(Claire Janaro, a Temple member and wife of Richard Janaro, who arrived in Georgetown on November 18, died on April 20, 2020, after a long illness. She was 81. The Janaros’ two children – Mauri Kay, 15, and Darren Richard, 14 – died in Jonestown. This site includes three remembrances by Liz Schwartz, Don Beck, and Richmond Arquette.)
I arrived in Georgetown on November 18, on that night of slaughter. My children Mauri and Daren died that night. My husband Richard survived only because he was on the Temple’s boat, the Cudjoe, on the Caribbean. After days and days of confusion and anguish, I was reunited with him and we returned to the States.
I had just turned 40 and he was almost 52. Not the best prospects for us to re-enter society. We had been caregivers and farmers for the previous seven years at the Peoples Temple Ranch in Redwood Valley. Our parents were on Social Security, but Richard’s parents arranged to take in his aunt who, in turn, gave us her place to stay.
I think we were fortunate to have so much support from relatives as well as old friends. Some of them had private feelings about how stupid we were to leave family and friends for PT. Nonetheless, they accepted us and wished us well in our return.
I got a job on a switchboard and Richard found work as an apartment manager, which paid no money but gave us a place to stay rent-free. Things were tight. After a while, I moved into a customer service job while Richard stepped up to managing a bigger complex with pay.
I was a mental and emotional mess. Much of the time I could not stop crying. It took all my energy at work to just handle it. Co-workers asked the small talk questions about family; I just said I didn’t have children. To explain my often “teary” eyes, I told them I had colds and allergies. I didn’t tell them about PT. I guess I missed my calling – I should have been an actress!
I couldn’t get home fast enough. Richard always had dinner ready. I would just cry and cry. It went on for a few years this way, until I was able to get on antidepressants. They saved my life.
For years the loss of my children was overwhelming, as was the loss of my Temple family and Temple life. I had visions of running my car off the edge of Mulholland Drive in the hills between L.A. and the San Fernando Valley. I didn’t want to live, and yet I knew I couldn’t bear to hurt anyone anymore by taking my life.
I tried going back to college – I only needed a year and a half for my degree. But all I could see in the students were my children who would have been their age by then. I went to student health to talk and see about antidepressants. When the doctor told me he would arrange to admit me into the hospital, I ran out, never to return to school. I went home and stayed in bed for several weeks before I could go out again.
I got a new job and finally found a doctor who prescribed an antidepressant for me. I began work more subdued and in better control – though I still couldn’t talk about things to the people I worked with. I just pushed on through work.
Family gatherings were difficult for me. Seeing my children’s old friends, who now had their own children, reminded me how much I missed my beloved ones and the families they would have had.
It took almost ten years before Richard and I were on our feet. By then, Richard managed the managers of several apartment complexes. And I finally realized my jobs didn’t define me, but were only a means to an end.
Richard and I were always together, leading what had finally become a normal life with friends and visitors and enjoying ourselves. But that was about to change.
In 1991 my mother died unexpectedly. In 1992 Richard was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Because of Richard’s social skills, no one detected his problem and he carried on another two years. Then he retired, managing the building where we lived.
Eventually, I was caring full time for Richard. I couldn’t leave him by himself. Every day was a new challenge. It was a difficult time and the care center support group of wives-of-Alzheimer-husbands helped me greatly. Through our anger and crying, we helped each other at all phases: care-giving, placement, funerals, recovery.
By 1999 I could no longer care for Richard physically. He had to go into convalescent care placement; I visited every day. When we lost his Social Security, I had to take renters into my apartment.
In 2002 my brother Charles moved in and has lived with me ever since. It has been wonderful to have him.
In 2003 Richard died at age 76, peacefully, with me at his bedside. Many people came to Richard’s memorial service: Temple survivors, relatives and my support group. I felt so much love and yet so abandoned. But I knew Richard would draw a great reception with our children and parents, aunts and uncles, and, of course, our Temple family, waiting to greet him.
A year later my aunt also passed away. With Richard gone, and now with everyone in my family’s previous generation gone, I had the feeling of being orphaned once more. I guess you can never get used to it.
In more recent years, my life has taken a new turn. I now make time and opportunity for travel, exercise, classes, going out. I have had two knee operations, some massages, and even joined a monthly book club! For the past four years I have been going to the reunion gathering in San Diego on July 4 to meet with the surviving Temple family. We laugh and cry together. My life has really taken on a new feel of normality!
This year, 2008, I decided to try going off anti-depressants. By August I was off them, but back to crying and being very sad, too. Perhaps I went off them too fast; I’ve gone back to some. I don’t wish to bring any more pain to myself or others I cherish.
I know antidepressants and love have saved my life.
I have been very blessed with the love and acceptance of my own family and that of Richard: my mother, my aunt, and my brother; likewise with the acceptance and love from Richard’s parents, his sister and her husband, and our wonderful niece, Vanessa.
I also have to say, the key to my recovery has been my long-standing relationships with other Temple survivors and their families. I have always been pleased to be a proxy mom and grand-mom – then and now. It’s a blessing that they carry and share so many of their memories of Mauri and Daren. I remember the names of my children’s friends as well, and those who died with them: Billy Bush, Jeff Wheeler, David Chaikin, Marvin Sellers, Christine Talley, Mabel Cordell, Dorothy Buckley, Gail Chaikin. And many more who were all great friends. I cherish them all.
I have so many vivid memories from the Ranch – the young men we took care of; grapes and pruning the vines each year; yellow mustard flowers covering the vineyard as the grapes grew and ripened; picking grapes and pressing grape juice; planting our organic garden; canning and freezing fruits, corn, string beans, and more; providing peaches and pears to all the Temple care homes. We had chickens – what a harvest of fresh eggs! There were also goats, cows, and an orchard of walnut and apple trees, as well as all the dogs and cats we took in. With our communal way of living, there was always an extra seat for dinner available to whoever happened by.
The Temple gave me strengths I did not know I had or was capable of. But it also took away my beloved ones. The pain does lessen some over time, but there will always be a great hole in my heart. Doing the interviews for the play and movie have helped heal me.
I still feel loved, wanted, and needed. What else is there to human survival after such pain? I try not to go back to those intense days and years after the massacre. It doesn’t help. The way of life we had – so much to do all the time – I was too busy to see the whole of it all. Or, who knows? One pays dearly for errors. I feel I have paid my dues for life.
I will be 70 in February 2009. I want to do the rest of my life in style. I’ve had enough trauma for a lifetime.
I wish peace and love to all.