Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My friend, Janet Salaff

To her friends and mine, I need to write about Janet Salaff. If you decide to forward this to other friends of hers, feel free to correct any mistakes I may make or add observations or recollections of your own. I began this as a message to members of the study group that met at my place when we were all preparing for oral exams in Berkeley long ago.

On Thursday, Nov. 4, I had invited seven women sociologists friends to my place for a potluck supper. Janet was among them — in fact, Janet's presence was, as usual, the occasion for our gathering. Since her retirement, she and her husband Arent Greve have been living in Bergen, Norway, where Arent is a professor. They keep a house in Toronto and whenever Janet comes (usually twice or more each year) we women friends get together. The last time she had been here she and Arent had launched their new book "Hong Kong Movers and Stayers" about Chinese people who were deciding whether to emigrate.

Janet had not been well, ... yet she maintained an astonishing degree of independence. She had recently traveled alone to China, and was planning another trip to Argentina with Arent for (imagine!) tango lessons. (She had been a terrific ballroom dancer—especially in tango—and used to dance competitively.) While in Asia, she had been practicing Tai Chi, as a way of training her brain to help her keep her balance.

Arent was still in Norway, but was planning to come to Toronto after teaching an intensive course of one or two weeks. Sadly, he had to come earlier.

That night, we all had glasses of wine in the kitchen and Janet asked Ann Sorenson to cut the Norwegian salmon that she had brought. We were: Janet, Ann Sorenson, Marion Blute, Aysan Sev'er, Bonnie Erickson, Bonnie Fox, and Gabriele Dankert, a mathematician. Harriet Friedmann had decided against joining us because she was still reeling from the loss of her father. Aysan arrived late because of a flare-up of mastocytosis, a serious immune disorder.

Janet did not ask anyone to cut her meat, and a large chunk of it stuck in her trachea. She stood up, not looking particularly distressed, but just silent. I did not realize at first that anything was wrong but when others asked her whether she was all right, she shook her head. Marion and Ann performed the Heimlich manoeuvre, but unsuccessfully, while we phoned 911. The operator there told me what to do. I relayed each instruction to Ann, for Janet had passed out by then. Nothing worked. The paramedics arrived within four minutes but there were no vital signs. They performed CPR and took her to Sunnybrook Hospital. A paramedic removed the meat with a forceps.

Some of us stayed in the apartment with Aysan, whose condition was exacerbated by the tension. Ann, Bonnie, and Bonnie went to the emergency room and stayed until late at night, though we all knew that the prospect was bleak. They had restored Janet's heartbeat and installed a ventilator tube to sustain artificial breathing. They also lowered Janet's body temperature to save her brain in case she might be able to breathe alone again.

I had several phone numbers on my computer but the police tracked down her daughter Shana through Janet's mother, Lillian Weitzner. Shana teaches art at a community college in Colorado. When I reached Arent by phone, he had already been told and was preparing to fly here.

The family has arrived, one by one—Arent and Shana arriving first. Lillian, Janet's amazing 95-year-old mother, stayed with me, along with Janet's brother Chip and his wife Eileen Weitzner. The others are at Janet's house at 12 Brookfield Street. On November 10, Arent had to make the sad decision to turn off life support.

There was a small private funeral on Saturday, November 14. Cremation followed on Sunday.  On Friday, Nov. 19, there will be a memorial for Janet in the main dining room of the U of T Faculty Club on Willcocks Street at 4:30 pm. If you can attend that, please do. Then at Christmas Arent and Shana will join the family in Los Angeles for another memorial with the members who were unable to come here.

Janet was one of the liveliest, most curious, and open-minded people I've ever known. We will always miss her.

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