Aunt Jeanne was a blessed soul who lived long enough to see her great-grandchildren, and for that her family gave thanks as we remembered how she enriched our lives.
Mom gave me the call at the office in the morning, two weeks ago. She had called me at home the previous night, to warn me. This was six weeks after Jeanne had been to the hospital with stomach pains, and ended up having emergency surgery. She suffered terribly, but she lived, and she came home. But it was only for a short while.
We decided to take the bus down to DC. Mom, Gia, Jennifer and I met in midtown at lunch and piled into the MegaBus. We fortified ourselves with sandwiches and wine, but we had barely settled in, had only just emerged out of the Lincoln Tunnel into New Jersey, when we were side-swiped by a hard-driving Chinese trucker out of his lane. We slowed and stopped, the drivers got out to discuss, the police showed up… we didn’t move for another hour. Within 15 minutes of finally getting back on the road, we were in dead-stopstill traffic, and the radio announced a tractor-trailer was lying across three lanes in flames just a few miles ahead of us. By the time we got to DC it was 9pm – we had left at 1:30 – and we had missed the wake completely.
Katie and Bob picked us up with Will and Andrew, and we drove back to their place, which is outside Baltimore. Boy, did we feel stupid – we had just driven through Baltimore 45 minutes before!
We ordered some pizzas, cracked a few beers and started catching up and talking, everybody sitting around the kitchen. People peeled off one by one and went to bed – we had an early start in the morning – but it was so reminiscent of Aunt Jeanne, because she was usually the last one awake, telling the last story. She always wanted to stay up late, talking, drinking coffee, smoking.
At eight the next morning we were on the road, trying to beat the commuter traffic back to DC. We met Aunt Jeanne’s kids, “The Cousins”, outside the church, before filing in for mass. Here we were able to fully explore our grief, to let it consume us, to have it sink in that Jeanne was gone, and she wasn’t coming back. Here, we could properly let her go.
Susan got up and read a poem about mothers, and she implored us to all visit our moms, to never put visits off into the abstract future, to seize the time we all have together, brief as it is. Tommy took the pulpit after her and regaled us with stories of his youth and his mother, bringing smiles and even some big laughs, especially at the story of Jeanne restoring his old car “on the third day” and having it rise up again. There was so much warmth in his speech.
At the gravesite, Michael read a parable which was extremely moving, and the crowd of us gathered there, already beginning to lose it again, struck by the poignancy of his words, completely broke down when his voice cracked towards the end of the story. The picture that emerged during all of this remembrance was that of a loving wife and mother, who took very good care of a lot of people over a long and rich life.
When I was at Georgetown, Aunt Jeanne used to take me out to brunch. We went to Clyde’s, or the Army-Navy club with her good friend Lou, and we would have mimosas and French toast, slices of fresh melon, endless cups of coffee. Poor Aunt Jeanne had lost Uncle Ed in ’85, when they were only in their 50s. Aunt Jeanne went on without him for 26 years – imagine that. They would have been married over 50 years by now. A great reason for a reunion party.
God bless and keep you, Aunt Jeanne.