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Retired nurse now paints treasures for grieving moms

Some folks walk through life and look back to ponder about events he or she wish they would have accomplished. Others look back at life, thankful for jumping at an opportunity. When Jo Ann Arrington was thirty-nine years old, she made a decision. She wanted to do something different with her life. Why? Was she enjoying life? Was Arrington following her passion, her purpose? No. “I decided at thirty-nine years old to go to nursing school. I thought, ‘The next year I am going to be forty and I might as well be a nurse.’ I had always wanted to be a nurse since I was little. My brother even named me after a nurse’s name in a book,” Arrington laughs while tossing her head back. “I think when you have a calling like that you need to eventually answer.”
With two daughters in high school, and a supportive husband, Arrington answered her calling and jumped in head first. She had always done well in her other various jobs, but decided to follow the path unknown. Not always an easy feat. “It was hard going to school and balancing family. Luckily, with the girls in high school, they could fend for themselves. My husband was always telling me go ahead– do it. He was very supportive.” Arrington graduated with honors from Forsyth Technical Community College.
Upon graduation, Arrington commenced following her purpose in life. Years later, looking back on the decision, Arrington realizes the trickle effect her decision has played on others in her life. “As time went on, I realized this was where I was supposed to be. My dad had Alzheimer’s. My husband had throat cancer. My friend had lung cancer. I took care of all of them,” Arrington says. “It was tough with my dad. You lose them once they get Alzheimer’s and you lose them again when they die. I don’t think he always knew who I was. But I would always give him a bath, wash his hair, and do his toe nails. He didn’t always know I was his daughter, but knew why I was there because he would ask, ‘Are you here to give me my bath?’” Going through serious illnesses with loved ones can be a tremendous emotional battle. Arrington says when she has problems in her life, “I talk to Jesus.” Also, she waits three days to address a problem. Usually the problem does not seem as troublesome as the day it occurred.
Arrington continues to take care of others, even today as a retired nurse. “My mom is ninety-one now and I try to take care of her. She is very independent and says I am the reason she can stay at home.” Arrington also cares for her three grandchildren. All three come over in the afternoons during the school week. “My three grandkids are the light of my life. We have been so fortunate to be able to keep them so their parents could work.” As for work, one of Arrington’s daughter’s decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps and became a nurse. As a result of her daughter’s job, Arrington has found her next purpose. She paints memory boxes for parents who lose their babies. Thus, they have a hand-painted box to keep the tiny newborn mementos in when they leave the hospital from someone who cares.
“I started painting after I retired. I had talked to my mother’s neighbor who paints. I thought, ‘I can do this,’” Arrington says. Arrington’s daughter then spoke of the memory boxes. She said the hospitals would get boxes dressed in satin that almost looked like tiny coffins instead of a memento one would cherish. As a result, Arrington’s daughter and others would tear apart the boxes in hopes of making the boxes less depressing. “They were paying fifty dollars to tear these boxes apart. I said, ‘I could paint some.’” Arrington’s daughter was working in the Antepartum Department at the time. But word soon spread about the thoughtfully painted boxes. “The girls from Labor and Delivery saw them and wanted them for their moms. Then the girls from NICU saw them and they wanted some for their moms.”
Arrington’s supplies are paid for by the hospital, but she now paints boxes free and full-time for the various departments at Forsyth Hospital. She also takes time to write a handwritten note to the unknown mother, carefully placed in each box. “I write that I am sorry for their loss and I hope God gives them an extra blessing to get them through it.” In return, many mothers have written back to Arrington. Many mothers also carry their box during “A Walk to Remember” in Lewisville. The walk is a way to remember the babies who have passed. “People will bring their boxes to that walk. I don’t say anything to the mothers, but it’s nice to see they are holding the box I painted.”
Arrington continues to affect other generations. Her grandchildren have begun painting and also have entered many of their crafts into the competitions at the Dixie Classic Fair. Many of Arrington’s influences have come about because she followed her passion. Because our neighbor followed her passion, she found her purpose in life.

“Your Neighbor” is a feature by Jill Osborn. If you have a neighbor everybody should know, reach Jill at jill.n.osborn@gmail.com. Also follow her blog on parenting at MuchAdoAboutMothering.com/