One mid-February evening as I was getting ready for work, my phone rang. Arthur answered it and I could tell immediately by the tone of his voice that it was not good news. My mind jumped immediately to my grandfathers, both elderly and not in the best health. However, my mother told me that the news came from an unexpected place: my great-aunt J had died that afternoon.
While Aunt J had experienced several serious bouts of illness in the past year, she had recovered and was doing reasonably well at that point. She had even gone out with my aunt for a drive earlier in the week and my cousin had visited with her the day before. Apparently, Aunt J had been resting in her room, pushed her call light, and by the time the staff responded a minute or two later, she was gone. It was quick and by all accounts, peaceful.
Aunt J was my maternal grandfather’s older sister. I remember very clearly going to Columbus most years for the Fourth of July holiday to see my grandparents and her. Since Aunt J’s birthday was on July 2, she always hosted a party for the assembled family and friends. As the oldest cousin, I was the first to get to accompany her on trips to Star Beacon, a treasure trove for a child. I got to help her select items such as small Styrofoam gliders that looked like airplanes and went much further than homemade paper airplanes, jelly bracelets, poppers (little plastic pieces that could be turned inside out, set down, and then jumped into the air with a “pop”), and other similar bits for the goody bags. Aunt J always asked me to consider the smaller cousins or items that might amuse the adult guests as well as the children. It was my first lesson in hospitality and thinking about others.
Aunt J was always ready with fun surprises, including everything from climbing walls to a simple trip to the local park. She was the first in a long day to suggest a break for rest or food when one of us cousins got cranky, making sure she cared for our physical needs. We always knew Aunt J took a nap herself in the afternoon, letting us know by example that it was okay to slow down a bit and recover. She also helped support me during nursing school in many different ways. It’s thanks to her that I stuck with school on the really awful days, and I am so grateful for that.
In so many ways, more than I can possibly list here, she taught me how to “adult”.
Beyond the ways in which I knew her as an aunt, Aunt J had a very full life. With a degree in Biological Sciences, she worked in the labs at Ohio State for the College of Medicine, Department of Surgery, and clinical chemistry. She traveled behind the Iron Curtain in the 1960s. Aunt J also made many, many friends over the years and was active at church, writing down the names of newcomers so she would remember them if and when they returned. Aunt J also did a great deal of volunteering with the library and other organizations.
In 2007, after having lived in Columbus most of her adult life, Aunt J picked up and moved to Pennsylvania, near one of my mother’s sisters. When I asked her why she’d move so far away, Aunt J said she was ready for another adventure. She was always up for a challenge and excited to meet new people.
It’s also worth noting here that Aunt J never married and did not have children. This was the other way she taught me by her example: that a life without having children could be immensely well-lived. As much as the infertility was horrible, I also had a role model for a life outside of the nuclear family structure.
My mother told me about Aunt J’s memorial service, held in mid-March. All of her five nieces attended. Several friends from Columbus made the trip out to Pennsylvania. I wanted to go very much, but it was simply impossible given the timing. A friend Aunt J had made after she moved delivered one of the eulogies. There is no doubt that this extraordinary woman had made an enormous impact and touched many lives.
It was my great privilege to know and love Aunt J.