013. Her zest for life, bubbly personality, inability to let a moment pass her by, and willingness to try new things all mirror Joanna. In fact, their statute and face shape are almost identical. Amelia Grace was born June 21, 2016. Amelia’s non confrontational, forgiving soft spirit echoes Joanna’s essence. Her love and appreciation for nature-specifically flowers, birds, and butterflies are also Joanna’s forte.
Dance is the hidden language of the soul .
After retiring in 2020, Joanna moved to Maryland. Now living in the same neighborhood in walking distance, she gave her five grandchildren piano lessons, watched endless sunsets on the dock of the lake, went for canoe rides, and was always singing and dancing. Her artistic flair surfaced every holiday with her themed, decorative wrappings for gifts. We all appreciated and enjoyed her efforts but many adults cringed as her efforts were quickly demolished by the quick hands of the excited children to bypass the wrapping to what was underneath.
The rushing stream of Life
Joanna always seemed to be in a hurry. However, the truth is she was always content and grateful for everything she had. She held an overwhelming appreciation for each soft petal on every flower or each silky feather on the birds which visited her feeder outside her kitchen window. She was captivated by the rolling waves, the wind moving the clouds, each sunrise and sunset. She was only in a rush to experience all of God’s wonder. She was always thirsting for more.
Mandatum novum do vobis
Joanna went home on Ember’s earthly birthday on April 14, 2022—Maudy Thursday. As we recall the biblical events, Jesus leaves his last impressions on those who have ministered with Him. We can only imagine how He felt knowing what was ahead and realizing, “I will not eat again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” Love was the new commandment given on this night by Jesus after he washed the disciples’ feet. “Love one another as I have loved you.” But the disciples don’t fully comprehend how deeply Jesus loved them.
The Service of the Great Three Hours Agony
Joanna’s last words were to her son, “Woda, woda.” It was only fitting the day after Joanna passed we recall those who gathered around the cross could feel Jesus’ raspy cry reverberate in their own dry throats. Jesus dies thirsty, but he arose refreshed. In His suffering, Jesus thirsted after the full restoration of His Father’s fellowship, that the smile of His Father’s face might be turned toward him ands people again. (Psalm 69:16, 17). In his glorification, His thirst was quenched. God will hear the cry of His thirsty people. Whoever believes in me shall never thirst (John 6:35).
Relatives and friends are invited to Our lady of the Chesapeake Church 8325 Ventnor Road PASADENA on Saturday, April 23, 2022, at 10 am for a funeral mass. Interment will immediately follow Joanna’s service at Mt Carmel UMC 4760 Mountain Road, Pasadena, MD 21122.
After, stop by for a buffet luncheon at Al’s home.
IN LIEU OF FLOWERS PLEASE CONSIDER A CONTRIBUTION TO THE GO FUND ME LINK BELOW SETUP BY HER GRANDCHILDREN TO PURCHASE A PARK BENCH AND TREE IN JOANNA'S NAME.