Remembering My Great Auntie Gwenn

This weekend passed by in a flash of snow, family, tears, laughter, plane trips, car rides and frigid temperatures. I left Charlotte first thing on Friday morning for Baltimore, Maryland to attend my great Auntie Gwenn’s funeral and celebrate her life with her two daughters (my mother’s cousins) and my extended family. My Auntie Gwenn was my grandmother Mimi’s sister and the current matriarch of my mother’s side of the family.

Auntie Gwenn

(Our family surrounding my Auntie Gwenn in June 2015.)

Though many tears were shed over the past few days, in the end I think my whole family would agree that the weekend truly felt like a celebration of Auntie Gwenn’s life as we shared stories and remembered her together.

Remembering Auntie Gwenn

When Mimi passed away a year and a half ago, my family rented a big house in Gettysburg which served as a place for everyone to congregate, relax, catch up and reminisce. We did the same thing for Auntie Gwenn’s service this weekend and had nearly 20 family members sleeping under one roof. It allowed us to spend as much time together as possible, tell stories and share memories in comfy clothes over warm comfort food and wine.

The logistics of the weekend did not seem to lend themselves to traveling with a toddler so Ryan and I thought it would be best for me to spend the weekend with my extended family while he took care of Chase and nursed him through his ear infection. I missed my boys very much but am grateful I was able to spend a weekend with my mother’s side of the family whom I absolutely love and adore but don’t get to see nearly often enough.

My parents, sister, brother-in-law and Aunt Laurie and I coordinated our flights so we all landed in Baltimore at 9 a.m. on Friday morning. We spent the day driving into Gettysburg, Pennsylvania popping into some of our favorite restaurants, visiting my Nana and diving into hard shell crabs for dinner before continuing on to Carlisle where we spent the remainder of the weekend.

Texas Lunch Hotdogs Ernie's Gettysburg

We arrived at the beautiful brick house we called our home for the weekend just before 8 p.m. and immediately changed into our pajamas and hugged my mother’s side of the family hello when they arrived shortly after we began settling in.

Large House Rental Carlile PA

The rest of our Friday night was spent hovered around a large dining room table sorting through hundreds of pictures from Auntie Gwenn’s life.

Auntie Gwenn

We laughed over crazy hairstyles and fashion trends and cried over happy memories and I went to bed exhausted after a full and emotionally draining day.

Saturday

Saturday morning began bright and early when street noise outside my window woke me up. I stayed cuddled up in my warm bed and finished reading  Truly Madly Guilty before everyone else was awake and ready for breakfast. (For anyone looking for a book recommendation, I really liked Truly Madly Guilty – waaay better than The Last Anniversary – but would still steer you toward Liane Moriarty’s past novels  What Alice Forgot, Big Little Lies and The Husband’s Secret over this summer 2016 release.)

My dad was up next and we decided to make a run out to pick up breakfast for everyone and returned with egg sandwiches, coffee and orange juice to share. We spent the rest of the morning eating and hanging out as a family until it was time to change and drive to Auntie Gwenn’s church for the service. We arrived around 10:30 a.m. and joined Alison and Jessica, Auntie Gwenn’s daughters, in a back room for a prayer and hugs of support before the service began.

I cried through the songs and readings and laughed during the wonderful stories people shared about my great aunt and feel extremely grateful I was able to attend her service and offer and feel the love and support of family. Whenever I think of my Auntie Gwenn, the first thing I think about is her love for singing and the joy singing in her church choir and Sweet Adelines women’s a cappella group gave to her. Both her choir and a cappella group sang at her service and afterward we all agreed we could just picture Auntie Gwenn singing along with them with the biggest smile of joy on her face.

Sweet Adelines

After the service, we were ushered into a room for a reception and lunch and spent the next few hours talking with family and Auntie Gwenn’s friends and remembering a very special woman.

Leslie Julie Aunt LAurie

Making, sharing and enjoying homemade Christmas cookies is a love many of the women on my mother’s side of the family share and I have a feeling that it all began thanks to Mimi and Auntie Gwenn’s talent and love for baking. It was wonderful to see Auntie Gwenn’s love for Christmas cookies integrated into the reception.

IMG_6714-001 sIMG_6713

Following the reception, we helped clean up at the church before driving back to the house to change into comfortable clothes.

Family

We spent the remainder of Saturday lounging and enjoying quality time with family I wish I got to see more often. We ordered pizza and picked up subs for dinner and made sure to snap a photo of all of the cousins on my mother’s side (all women!) on stairs in tribute to the annual family Christmas photo they used to snap of the cousins at Mimi’s house every Christmas when they were growing up.

Cousins

I know this photo of their daughters would bring Auntie Gwenn, Mimi and Aunt Jody so much joy. And this candid one of the madness of trying to get everyone to pose for the above photo is definitely one of my new favorites!

IMG_6862

As expected whenever we all get together, we went to bed way too late on Saturday night considering we had a 4:30 a.m. wakeup call to catch early flights out of Baltimore in the morning on Sunday but the dark circles under my eyes this morning are more than worth it. This weekend was such a special weekend to me and I think Auntie Gwenn would’ve felt incredibly loved.

I want to sign off today’s post with a poem that was read at Auntie Gwenn’s service on Saturday that simultaneously brought me to tears and made me smile.

***

When tomorrow starts without me, and I am not here to see,

If the sun should rise and find your eyes all filled with tears for me,

I know how much you love me, as much as I love you,

And each time you think of me, I know you’ll miss me too

But when tomorrow starts without me, please try to understand,

That Jesus came and called my name and took me by the hand

He said my place is ready in heaven far above,

And that I have to leave behind all those I dearly love

But when I walked through Heaven’s gate and felt so much at home,

As God looked down and smiled at me from his great golden throne

He said “This is eternity, and all I’ve promised you,

Today your life on earth is past but here it starts anew

I promise no tomorrow but today will always last,

And since each day’s the same here, there’s no longing for the past.”

So when tomorrow starts without me, don’t think we’re far apart,

For every time you think of me, I’m right here in your heart

– Elizabeth Doris Fries

***

We miss you, Auntie Gwenn, and love you very much.

Comments

  1. says

    Juuuulie, I’m now in tears at work. I’ve heard that poem read before and think it’s impossible to read or hear without being moved–regardless if you’ve lost someone or not. This was such a special post. I love seeing and hearing about big families coming together to honor their loved ones. Such a special time you’ll always cherish. <3 I'm so sorry for your loss. But, it sounds like she was Heaven's gain!

      (Quote)

    • Cousin Michael says

      I was the very lucky person that was asked to read the poem (my wife Alison is Gwenn’s oldest daughter). I was bound and determined to not break down reading it – and made it to the last two lines before I cracked.

      Julie, I hope I did you and your awesome family justice. I feel so blessed to have married into it.

        (Quote)

  2. Emily Ashton says

    Hey Julie, thanks for sharing this today. My grandma passed away this weekend as well and seeing your celebration with family is definitely helpful to me. I’m sorry for your loss and I appreciate your candor. XXx, Emily

      (Quote)

    • says

      That is actually a plugin that automatically appears on every single blog post. It was not something I manually added and if you click on any other blog post, you’ll notice a “pin it” button appears if you hover over ANY image on this blog. I’m sorry this rubbed you the wrong way but in no way was I trying to make this a Pinterest post in the least. AT ALL.

        (Quote)

    • says

      Julie, I think you did a beautiful job of sharing the story of our family’s mourning and allowing others to get a glimpse of our personal experience. As a fellow blogger, I recognize that Pinterest is simply another plug-in and was not offended at all by any reference to outside Social Media outlets/programs. Since the post was about *my* mother, I want to applaud you for your tact and sincerity, and am blessed to be able to read anything you write. Thank you for writing so eloquently about my mom! Love you so much!

        (Quote)

  3. says

    I am so sorry of the loss of your great Auntie. Thank you for sharing a beautiful post of her remembrance. I’m so happy to see you were able to spend the weekend with your family! Xoxo

      (Quote)

  4. says

    Oh, Julie, I am so sorry for your loss. This post brought me to tears several times, but it sounds like you and your family had a wonderful weekend together-full of love and sweet memories. Sending lots of love your way as you navigate this difficult time.<3

      (Quote)

  5. M says

    I commented on your ornament post about my grandmother hanging the ugly Christmas ornament on my tree and the funny/great memory I have with that decoration. I mentioned she was unwell and she did pass right before Christmas. It was a horrible week and I’m still very sad, probably always will be as I was very close with her and even lived with her up until recent years. The poem you posted made me cry at my desk. For those in your family who feel the pain of loss right now, I can totally relate.

    I do have a question though… I’ve been seeing more of these types of services lately on social media, etc, but personally I’ve only been to Catholic funerals or viewings. Are the services religion-centric or are they moreso for family to share memories? Is it considered a funeral? And do people typically take photos? Anyone who reads this and can answer, I’d love to hear more about it. My grandmothers funeral was very, very hard for me and I could not hold it together. I would not have wanted to capture any of those moments, but it seems like this had a different vibe.

      (Quote)

    • says

      I remember your previous comment and I am so, so sorry about the loss of your grandmother. It sounds like you had an incredible relationship. <3 To answer your question, I think the way the funeral, service, reception, etc. is handled varies so, so much. I think that grief, funerals and the way people handle loss is so personal and varies so much, especially depending on the depth of the relationship with the deceased. In this instance, we followed the lead of my Auntie Gwenn's daughters who wanted her service to be a reflection of her joy, love of music and family. Her daughter Alison is actually a photographer and requested my sister and brother-in-law take photos (not during the service but during the lunch/cookie reception) because she wanted to be able to look back on the pictures and remember who came to honor her mother. (Most of my photos from the weekend were from their camera.) The service itself was religious and included readings from the Bible, hymns and words from two different pastors.

        (Quote)

  6. says

    Oh Julie, while I’m deeply sorry for your loss, I can’t help but feel happy you have such a lovely woman to celebrate that has been a part of your life for so long. A woman with such a wonderful life to share is never really gone so long as she’s remembered and brings a smile to your face.

      (Quote)

  7. Melanie says

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Julie. She sounds like a wonderful woman and I’m glad you were able to celebrate her life together as a family. That poem is so, so beautiful. <3

      (Quote)

  8. says

    I’m so sorry for your loss. The reception after the service sounds like a great way to remember your aunt. And having everyone together at the house sounds like a great idea. It must have been bittersweet to share all those memories and stories with each other,

      (Quote)

  9. Angie says

    Oh Julie, I’m so sorry for your loss. Your post is a beautiful tribute to your Auntie Gwenn. I couldn’t finish that poem. I started tearing up and can’t cry here at my desk! <3

      (Quote)

  10. Caitie says

    Julie, I am so sorry for your loss. Your family sounds amazing. How wonderful that you are so close and supportive. It gives me hope!

      (Quote)

  11. Steph says

    So sorry for your loss, Julie! You have a beautiful family and your weekend sounds like a touching reunion and tribute to your great aunt. Hard times are always easier when you’re surrounded by those you love!

      (Quote)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *