my aunt jan

Do you remember when you first learned to wrap a hotdog? Oh you don’t? That’s funny. I totally do.

My mom taught me how to unfold a napkin, start the hotdog at one corner, roll the hotdog all the way to the opposite corner and then fold in the sides in order to fit it into the microwave. You know why I remember this so vividly? Because my mom was so proud of me and told me that I should be sure to show Aunt Jan that night when we were at her house for dinner. So in the midst of dinner preparation, I got out a napkin, a fat highlighter (playing the part of the hotdog) and told Aunt Jan the big news, while demonstrating my skills with the highlighter marker.

My Aunt Jan was very impressed.

This was pretty typical growing up. If something big happened in my life, big, like learning how to wrap a hotdog for the microwave, mom had me call Aunt Jan to tell her the news. I called often. If I moved up a chair in band, if I did well on a spelling test, if I had a funny story from my day…I was always told to “go call Aunt Jan.”

Aunt Jan is in her final stages of cancer. Ivar and I spent the morning with her admiring the art from her grandkids on her walls, throwing a ball up on the bed over and over, writing our conversation on notebooks back and forth. About two years ago Aunt Jan was diagnosed with cancer of the tongue and since then it has made its way into her esophagus, throat, lymph nodes and now everywhere it can. It’s mean. Cancer is so mean.

There is a real cruelty that my Aunt who bakes the best banana bars with cream cheese frosting can’t eat anything now. The woman who spent her career speaking up for the voiceless doesn’t have a voice.

But she wrote today of how these past weeks have been filled with all of the most important things: her husband, her sons, her grandkids, her sisters, her nieces and her very best friends. She has been working hard on writing life stories, and with the help of her sons and Uncle Don, she is going through all of the family slides and photographs. Her bedroom walls are covered with bright artwork from her grandkids and her window looks out over Lake Minnetonka. She wrote that the TV is never on, and her life is full of the very most important things. It made me aware of how much “filler” we pack into our days. Aunt Jan’s days are stripped down right now to the very most meaningful people and tasks. The things that actually matter.

Hardest is watching the people around her who love her so much. My mom is at her house as often as she can. I can’t fathom losing a sister. To share an entire lifetime of memories. Thousands of anecdotal stories could be written here, the little things that make sisters sisters. You can't really sum up those stories though.

My uncle Don works so hard to make sure the love of his life is comfortable. That breaks my heart too. He has been steadfast in his caregiving, faithfully serving his wife in every way imaginable, walking this road that neither one of them chose to travel.

I had a really nice visit. I left feeling glad that I have a sweet boy who can bring joy into a room. Glad that my mom is sharing so much precious time with her sister. And pretty overwhelmed by the whole thing. Sometimes mortality has a way of hitting me over the head. But I’m still having a hard time believing this is all actually playing out. It’s hard to wrap my head around it all. Hard to go there.


Nancy Holte said...

I'm so sorry about your aunt. It sounds, though, as if she's "dying well", if that is even possible. But the gift of being able to say good-bye, spend some final moments, and capture just a few more memories is amazing. Praying for you, friend.

sahmqueen said...

Nice to meet you, Becca. You commented on my blog, which is so neat bc I haven't written on it in a long time but was just thinking of getting back into the blog world. I was very touched at reading about your aunt. My uncle is going through cancer right now too and it without a miracle, he doesn't have much longer on this earth. You are right, cancer is mean. I am so close with my own sister and her kids are like my kids, and my kids are like her kids. I teared up at picturing your aunt and your mom together. I can't imagine. We do the same thing around here, when one of our kiddos does something cool, we call the other one.

It is very "random" that you are Sara Grove's sister in law. I am a huge fan. She writes about my life all the time, and I often wonder if someone is leaking all of my secrets to her. hahaha. I will be checking in with your blog. Now maybe I should write something on my own.