Greg and I spent a couple of days recently in Basking Ridge, New Jersey to celebrate the astounding life of his Aunt Jean. She was loved and respected by a stunning number of people and her three children gathered family and friends together to share stories and laughter as we all remembered her life and times. Families have these celebrations all the time when loved ones pass away. But for me, this gathering was very different. This was not a memorial … it was more like a family reunion. It had most of the classic elements: several generations of family, plenty of food, memories and laughter, and music. But this was different than family reunions I have attended.
This family has deep roots and close relationships. Cousins and siblings grew up together, sharing summers with grandparents, making memories that have stood the test of time. Their love and mutual admiration was obvious; the storytelling constant.
At some point during the evening I realized this was truly the all-American family we all see in movies. It was so sincere and honest and friendly. Aunt Jean was one of four daughters in a family with strong American roots, but it wasn’t just family. She dedicated her life to others as a school teacher (MATH!) retiring at the ripe young age of 88, and as a church volunteer, among others. The community that turned out to remember her so fondly also shared how much she will be missed.
Five years ago, I had the good fortune to meet her early in my relationship with Greg. At the time, she was the oldest living sister of the family and we gathered in Cape May, New Jersey to celebrate her 90th birthday. She woke each morning and meticulously dressed for her morning walk on the beach. Her hair was coiffed to perfection and withstood the morning ocean breezes without a single hair daring to blow out of place. Greg’s mom was there and as the sisters shared memories and playfully sparred, the rest of us listened and prodded for story after story throughout the day before she excused herself to dress for dinner.
Only two of the sisters are still alive. They speak daily on the phone sharing family updates and just checking in on each other. This all-American family is slowly passing its legacy on to the next generation and I am thrilled to be a part of it.
There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. Make some memories with your entire family while you can!
Rest In Peace, Aunt Jean!