In three days I will be fully enmeshed in the super-duper fun-o-rama happening at the JASNA Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Louisville. I am SO excited about the conference, and as a member of the Louisville JASNA region and on the committee, have been helping to plan it for over a year now. Thus, only something major could dampen my spirits. Alas, that something major occurred last week, and I am fighting to renew my enthusiasm. In a weird twist of fate, the bizarre but all too common ups and downs of life — which everyone experiences at various times — has hit me hard this month just as it did exactly two years ago. As a result, I feel the need to get serious AND lighthearted within the same blog. So strap on your safety belt, and join me on the roller coaster ride!
Backing up a few decades, here is a bit of relevant personal history with a life lesson attached. My parents divorced when I was a toddler. My wonderful father, Ed, is Mississippi born and bred, a Southern man to his toes with generations of deep bayou in his blood and DNA. I never faulted him for saying goodbye to California and leaving my sister and I safely with our mom and step-dad. It was the best decision for him to make, and considering how the pieces of our lives fell into place as a result, who am I to argue with fate? As the years passed, my dad was always there for me. He visited often, was involved in every major event in my life (graduations, wedding, etc.), called on the phone, wrote letters, and his love was deeply sensed from afar. I never felt any lack… except for when it came to my enormous Southern family. And I mean ENORMOUS! Until I was 40, the many relatives living half a country away were mere names to me, and since that was simply the way of it, I never realized what I was missing. That changed when my father’s brother Bobby died in 2006. He was my uncle, yet I could only feel sadness for my dad. The personal sense of loss was non-existent since I had never met this man my father spoke so lovingly about. Like the lightbulb clicking on, I suddenly saw clearly what I was missing out on. That was when my sister and I said enough was enough! We planned a road trip, and finally visited my birthplace in 2008. We visited the places firmly entrenched in our familial history, looked through all the photo albums to attach faces to the endless stories, and met the surviving relatives. It was utterly fantastic!
Since then we visited a dozen times, brought all our kids with us to also meet the extended family, and now I live about 10 hours away from my dad so can visit more often. Tragically, I far too soon learned that with opening my heart to new kin comes the grief I didn’t experience when my Uncle Bobby passed away.
Two years ago, a week before leaving for the JASNA AGM in Minneapolis, my cousin Renee was diagnosed with cancer. We all knew it was bad, but no one thought it was so bad that I had to miss the AGM. We were wrong. Renee died on the first morning of the conference. Somehow I managed to get through the conference, and yes, did have loads of fun. Yet it was fun dampened by the grief I felt personally, but worst of all the grief I felt for Renee’s brother Don (also a dearly loved cousin) who not only lost one sister but another sister (not related to me directly) on the same day! And, that day was his birthday! Oh yes, this is tragedy compounded tenfold.
As rough as that period was, I recognized and was thankful for the blessing in having spent time with Renee. I could grieve, honestly, because I knew her. Perhaps not for a long time, or as closely as more time would have allowed, but better than not at all. Additionally, the awareness of just how precious it was to have been counted Renee’s friend led me to strengthen my relationship with others in my family, especially my cousin Don, his wife Leslie, and Renee’s mom, my Aunt Joyce.
My Aunt Joyce.
Oh, how I love that woman! The first time I met my dad’s youngest sister (and only living sibling) was when my sister and I made that road trip in 2008. Joyce was living in Pensacola at the time, which by another weird twist is where my brother and his family live. Never knew! My brother is from my mom’s second marriage, so no blood relation to my Southern kin. Except that such piddling trifles mean nothing to Southern folk! Gary was our brother, so that made him, and his wife and daughter, kinfolk too! That trip wasn’t the first family gathering that included them, and I know it won’t be the last.
Later that same year my aunt moved in with my dad in Pascagoula. It was an arrangement that worked well all the way around. Auntie had her health issues, but was in better condition than my dad, so assumed the caregiver role within the new household. None of us, including my dad, expected she would leave this earth first.
Last week that changed. Within hours after the initial complaints of heart pains, my wonderful aunt passed away. It was one day before the date that her daughter Renee died two years prior. My cousin Don’s birthday, again. And one week before the 2015 AGM. If I believed in curses I might swear off ever registering for another JASNA conference.
Far too soon our family rushed together to grieve and remember an outstanding woman. The phrase “has a heart of gold” is perfectly apropos for my Aunt Joyce. In our lives we encounter those rare individuals who instantly draw you inside, opening their hearts in such a way that it is barely noticeable. As if you have always been a dearly loved part of their life and on intimate terms forever. Such was my Aunt Joyce. There was no “getting-to-know” her, no question of acceptance and love, no hesitation. Not even for this Yankee! She was my “auntie” from minute-one. To say she will be missed is the greatest understatement of the century. My best comfort is in knowing of her faith, and therefore knowing I will someday be blessed to sit beside her in heaven, drinking coffee while she tells me more of her childhood antics with my dad.
I don’t believe in curses or jinxed dates, so while my heart remains very, very heavy, I am gradually regaining my excitement for the AGM. It helps that my sister and niece are now with my dad. He is 80 and one incredibly strong man, but incapable of fending for himself entirely. We all foresee adjustments ahead, and our amazing family has come together in support and assistance for the patriarch of the Hudson family. Without that assurance, I would be unable to set my worries aside for the thrill of conference fun.
Louisville, here we come!
Despite my sadness, I can’t contain my happiness to be a part of this year’s JASNA AGM. Since I moved to Kentucky two years ago, I have anticipated this event. The blessing of living a stone throw from the hosting city, and thus being able to join the Greater Louisville JASNA region and commit to the planning in any way I could, has been an enormous joy. Now the day is upon us. Yippee!!
Austen Authors coming to Louisville are: Sharon Lathan, Elizabeth Ann West, Melanie Schertz, Sarah Price, Rose Fairbanks, and Regina Jeffers. We are gonna PAR-TAY! My girly-pals will cheer me up, I’m sure of it. Plus we will be hanging out with other fabulous writers and lovers of Jane Austen. How could that not be tremendous?
If anyone reading this is coming to the AGM, be sure to look for us!
For those of you not able to come, keep your eye on the Austen Author Facebook page for updates and photos. The 6 of us will do our best to keep the social media frenzy going!
Watch Twitter for #AuAuAGM2015
Bring on the fun…. I sure do need it.