I'll get more into my first week of school later. Right now, I need to write about the really bad:
After a couple of years of strange, inexplicable health problems, my great aunt, Susan, passed away Tuesday night. As I was not in the loop on the day-to-day health issues she experienced, I was completely stunned.
Although she was my grandmother's sister, she truly was a "great aunt" to me. Because my uncle worked for Delta, I spent my childhood with her at nearly every family function, hardly even realizing she lived hours away in Atlanta. She was such a huge part of my young life, and I always lit up when she was around.
I've often told family members the following story in order to convey what she meant to me:
When I was 8 or 9 years old, I went camping with my family up in Georgia, and Aunt Susan and Uncle Jim joined us. My grandfather was chopping wood for the campfire with a small ax, and I decided I wanted to contribute. So, I grabbed the ax and began to chop the wood, too.
As I was very small, it took me quite some time to do the work my grandfather could do in seconds. He offered many times to help, but I refused, determined to do the work myself.
Aunt Susan observed all of this, and, with cigarette characteristically in hand, turned to me and said matter-of-factly, "Jeni, you're going to be somebody someday."
I remember it like it was yesterday. What she said resonated with me more than any encouragement that ever came from my parents to immediate family members. When Aunt Susan said something, she meant it. It was clear she had made up her mind about me. I never forgot it, and I always tried harder to live up to her proclamation.
As I've prepared to go to her funeral in Atlanta, I've thought a lot about what she said to me. I wondered if she was aware of the work I'm doing at UF. When I first told people I am getting my doctorate, they were surprised, and I'm sure some thought (and still think) I am nuts.
I don't think Aunt Susan would have been surprised. I think she knew how far I could push myself all along.
I've had those thoughts on my mind during the past couple of days since I got the news. But this morning, I woke up with a new one. I know just what Aunt Susan thought of me, and it meant the world to me. I wonder if she new what I thought of her.
I don't think it's too late now to tell her that I am proud of her. I'm proud of the way she raised her family, of her independence, and of her assuredness. I value the way she made herself a part of all our lives, and I love the way she could always make us laugh and then turn around and make us take a closer look at who we were.
Most of all, I'm amazed by the way she snagged all of our hearts. When we're in Atlanta this weekend, her absence will be as permeating as her presence was.