Yesterday morning, my mom texted me her usual good morning. Every Monday, it’s “Madison Monday,” which is just a funny way to get me through yet again another Monday.
I have a conference in the city today. Woo, being out of the office haha, I texted her.
She told me to give her a call later when I had a free time after the conference. She emphasised after the conference so I thought maybe something was wrong.
Is everything ok? Is it funny or serious [emoji]?
She just replied with not funny, but wished me luck at the conference. The day went on and after the conference I gave my mom a call before I hopped on the subway. I started blabbing to her about the conference and then I asked her what was up. She asked if I was done the conference, and if I was still needing to get back to work. I had finished the conference, I told her.
Okay well, I just wanted to make sure I didn’t want you to still be at the conference when I told you this. I wanted to tell you that Aunt Shawn has passed away.
I felt like I hadn’t heard her correctly. My aunt didn’t have cancer, she wasn’t diagnosed with a serious disease. She repeated it again when I asked what she said, afraid that I heard “dead” when really she meant to say “sick with something obviously curable.” I continued to walk down a street I didn’t know in Brooklyn. A taxi zoomed by me and beeped because I seemed to have crossed the street without the pedestrian signal. Where was I? It didn’t matter. I pressed my body up against a dirty building and tried to melt into the city walls.
And so began a series of questions that I never thought I would be asking my mom about her sister. Why, how, who knows, who is upset, who cried, what’s happening, what did grandma say, what did my sisters say, what did dad say, who else knows, what about her kids, what happens to her pets.
What I’m writing isn’t about how I feel, and I guess if you have to define it, it’s a multitude of things. I’m writing because I’m angry. I’m writing because death is all around me, and I’m being forced to face it in so many ways. I’m writing because it’s the only thing I know how to do, and I don’t know how one single picture or social media status can perfectly paint the picture of a woman, a mother, the independent-strong-minded woman that she was.
When I was younger, that was when I was the closest with my aunt. For a while we lived in different counties, but eventually my family moved back to Telford, PA so we could be with my grandfather who had been diagnosed with cancer. I remember crying, when I was first told that I had to move from Delaware County, PA to Montgomery County, PA (big difference, when you’re in third grade). I remember my mom said, but you’ll make new friends!
I don’t WANT new friends! I screamed. But then she added, you’ll be going to school with your aunt because she works there in the cafeteria! That got me to calm down a little.
Some of the things I remember about my aunt are little memories. In all my relationships in life, both personal and in my family, I always remember the small things about people. The time my dad stayed up late with me and made me egg sandwiches, when my sister gave me her favorite top because she knew I liked it more, when my brother bought me that red coat from Macy’s. So small, but so significant.
The little things.
My aunt used to have a pantry filled with the best snacks in the world. It was like a tiny little Costco. Big boxes of potato chips, iced tea, Dunkaroos, cookies — all the kinds of snacks that would make our mom furious if she knew we ate them before dinner. My brother and I didn’t care. We would ride our bikes up to visit and hope that Aunt Shawn would offer us a trip down to the basement to pick out whatever we wanted from the pantry. She always offered, and we always accepted.
My aunt loved the beach. I still remember the vacation I took with her and the family to Avalon. By accident (which I hope my cousins still realize was an accident) I killed one of my aunt’s favorite rats (they had several pet rats). I sat in the corner of the room crying hysterically knowing that I had broken my aunts heart. I remember how stern her husband was, he came into the room and told me that I need to go apologize “to my aunt.” When I was able to see her after she had calmed down, I went into her arms saying how sorry I was, she said she knew I didn’t mean it, and that she knew I loved the little rat so much too. To this day I think about the little rat, but mostly because of how sad I made my aunt.
And since my aunt loved the beach, she also had a large collection of seashells, which I remember going through secretly one time at her house, taking all of them out. Her husband caught me and scolded me, and I was so embarrassed. My aunt instead, reassured me that it was okay, and I believe she even let me take one home (but not her favorite, rare ones! Those she had to keep in the special little seashell containers).
I also remember that my grandmother and aunt would always call McDonald’s “Mickey D’s,” which for some reason, I never knew people called it that. So when we pulled up to the big yellow “M,” I started laughing because I expected some cute, small town diner. My grandmother and aunt made fun of me so much, “How could you not know we meant McDonalds?!” We gobbled down some Mickey D’s and talked about all the clothes we were going to buy.
My aunt also loved music, probably as much as my own mother who was constantly dancing around the house even though we begged her to stop. Shawn used to burn mixed CDs for my mom, with 80s club music, or classic jams like “You Spin Me Round,” and “Bootylicious.” Whenever I hear these songs, I always think of those mixed CDs. I hope wherever my aunt is now, her days are spent with ridiculous party jams from Destiny’s Child.
She also loved animals, like my mom. Throughout her life she had an awesome cat named Max, guinea pigs, tons of pet rats, and just recently, her two cats had kittens together. I think in total she had six cats, but she just couldn’t find homes for them, so she took them in herself. I hope the family tries to find new homes for them, and doesn’t just throw them in a shelter, because I know for a fact that’s not what my aunt would have wanted. Little Goose will miss you!
Her love for my mom is proof that the bond between sisters is one of the strongest loves to ever exist. My mom and her talked often, but not as much as you would think seeing as they lived a few miles apart in Telford, minutes away from their childhood home where my grandmother still lived. It didn’t matter, they always stayed in touch. I always knew when my mom was on the phone with my aunt, because she would be on the phone for hours. And that’s no exaggeration. They would talk about everything and sometimes, I would sit in her room and try to eavesdrop. My aunt always seemed to know a lot about everyone, and she wasn’t gossipy, she was just keeping my mom up to date with everyone’s lives.
She once told my sister that my mom is our rock, and we should remember that. I knew she was speaking from her heart, and from her experience as a mother. She did everything and anything for her two kids. Even when I heard stories about them misbehaving, there was my aunt, always ready to step in front of a bus for them. When my one cousin missed school on the day of prom (which was a big no-no, the rule was you go to school the day of prom or you can’t go..or you at least had to make it to fifth period or something) my aunt told her husband to call up the school and demand she be allowed to go to prom. When my other cousin moved to Florida, I had never seen a mother cry so hard. I think she was depressed for weeks, maybe even months. She was unbelievably proud, told everyone on Facebook how her son had moved on and gotten a job. But I had never seen someone so sad that their son had moved away. Those are the little things I remember — her sadness, her pain that her children were growing up too fast.
I realize now it’s because her kids were her whole world. I know she had more in life that was meaningful to her, but her children were the stars in her life that guided her through dark times. She would do anything for them, and if she was still here today, I know she would continue to do so.
And even when her husband brought divorce papers into the house, she continued to love him. Even when he might have stopped “loving” her the way he did when they first married, she continued to care and love him.
James TW says, “sometimes moms and dads, fall out of love.” But like my grandfather used to say, “Everything happens for a reason.”
She babysat the two neighbor girls next door, Emma and Jacqui, and became a sort of motherly figure to the both of them. Much like my mom, who is also passionate about children, my aunt worked at the local elementary school, babysat for a majority of her life, and also worked at a children’s day care center. I think in life, that was what she was meant to do. To be with children, and to try to help them grow up to be the best that they can be.
Shawn was the big sister, and my mom was the little sister. In many ways, they were twins. Everyone thought they were, too. They looked a lot a like, and later in life as I grew up, people would comment and say, “You sound just like your aunt!” Or they would say, “You look so much like your aunt.”
A lot of my sadness with my aunt’s death comes from my own love of my mother. I love my mother with every vein and cell in my body. My mother is my rock, like my aunt said. Seeing my mother in pain, seeing her frustration that perhaps my aunt’s family didn’t step in and be there for her when she needed them, seeing her anger for not being there more for her sister, seeing and feeling the guilt in her voice for not being able to do more — it all but breaks me down.
Since my aunt loved my mom more than anything in this world, I promise her that I will be there for my mom no matter what. If she is sick, I will be there. If she needs help, I will be there. If she wants to rescue cats (which my aunt did), I will be there. If my mom is suffering from something, no matter how hard it might be for me, I will be there. I will be there, because I know Shawn wanted me to.
When I accepted a job in New York, my aunt was beyond ecstatic for me. She was also terribly sad for my mom, because she knew how it felt to have your first-born leave the nest. She wanted to throw a big party for me, with all my friends and family in attendance, to celebrate my new chapter. I look back on her enthusiasm, her willingness to open her home up. She said how she was so proud of me. She said that my mom is lucky to have an amazing, bright, smart young woman like myself. I held in tears that night, so as not to cry in front of my family. But tonight as I write this, I let the tears flow, because I will never again be able to tell you thank you, and I love you.
One special thing about my aunt, is that she lived for her nieces and nephew’s accomplishments. Every time we made the honor roll, she would clap with enjoyment. When I started dating my boyfriend, she said (in her Aunt-Shawn voice) “Well he is just ALL KINDS of handsome!!!!” When I graduated high school, she was there crying. When I graduated college, she was there crying again. She commented on almost every picture I ever posted on Instagram, every status I posted on Facebook. She read every blog I ever posted. Aunt Shawn just had so much energy, so much love, and she cared that other people were successful, living life, and achieving their goals.
Aunt Shawn, wherever you are, I’m sorry that I couldn’t show you New York. I was just about to talk to my mom about you two visiting me as “the Weisenborn’s take over NYC.” I wanted to show you that all my hard work paid off, and how happy I am to have you as my “favorite aunt.” You will always be my favorite aunt.