My Great Aunt Betty Jane passed away Monday evening. She was the last surviving member of my grandmother's generation, and knowing that she has passed away makes me feel a bit lonelier today. Last night, I attended a ceremony prior to the funeral, and I had a chance to share a few off the cuff words about Betty Jane with my family. My mom said that she really appreciated the words I shared, and that it was a shame I didn't write them down.
Thus, I decided to come home and see if I could capture what I said. It's not verbatim, but I think I've come close with what I have here.
Remembering the Fire: In Memory of my Great Aunt Betty Jane
During the years that I grew up in Danville, our house was often the center of activity for my mother's side of the family. There were many times that our house was a gathering point for the women I called "The Mariani Trio", which were three sisters; my grandmother Barbara, my Great Aunt Betty Jane, and my Great Aunt Marie. During their lives, I thought of these three women by three symbols. Those symbols were Stone, Steel and Fire. Anyone who knew these women knew that these descriptions were apt for them, and those who knew them already know which symbols belong with whom.
Barbara was Stone; steadfast, unmoving, and firm. When Barbara made up her mind about something, that was it, argument was over. She was as immovable and firm as stone. Marie was Steel; sharp, powerful, cutting, and ready to fight for what she believed in. Over the years, I freely admit, I contended with Stone, and I fought with Steel. Betty Jane, however, was Fire. Not a fire that burned or caused harm, but a fire that created warmth, cheered you and invited you in. Betty Jane was the one with a warm smile, with a kind word, the one that was able to get others to see her way of things because her cheerful nature always won you over. I never fought with Betty Jane, there just was never a need. She also never had to fight with me to see her point of view.
Betty Jane was always interested in every one's lives, and would enjoy listening to all of us kids, whether we were her own children or cousins, like me, talk about our lives, our goals and our dreams. She had a way of making you feel like she was the biggest fan of whatever it was you were doing. I remember back when I was trying to make it as a musician (not the easiest endeavor under even the best of circumstances). When my grandmother and Aunt Marie would often look at me like I was crazy (and really, I can't say I blamed them at times :) ), Betty Jane would ask me how my most recent show went, about the latest song I'd written, about the antics of friends and people that I'd met. She'd always laugh and smile, as though she was thoroughly enjoying learning about my day to day life. She didn't just do this for me; she genuinely did this with everyone!
Watching Betty Jane and her husband Frank over the years was a beautiful experience. They were inseparable, and I know that losing Frank when he died left a big hole in her life. Watching the two of them over the years helped develop the resolve in me that that was the kind of relationship I wanted to have with my wife someday, the kind where the thought of seeing the two of them separate from each other just made no sense. I was happy to have had that example throughout my life, and when I think of the closeness Christina and I share to this day, it is with a smile that I say that Betty Jane and Frank had a hand in influencing that.
Today, I am here to say goodbye to Betty Jane, and part of me feels sad, and a little cheated... because the Fire that I always remembered and perhaps took a little for granted over the years has gone out. Truthfully, though, it really hasn't. Her example and her warmth will live on in my heart and in my memories. Her and Frank's example of love and devotion I hope will live on in my own family. Her kind words and her wonderful laugh will resonate in my heart for years to come. Part of me is sad, because she is gone, and I will miss her. But another part of me knows that she isn't really gone, that her spirit lives on, and that she is reunited with Frank, the love of her life. While I will miss her, I know that through the atonement of Jesus Christ, and through the blessings of a loving Father in Heaven, I will see her again one day. I expect that she will want to be filled in on everything since the last time we talked, and she will listen, and she will laugh, and the warmth of that fire that I've always associated with her will once again wrap around me anew.