I learned that my aunt passed away last night. Aunt Jeanne was 84 years young (she would have turned 85 on July 23rd). She was a wonderful, loving, and fiercely independent woman, the oldest of six siblings on my mother’s side of the family. In addition to a preexisting heart condition, last year Aunt Jeanne was diagnosed with cancer. She died peacefully in her own home, where she wanted to be.
I had the great pleasure of visiting with my aunt last October, and spending time with my cousin and her awesome family as well. Aunt Jeanne was undergoing chemotherapy, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at her, or being around her. She had that shine in her eyes, and her mind was as sharp as a tack. Aunt Jeanne appeared to be more concerned that everybody else was alright, and not wanting anyone to make too much of a fuss over her. For the visit I brought some information I had collected about my grandmother—a few photos from when she was a teenager, and some documents I obtained about her early life. Aunt Jeanne and I sat together going through the information. She told me she learned things about her mother that day that she had never known before, and she shared some details with me that I didn’t know. It was a wonderful exchange that I will never forget.
I have so many fond memories of my aunt, and while my heart is heavy with mourning, I also want to celebrate her life. Aunt Jeanne had this way of talking to you, where she would look you directly in the eye with full attention, and speak honestly from the heart. This always made a strong impression on me. She taught me not to beat around the bush, but to be true, honest, and forthright. She taught me to say what I mean, and mean what I say. She taught me to live my life with integrity, and a healthy dose of humor. Her smile would light up a room, and her laugh was truly contagious. I don’t care how down you might feel, or frustrated about some difficulty going on in your life, if you were around Aunt Jeanne and she got on one of her humor streaks (which was often!), and you heard that laugh of hers…there was no way to resist, you couldn’t help but lighten up and laugh with her. I hear it now, and despite my tears, a smile emerges.
As I pack my bags and prepare to travel out of town to be with my family, I am reminded of the delicate nature of our human forms, the impermanence of our lives, and the importance of family and friends.
These brief words don’t do my aunt justice, yet they are all I can summon up at present. I love you Aunt Jeanne. May you rest in peace.
“Death is someone you see very clearly with eyes in the center of your heart: eyes that see not by reacting to light, but by reacting to a kind of a chill from within the marrow of your own life.”
(Father Thomas Merton)