I’ll always hate July 4th. I was never a big fan of the holiday, anyway. What’s so great about sweating and shooting off overpriced fireworks? It’s the same shit every year. Let’s be honest, if you’re an adult, it’s just another excuse to drink. I do that whenever I want and don’t need some day in July to be reminded to do so. Then again, I do have just a hint of pessimism running through me. Anyway, I’m getting off topic.
It’s been a month since my aunt died. I know the coping, or lack thereof, is supposed to make things better. I can’t say that things are any better today than they were a month ago. Of course, the initial shock has gone away, but the pain has only strengthened. The first week when all of this was sinking in (yeah, right) and unfolding, was such a blur. I remember all of it, but it’s just a blur of disbelief. Even the things I don’t want to remember, I do. And those memories seem to stick out the most, of course.
I woke up to a text around 11:30 a.m. from my mom that read, “Call me when you wake up.” Normally, if my mom wanted or needed something, she would just call. Even in my sleepy haze, I knew this was a strange text to wake up to. I didn’t even allow myself a couple minutes to gain my composure; I just called. Nobody answered. I got worried. I called again. Still, no answer. I waited a few more moments before I called for a third time. Finally, she picked up. I didn’t really properly greet her, I wanted to get straight to the point. “What’s going on?” is all I could think to ask. She sounded fine at first, but then I heard her voice begin to waver. My heart started to race. My mom isn’t the type to stray from her calm demeanor, so when I heard that slightly abnormal inflection in her voice, I prepared for the worst. And I wasn’t too far off from that. “Your Aunt Jan died this morning.” I couldn’t even think. “No she didn’t” were the only words I could manage get out. I’m aware now of how stupid that sounded. I didn’t want to believe those words. I still don’t want to believe it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t some bad prank. My mom stayed on the phone for just a few moments longer, trying to explain everything to me. By the time we finished our brief conversation, I was an absolute wreck. I was alone, confused, shaking, and sick. “Now what? What am I supposed to do?”, I thought to myself. I did the only thing I could: cry. Not only did I cry, but I sobbed, screamed, and begged for my aunt to come back. I was experiencing a type of pain I had never felt before. Yes, I have had injuries to my body, been through break-ups, and even other deaths in my family. None of those things could even begin to compare to what I felt on that day and for the next few days.
I guess to see where I’m coming from, you would first have to know my aunt. She was awesome. She was someone I really admired. Coming from me, that’s saying a lot. When I was younger, if I was ever having problems getting along with my mom, I could always go to my Aunt Jan for some sort of talk. She was really good at reasoning and putting things into perspective. She never had any children of her own (technically), but she absolutely adored her nieces and nephews. And we all adored her just as equally. In her professional career, she was a teacher, but she left this world having taught me so many things I could never learn in a classroom. She taught me how to have fun. She was always the life of the party, center of attention, loud and silly, and the first person to jump in and volunteer to plan a family function. Anyone that knows me, knows that I am pretty close to the complete opposite of that, much like my mother. She let me know it was okay to forget about small things and enjoy life to the fullest. She most certainly made sure everyone around her was having a good time. Something that always baffled me, and always will: my Aunt Jan was quite the party animal. I can remember so many times we stayed up until the wee hours of the morning, usually enjoying adult beverages, eventually crashing wherever we landed. Somehow, she was always the first one in the house to wake up and prepare coffee for others. I’ll never know how she did that. The last one to go to sleep, the first one to wake up. Every time. When I was 16, I went on a trip to Chicago with my mom, grandma, aunts, and female cousins. I was already close to my aunt before that trip, but managed to get even closer to her over the course of those few days. One night, after we had done some sight-seeing, shopping, and dinner, Jan and I decided we were just too bored and awake to call it a night. I always loved that we had our nocturnal nature in common. Anyway, we managed to sneak out of the hotel room while all the others were sleeping, and go down to the hotel’s bar. I’ll never forget, that was my first time tasting Hefeweizen beer. Needless to say, she got me tipsy. I’ve been fond of wheat beer ever since. I shared that story because it just goes to show that she let me get by with things that my mom probably wouldn’t. I did so many things for the first time with her. She was always proud of me; pushing me to do better in school and cried whenever I graduated high school. She loved to see me succeed and do whatever made me happy.
I could go on forever about her and share more stories, but this is already much longer than I intended it to be. This past month has been extremely difficult. I’m not sure how things will be from here on out. I know there will always be that irreplaceable void at Christmas and various other occasions that my family gathers for. When the room grows silent, Aunt Jan won’t be there to tell a joke or funny story and have the whole room burst into laughter. Who’s going to do that now? The truth is, no one. I think about her every day, subconsciously. Somewhere along the way, I must find solace. It may not be soon. It may be tomorrow. Who knows? I just wanted to get this out, share a fraction of what I’ve been going through, and let others know how truly awesome she was. I’ll leave this with a quote from Mary Englebreit that she had hanging in her classroom: “So many people come into our lives and then leave the same way they came, but there are those precious few who touch our hearts so deeply we will never be the same.” She definitely did that.
And, fuck the Fourth of July.