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.

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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!

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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. Andrea says

    So sorry for your loss, Julie. The service sounds beautiful and like a wonderful celebration of your Aunt’s life. I can echo an above poster regarding a comment that the way your family honoured your aunt was certainly different than what I am used to in terms of funerals (I am used to quiet churches, somber, no smiling, definitely no photos) but there is absolutely nothing wrong with either way! There are many approaches to commemorating the loss of a loved one and it sounds like you and your family chose the way that felt right for you and honoured your aunt in the most genuine way possible. Take care!!!

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  2. Jessi says

    Thank you so much for sharing this Julie. I love that poem. Also, I’m sure it is hard as a blogger to decide what parts of your life to share, but I just wanted to say I think it’s really brave of you to share this and it will no doubt help many others who are grieving lost loved ones.

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  3. Kim from MN says

    Awwww, so sorry for your family’s loss, but very touched by the BEAUTIFUL way your family has come together and celebrated her life. I love everything you’ve done here! What a blessing your family is – both for you to enjoy, but also for us to be inspired by. <3 to you and these wonderful people! Deeply touched by this service and your togetherness. <3

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  4. Correen says

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Julie. What a touching post. Your family sounds like you all know how to support each other in loss and that’s a beautiful thing. You’re kind to share this with your readers. Prayers for comfort to you and hope Chase gets over his ear infection too!

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  5. Marie says

    I’m so sorry for you and your family’s loss. What a great way to celebrate her life. I really enjoyed reading this post and that poem almost got me!

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