"I see things differently..."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Part II Eulogy for Aunt Jan: The Art of Connection

This is the follow-up to my story about my Aunt Jan in my previous blog. This does not negate what I wrote earlier; I still believe that she had artistically unfulfilled dreams. Of course, that is what I would pick out; as an artist myself, this is my focus, my chosen window.

My sisters, mother, and I spent a week out on Whidbey Island planning and attending my Aunt’s funeral and helping to close out the earthly details of her life. This included clearing her home of 91 years of the collection of things she loved. During my time out there, I was reminded and constantly reinforced about things that I already knew about my Aunt.

Yes, my Aunt did have a very special collection...people. For her entire life she was very interested in people, sharing in their sorrows and joys, and offering help selflessly. At the funeral and around town, before and afterward, people constantly told us about her open and cheerful presence. She was often the first to welcome a new person at church; she noticed when a public employee seemed down. Strangers would open up to her with their stories. She would plunge right in, with the innocence of one who assumes the world is loving. (One of the most treasured moments came when we found a photograph album of when she was very little---her parents surrounding her, absolutely adoring her....little wonder that this became her view of how things should be). This sometimes led to her feeling re-buffed. Most people aren’t used to having that kind of direct force field coming at them. And I do know from personal experience that her love could, indeed, be overwhelming. Her good intentions often left her blind to the wishes of others. And she wrote many a scathing letter if she felt she had been wronged, mostly to companies about disappointing products or services.

One of the main things that she saved were copies of endless correspondence that she had written and received from friends and family members over those 9 decades. And did she write! Everywhere her home was filled with copies of letters she had written---single-spaced, typed words which she extravagantly underlined, highlighted, and circled (usually in red). The letters were not written for posterity. (She specifically requested that they be destroyed upon her death). No, these letters were written for the immediate connection with another person or persons, much of it a documentation of life. And who is to say that this is not at least as important a reason to write?

My sisters and I were amused to find an old magazine clipping titled “How to be a Constructive Wife” with 14 points to the test. She wrote (to her husband, my uncle), “I pass all 14, I think you’d agree?” I, of course, wouldn’t even submit myself to the test....standards from a bygone era. And yet, I have to acknowledge her accomplishment of being that “Constructive Wife”, a once highly esteemed art form indeed!

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