Today, my Aunt Ann would have turned 53 years old. However, she died January 1st this year of a pulmonary embolism. This post cannot do justice to how wonderful of a woman and an aunt she was, nor can I do her justice, as I only knew her for a short while and only saw her four times during my life.
My parents divorced when I was 6 years old, and my biological father, John, returned to New York to be with his family. I didn’t see him again until I was 28. And while I am sure my Aunt Ann and I spent many days together when I was an infant and before my parents moved back to California, the first time I officially met Ann was when I was 19 and she came for a vacation to California with her family.
Ann, her family, my uncle, his family, and my Grandma on John’s side all came for a visit in 1995, right after I moved to the town I still live in. They decided to vacation in a small, coastal town about 25 minutes from where I live. Through various phone calls made by them and my mom, I drove out to meet my “family” one day in late August. It was an awkward visit, and rightfully so: I had not really met any of these people before. But I noticed right away how vivacious and loving they were. We ate and they told stories of me as a baby. As the night wore on, there were tears streaming down all of our faces for the time lost. They apologized for not keeping in better contact.
I think it’s safe to say that any hard feelings I might have had before were erased after that night. The one thing that always stood out, though, was Ann and her incredible kindness, honesty, and laugh.
Fast forward about 4 years, and Rudy, Ann’s son, contacted me via email. He has his mother’s family spirit, and seeing how we are first cousins, he wanted to reconnect. We slowly got to know each other. He called more frequently than I did. I was incredibly grateful.
Fast forward 2 more years, and Maddie (only 5 at the time), my mom, and I took a short trip to New York City. While we had a great time going to dinner, museums, and seeing shows, Maddie and I escaped to visit Ann and her family for one day, having an even better time there than in the city. Rudy took Maddie fishing, Ann took us exploring around the local lake, and we spent a few hours talking and catching up. Ann was so excited to meet Maddie, and Maddie feel instantly into Ann’s lap, reassured and comforted by her deep laugh and strong arms.
Fast forward 1 more year, and I was 28 and ready to meet John for the first time since I was 6. I called Rudy and he helped me set up a meeting. I took three friends—Sofia, Denise, and Tyler—deciding to make a long weekend out of it. We flew to New York in early December 2005 on a red eye. We checked into a hip hotel and had the most fun I think I’ve ever had. We met up with Rudy and his girlfriend (now wife), we met other friends, we ate too much, drank too much, and generally had too much fun.
Finally the day came for me to meet John. Rudy drove Sofia, Denise, Tyler, and me to his mother’s house about an hour north of the city. This was only the third time I had met Ann. She greeted all of us with hugs and kisses. Her and her husband, Rudy Sr., took us to lunch, and then entertained my friends while I went to go meet with John.
The visit, while emotionally draining, stays in my memory not necessarily because of John, but because of how wonderful Ann was. My friends loved her and truly wanted to join her family. She made sure everyone felt loved and appreciated and comfortable.
Finally, flash forward to this summer when my sister, I, and all our kids boarded another red eye to New York, but this time for three weeks. While the majority of that time was spent on the Jersey Shore, we went to stay with Ann for 5 days. Ann was nervous: this was the first time my sister would meet Ann and her family and it was the first time I would have spent more than just one day with Ann. There was nothing to worry about. This was the only time during our entire trip that we all felt so relaxed and comfortable. Ann runs a daycare so the kids could run wild and it was ENCOURAGED. Ann devoted all her energy to us during that trip: she took us to the lake and swam with the kids, she bought us ice cream from the ice cream truck every day, she made us dinner, and she talked to us about our family history, and everywhere we went, we had to stop and talk to everyone she knew, which I believe was almost the entire town!
During our trip, she imparted great lessons: have sex frequently with your husband, for that’s the secret to a happy marriage; take care of yourself even when you’re taking care of others (Ann took care of the whole family, making sure John was in the right home as his health began to decline and the same for her brother and mother); make sure to have a good time when you’re out (I bet no one vacationed as well as she did); take care of your body (Ann swam like a teenager and used to be a runner); love your body (you should have seen her boobs! Amazing!).
We left that trip enlightened about our family history and literally enamored with Ann. We planned our next trip with excitement. We couldn’t wait to see each other again. Sadly, that wouldn’t happen.
Her death was devastating news. She was so young, in seemingly such great health, and so full of life and love. Plus, we had just begun to get to know her (which I know is a selfish reason, but it’s still my reason—I wanted MORE of her). My sister and I couldn’t fly out for the funeral, but it comforted us to know that almost 500 people came to her funeral and wake. If that doesn’t show how much she touched the lives of all those around her, then I don’t know what would.
This has been a long post, but one worth writing. Because for all the above reasons, today, in celebration of Ann, I am thankful for the time I did get to spend with her. It wasn’t enough…no, not at all. But what it lacked in time was made up for in the depth of love and graciousness my Aunt Ann provided.