When I close my eyes, her smile is tilted slightly towards the sky, as if receiving a silent message meant for her soul alone. She had an outward beauty of course, but her inward beauty was unsurpassed. Calm in times of insurmountable struggles, tremendous trials and personal loss, she had an inner peace that gave her strength. She was one of my father’s sisters who was diagnosed with a rare chronic heredity illness named, Friedreich’s Ataxia. She was my special Aunt Joan.
Aunt Joan was a nurse by trade. As a young woman, she took care of the sick and needy in a Michigan hospital. She married a strict Lutheran Preacher with a dry sense of humor. In turn, she became a minister’s wife who eventually bore and raised four children. I often thought my mother was in a ‘race’ of sorts with her. Together with my father’s other five sisters, they were forever having babies. During family gatherings, some of my cousins and I peered under soft yellow blankets to catch the wrinkles of newborns cradled in their laps. I was part of the older group. It was our job to barricade running toddlers before they trashed our grandmother’s goods. We were a lot like the “Kennedy’s” in that way, except our family was never rich or famous.
I don’t remember the order of such, whether Aunt Joan’s diagnosis came before or after her older sister, Helen. They were fairly close in time, as I recall. Either way, Aunt Joan was quite young. I believe she learned of it soon after she bore her fourth and last child, a son. She named her baby, Paul after my father who became his Godfather. How difficult her life must have been, tending to four young children in addition to being the picture-perfect Pastor’s wife? All this while living with such a devastating chronic condition? If she ever questioned God, no one knew. Instead, Aunt Joan was full of gentle smiles, taking her condition in stride while raising her brood of children proudly. Even after her body did not respond to her brain’s unmistakable commands, she persevered. My aunt never complained. Not ever. Not after forty years or more. Not even later in life when she lost her youngest son to a another chronic condition. Life was not fair.
All of my aunts have given me exceptional gifts. Life Lessons that can’t be learned by reading books or researching on a computer. Growing up, I must have taken subliminal notes scribbled in invisible ink. Lucky for me to have filed them away in a memory journal to be discovered during my own times of adversity. Thank you, Aunt Joan. For your life and the wisdom your shared with me.
Bless you together with your loved ones in heaven above.
Edited from one of my earliest posts 11/16/13 in dedication to my Aunt Joan