Well over 200 people gathered at 2:00 pm today, Sunday, at Advent Church to give thanks to God for the life and witness of our close friend and beloved church member, Janet Tan 譚瑾姊妹, who sadly died on June 25. Hers was a life lived to the full, she never wasted one single moment, and all of us who knew her were touched by her kindness, love, self-effacing charm, endless optimism and interest in everything and everyone. All the photos used in this post below bring back many memories, but the top photo above shows Janet with Bishop Lai in 2014 at the 60th anniversary celebrations of the Taiwan Episcopal Church, and that’s how I remember her, always with a smile on her face!
The Tan family have long been the party-family of Advent Church, and until Tan Mama and Tan Baba both passed away last year (see my report of Tan Mama’s funeral here), we regularly gathered at their home to celebrate and enjoy delicious food and great company, whether it was birthdays, Christmas or other festivals, the returning home of one of the grandchildren or welcoming visitors coming – whatever and whenever, it was the Tan family who always knew how to host a great party. Tan Mama was in charge, but somehow it was Janet who made it all happen!
Janet went to high school in Taipei, and after leaving Christ’s College, Guandu, she traveled the world with Cathay Pacific for 10 years or so – she used to tell so many stories of her backpacking adventures! Later she worked in the USA, then at the family T-shirt company in Taipei City, and finally moved with all the Tan family to the coast at Baishawan, just north of Advent Church, where she and her parents took care of the Tan family pets: 7 horses, about 15 famously noisy dogs, a host of cats and a whole gaggle of geese. In their Taipei days, Janet had had a whole pack of Dalmatian dogs, all white with black spots, and she had clothes to match ~ plus the car and the family factory were all painted in white with black spots too ~ ah, she was just so special!
In the countryside at Baishawan, Janet learned how to renovate derelict houses, grow vegetables and live off the land, while also taking care of her beloved parents, and all the pets. Visitors were always welcome! And thus it was that I’ve been to the family home many times for early morning breakfast, other times for lunch, and even more times for late evening parties. Tan Mama was always just getting warmed up at 9:00 pm when most 90-year-olds were well gone to bed!
And when the party was over, often getting on for 11:00 pm, then somehow I had to get home, and that’s when the fun started ~ Janet would offer to drive me the 5 miles or so – only 5 miles but it would take absolutely ages! Tan Mama, fearing that Janet would fall asleep driving, would insist on coming too, and Tan Baba didn’t want to miss out on a car trip, so all 4 of us would then launch forth into the night, pile into the car and head down the hill and along the road in the darkness, going very slowly. The only way to keep Janet awake was to sing loudly and get her to join in too, and so that’s how we got home. Being a kindergarten teacher, I know endless children’s songs, and we sang them all, over and over again ~ ‘Jingle Bells, Happy Birthday, The Wheels on the Bus, Incy-Wincy Spider, If you’re happy and you know it’ every verse, over and over! By this time, Tan Mama and Tan Baba were both fast asleep themselves, and Janet and me were having a great singalong all the way home. It was hilarious. Visitors would join in too, ah such amazing memories!
Janet and her parents also came to every social event in Advent Church. They rarely came on time, and sometimes not even on the right day, but hey, they always came, often right at the end, just in time for the food. One time they called me and asked could they visit. When they arrived, they came with a huge plate of watermelon chunks, enough for about 20 people. The 4 of us munched our way through all that watermelon. It turned out they had thought it was a social evening at Advent Church, and had turned up very late – only to find the church closed. After a quick phone call, they discovered they were a week early, it was on the following week instead. So rather than go home, hey they just brought the watermelon to my house for a watermelon party instead!
When the then-Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori came to visit Advent Church many years ago, she also visited the Tan family and met the horses. Then when the Episcopal Church House of Bishops came to Taiwan in 2014, Janet was on hand to renew her friendship with Presiding Bishop Katharine and her husband, Richard – here they are having lunch!
And only Janet could have pulled off a group photo on the steps of Advent Church with her in the front row with all the bishops!
Today’s service was a fitting tribute to Janet’s life, and also to her witness of her deep and very real Christian faith. She always made the most of every opportunity to share her faith with others, particularly in the context of her simple rural lifestyle, depending on God to supply everything they needed – and over this past year of declining health, she has always remained grateful and appreciative of God’s grace, mercy and love. When Tan Baba died last July, Janet was not able to be at his funeral, she was already receiving treatment for cancer – however she kept as active as she could right to the end and in this last semester, she came along most weeks to my community English class, including the one only a week before she died. We loved having her, she was a real blessing to us all.
Today’s funeral service was led by our rector, Rev. Lennon Y. R. Chang, who was with Janet in the days and hours leading up to her death, and he also led her cremation service on July 1. Her death was a shock and the whole church has been in mourning for weeks; Janet was too young and died too soon, only a year after both her parents, and yet she would not have wanted us to be mournful – but to rejoice with her that she is now with her Lord in heaven, where there is no more suffering and pain, and where she is reunited with her beloved parents. The reading was from Ecclesiastes 3: 1-15, most appropriate. The funeral service in a packed Advent Church….
After the service, we had a tea party in the church center, which the family had decorated with flowers, and Dalmatian-style tablecloths! There were gifts of memorial books and T-shirts. On the T-shirts, designed and made by the family in their own factory, were the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1, headlined with the song, ‘Turn, turn, turn’: “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” So beautiful.
Janet’s 3 older brothers shook hands and thanked everyone as the service finished. We offer them and all the Tan family our condolences and prayers. The brothers and their families are looking after all Janet’s horses and dogs, cats and geese, and also trying to complete some of her building projects, like the huge cross that she wanted to make on the flat roof of the horses’ stable, so that as the airplanes pass by overhead on their flight-path to the international airport, so they can look down and see the cross outline all lit up. Janet had so many ideas and so much vision, she was brimming with creativity and imagination for what was possible. You can see from her outfits she wore that she always dressed as creatively as she could. Janet really brightened up our lives, and was a great friend to so many of us. I thank God for the privilege of having known her.
Fondly remembered. May Janet rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.