The earthly world lost a special soul this week. She was loved as a sister, as a Mother by five children and as a Grandma to thirteen grandchildren. She was Aunt Jan to me, and I was also blessed to have her as my Godmother.
I loved her as well, and I also thought she was just such a neat person. When I was growing up, it seemed most of the Moms that I knew were reading paperback novels. Aunt Jan was reading non-fiction. Today with the convenience of Google, we forget that a few decades ago, finding answers and learning about any topic required actual reading; committing to reading an entire book. Imagine! Aunt Jan was a modern woman; always reading something interesting. Many of these selections she shared with my Mom. They could be books on psychology or books that would probably have been found in the “self-improvement” section. Not that either of them needed improving, I think they just enjoyed the enlightenment. After all, this was the era of Phil Donahue!
One reason I thought Aunt Jan was cool, was because I was an animal lover, and she was really the only adult, I knew (other than my parents who were selective animal lovers) who seemed to like animals. Her family had both cats and a dog. Several times when she stopped to see my Mom, she couldn’t stay long, because she had the dog out in the car. These days, people take their dogs everywhere with them, but back then – not so much. How especially endearing that this always perfectly-dressed-from-head-to-toe woman loved snort-y, smush-faced boxers!
She would never believe it, but she was a fashion role model for me. During the early 80’s “Color Me Beautiful” craze, Aunt Jan had her colors “done.” I’m not sure if she was a Spring or a Summer, but she found she looked best in pastels. Not old lady pastels, but elegant ice-y pastels and light neutrals, often worn monochromatically. She was a beautiful example that you should skip the trends and wear what looks best on you. To this day, when I am shopping and I see something in those colors, I think: that is an Aunt Jan color.
The thing I will remember most fondly about my Aunt Jan is the friendship she and my Mom shared. It developed after they married brothers; brothers who who were the two oldest boys in a family of five children. In old home movie footage, filmed when my Mom and my Aunt Jan were girls in their early twenties, they are leaning against a dining room wall, laughing together. The laughing continued whenever they were together for almost six decades. They can be seen standing together in candid photos, and standing next to each other in posed group shots.
They shared a special connection in a large family. They each had five children, and they shared the same silly sense of humor. I could always tell when my Mom was talking to Aunt Jan on the telephone. I loved to hear my Mom hang up the phone and say, “Aunt Jan will be stopping by in a little bit.” It meant a fun visit was in store. Perhaps they wanted time alone for adult girl talk. Too bad. By the time I was a teenager, I wasn’t missing a minute of it. I loved to listen in on their interesting conversations. They were funny together, and Aunt Jan had the most distinctive, quiet, adorable little giggle.
In the last couple of years, I shared in their final visits together. My Mom was in the fog of dementia and Aunt Jan was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s. I was there, but finally, I didn’t horn in on their girl talk. During our first visit, Aunt Jan was completely focused on my Mom and seemed to hang on her every word. My Mom was suddenly alive, animated and full of conversation. She was able to recall all sorts of memories, and told the stories of their lives to Aunt Jan. Several times, in response to my Mom’s “Remember when we….” Aunt Jan would say a quiet “yes” followed by a faint whisper of that same adorable giggle. Throughout the entire visit, their hands remained clasped together.
After visiting Aunt Jan, my Mom would say, “Gosh, it was just so good to see her. I have really missed her. She and I have had so much fun together over the years.”
It was an unexpected and incredible gift for me to watch these two sisters-in-law and girlfriends connect in a way that can’t be logically explained. I know Aunt Jan didn’t actually recognize my Mom, and my Mom didn’t fully recognize what was going on with Aunt Jan. But the changes that had taken place in their minds didn’t matter. They had decades of history together, and I believe there was recognition in their hearts and connection in their souls. I am so thankful I was able to witness it. The memory of that girl talk is a treasure.
While it is comforting to know Aunt Jan is no longer suffering, it certainly doesn’t make it any easier to lose her. She will be missed. In a few days, I know her life will be beautifully celebrated by the loving family she created. How fitting that this will happen during Thanksgiving Week, when we count our blessings. She was a blessing to many.
She is in now in God’s care. She is reunited in Heaven with her parents and Jim, her husband of 50 years. She is free of Alzheimer’s. Those are joyous thoughts.
I also have faith that her giggle is fully restored, and that makes me smile.