I lost someone special to me this week. My Aunt Joan was 82 years old and last week she had a massive stroke. She died on Monday.
I want to tell you all a little bit about her. For starters, she wasn't technically my Aunt. She was my Great Aunt -- meaning she was my father's Aunt and my Grandmother's sister. She was 15 years younger than my Grandmother (my Grandma was the oldest of 6 and Aunt Joan was the youngest) and she was always Aunt Joan to me and my sisters (and to many, many, many others in the family). And in a way, for me, having Aunt Joan in my life was like having another grandmother.
To be honest, I don't remember much of her from when I was a child -- but that's to be expected. I was a child and, since I said she was 15 years younger than my Grandmother, when I was born, she was still busy being a mother.
It was only after my family moved to Ontario when I was 14 and she and Uncle Chris followed a few years later that I really got to know her. My family spent a lot of time with her and Uncle Chris and two of their three children who lived nearby with their children. We were all one big family.
And sometime during those years, I remember sitting with her at a family gathering and chatting about family genealogy -- about how exactly everyone at this family gathering was related to everyone else. There were first cousins and second cousins and first cousins once removed and aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews and grandmothers and...you get the point. And she said to me "you all call me Aunt Joan but really, I'm Great Aunt Joan but that's because I'm a great aunt". (Can you see her face light up as she's saying that?)
Great as in extraordinary, magnificent, wonderful, awesome.
That sums up exactly who she was to me -- to us all. For me, especially as I got older and moved away, I was always happy when we were both at the same family gathering. She cared for everyone so deeply and was never afraid to show it. Her family included everyone -- no one, regardless of how distant a relative they were, was left out. When my sister published her first book, Aunt Joan proudly came to the launch party. When I got married, Aunt Joan danced the night away as if it was her own grandchild's wedding. When my other sister had her first baby after an extremely difficult pregnancy, Aunt Joan snuggled that little boy with such relief and gratitude.
There are countless other stories I could tell; as could everyone else in my extended family. Whether we were near or far, she cared for us all; remembered our birthdays and anniversaries, cherished every visit and listened enthusiastically when we told her what we were doing.
Goodbye Aunt Joan. You will forever be loved and forever be remembered. You truly were a great aunt.