Fair warning:  this post makes me cry.  In fact, I’m weepy already because of several silly reasons, but the lingering reason is this: my aunt’s birthday would’ve been a few days ago.  And I miss her. A lot. And I wish I would’ve done a better job of telling her how much I loved her when she was alive.  But I can’t now. And that breaks my heart.

In the attempt to make whatever tiny amends I can for that omission, I just want to write a little bit of a public thank you in her honor, briefly describe what she was like, and why I’m thankful every day that I can feel her influence even when I’m working on this blog.

You see, in addition to having one of the most contagious laughs I have ever had the pleasure of hearing, Aunt Sandy was above all, an extremely loving person.  Wife, mom, sister, aunt, daughter, and friend – whatever category a person was in, if you were in Sandy’s life in some way,  it was only a matter of time before you felt her love.

I’m extremely fortunate in that I have a large and loving family.  I grew up surrounded by aunts, uncles and lots of cousins. Holidays, birthdays and special occasions were all marked by events where we crammed into each others homes, ate too much, drank a lot, and talked too loudly.  And it was wonderful.

After only a seven-month battle, Aunt Sandy lost her battle with ovarian cancer. And she fought HARD. Our family is still mourning her loss, and as November is already half over, we’re faced with entering the holiday season without her for the first time. The kitchens will now have an empty spot where she always insisted on helping out. There will be one less big-squeezed “I missed you! How are you? Oh your kids are so big!” hug. Rehashing family stories – while still as loud and boisterous as only stories from Italian Americans from western PA can be – are going to sorely miss the exuberant laugh-til-you’re-in-tears laugh that was uniquely Sandy’s.

But we’re getting better.  And we’ll continue to get better together.  And for my part, I just wish I could personally thank her one last time for a few things:

First, my gratitude in fostering a love for crafts and the arts in me.  Everyone knew that when Sandy’s hands touched something, she was going to create a beautiful project.  She instilled in my sister and I an awareness to take our time, do neat work, and keep on practicing with whatever the project happened to be. Sewing, baking, gardening, etc.  My sister and I still appreciate Aunt Sandy’s advice on needlepoint – the back should always look as good as the front.  Knots and sloppy strings show a lack of dedication to the craft, and almost always can be seen from “the right side” when your work is complete.  There’s a whole lot of metaphors on life to be taken just from that lesson.  Take your time, build your skills, and the end result will be worth your invested time.

Secondly, my very humbled thankfulness in being trusted with her children.  As I said, I come from a big family, and the role of babysitter is set upon young teens fairly often in large families.  And I was no exception.  But what I realize now as a mother myself, is that she entrusted the care of her three very young boys to me when I was only 13 or so myself.  Granted, my kind of babysitting may just have included watching a whole lot of MTV, but these boys, these cousins of mine who are now wonderful men, were just babies when I watched them. And as mom myself, when I look back at a very short list of people who I would have trusted to watch my own infant children, I am very humbled that she and my uncle saw something in my sister and I that allowed them to trust us so completely with their young sons. She believed in me.  And I knew it. And I’m not going to lie, I am so proud of the beautiful men they’ve become and take just a wee little bit of credit in keeping them safe when they were in my care.

Lastly, I want to thank her and whatever cosmic reason it was that I ended up in the hospice ward with her the night before she passed. I live several hours away from most of my family, but I just happened to be visiting for the weekend. That horrible night happened without warning and was the most gut-wrenchingly lovely night I’ve ever had to experience, where the only consolation you can give each other is “I love you. I love you. I love you.” (That intermixed with multiple giggle fits that can only appear at 3:00 am in a hospice ward.) I regret not seeing her more when she was going through her treatments, but I am so grateful I was able to tell her goodbye.

Our family was able to bid Sandy a little farewell this summer at a family reunion, where we planted a tree for her, and placed our own little memorial cards on that tree to remind us of what we wish to remember most about her. My uncle’s card still breaks my heart, but it’s a prayer I know we all keep.

And with that, I’ll sign off with one more prayer to a lovely crafty lady: we’ll try to live up to your example to always be guided by faith, family and friends. Please keep us all safe.