In December, when all is sparkly snow, and Mariah Carey belts out “Joy to the World” in earth shattering vibrato, I got word early one morning that my aunt had died. She died around midnight the night before, at home with the one she loved best, my Uncle Jim. The death was swift and certain. in fact the family barely had time to digest the news that she was sick. My cousin Judi, her oldest daughter was in Moscow, and unable to come, using Skype to say her final goodbyes to her mom. The rest of the family rallied as they could and came together in a cold December.
Dying with family you love is the best possible way to exit the temporary and enter the eternal, but you leave behind grieving hearts.
My Aunt Jean is my mom’s youngest sister. Aunt Jean was the one who shared a room and a bed with my mom growing up. Aunt Jean was the one who looked at my mom in horror when she was 16 and my mom was 20 saying “If I’m not married by the time I’m your age I don’t know what I’ll do!” Aunt Jean was the one who cared for my older brother Ed when the decision was made that he would stay in the United States for his senior year of high school, not returning to Pakistan with the rest of our family.
Aunt Jean has always been in my life, whether as far away as Pakistan or Egypt, or as close as neighbors on Hyde Park Street in a small town in Massachusetts. As my mom’s younger sister, our families were intertwined when we came on furloughs where the Cotes opened their home to this nomadic family, inviting us in, feeding us, introducing us to new friends and churches. How well I remember sitting at her dining room table, she, nine months pregnant with her 6th child, telling Uncle Jim that maybe they “needed to go on a bumpy ride so that labor would begin.” Not soon after the family a tiny curly-haired beauty named Jayna was added to their family.
When asked one time in a small group setting to tell about a marriage you admired and why, I picked my Aunt Jean and Uncle Jim. I could have easily picked my parents, for theirs is certainly one to admire and love. But I picked Aunt Jean’s because I have seen such love and commitment to marriage through the years, through car accidents that left them hospitalized for months on end with their youngest child; through ups and downs of owning their own business; through the struggles of loving children through their tough years.
The funeral was back in December but today I go to a memorial service for her in her hometown of Winchendon, Massachusetts – a town known historically for its toy-making and a large wooden horse in the center of town named Clyde.
The memorial service is an act of love of her immediate family for those of us who were unable to attend the funeral and I am grateful. They have been grieving, but we who were away haven’t yet processed the finality of her life on this earth. We haven’t seen Uncle Jim without his beloved wife, haven’t hugged cousins and scuzzins (second cousins) and told them we love them, told them we’re sorry they lost a mom and a grandma; haven’t taken specific time to remember and say goodbye.
So today I get to remember this remarkable woman with the infectious laugh and smile, with the fun sense of humor and kitchen that was always open to everyone, with the heart for people and family.
And I get to thank God that she was in my life.
Goodbye for now Aunt Jean — I love you. I wish I could have told you in person.