Late in the evening of Tuesday, December 17th, my Aunt Jane passed away. That moment represented the peaceful end to a valiant battle against cancer that she waged for the last few months of her life. Her daughter, Rachel, had arrived at her bedside just in time to be with her as she took her last breath… something for which I am very grateful.
Although we weren’t “close” for much of my life due to geographical distance, we had—for the last 5 years or so—spent quite a bit more time together thanks to her move to Florida. It was a great tragedy that precipitated her move here… the untimely loss of her husband, Jim, whom she greatly loved. They had made their home for the better part of their two children’s lives in Katy, Texas, just west of Houston. After Jim passed away in December of 2006, Jane felt drawn to Florida to be near to her parents, Rev. Jack Carroll and Erma Carroll, and to her sister (my Mom), Ann Johnson.
When she relocated to Florida, Jane brought with her my cousin Rachel, who was in her sophomore year of high school at the time. Jane’s eldest, my cousin Jay, was studying and playing football at Azusa Pacific University in the greater Los Angeles area, but we still managed to see him more often than ever during the holidays.
I’m very grateful for these past few years. We were all heartbroken at the loss of Jim… and very grateful for the family’s move to Florida. Countless times during Jane’s recent fight with cancer, whether we sat together at my parents’ house (when they were able to care for her there) or by her bedside in one of the three hospitals where she spent so much time, we remarked about how grateful we were that she moved her family to Florida.
Sadly, the time she spent her with her parents was not long. Within a year and a half of her arrival, we lost her father (my Grandfather). Fifteen months later, her mother (my Grandmother) passed away as well. A few short months later, my cousin, Rachel, left for college in Colorado, where she’s currently studying at the prestigious Colorado School of Mines.
Recently, I’ve thought a lot about that sequence of events… and although she didn’t “lose” her children, she did experience being distanced from them in the midst of losing her husband and her mother and father. I think that’s an awful lot of loss for someone to sustain, and my heart was heavy for her.
But… she was great fun to have around here in recent years. She was regularly to be found at Starbucks, where I would interrupt her coffee and reading when I had the chance. We always saw her at family gatherings for birthdays and holidays. She also went out of her way to invite my wife and daughter and I over to use the pool in her community, and we would often grab takeout and spend the evening with her afterward.
During her funeral service last Saturday at Toale Brothers in downtown Sarasota, Jane was remembered by all for her infectious laugh and for her feisty, vocal nature. She never was one to back down from any spirited debate, and it seemed that there were plenty to be had with her around! She was also fiercely loyal and genuine. She would certainly come to the defense of those she loved, and you really didn’t want to be on the wrong side of her when she did!
In addition to the family members who came to remember her and celebrate her life, some of Jane’s close friends from her neighborhood and from playing tennis were also there at her funeral. She managed to forge some really tight-knit friendships in her five years here in Florida.
I have fond memories of Jane from throughout my life. We briefly lived in the same part of Houston during my childhood, and I remember spending some time with her then. Not long after she met and married Jim, they moved to California. By then, my family had already moved away ourselves, so there were a few years there where we didn’t see them as often.
In addition to being spunky and stubborn (which I’m pretty sure came largely from her Mother), Jane was incredibly smart. This made her a force to be reckoned with. It was a badge of honor for me when I beat her (once) at Trivial Pursuit. I remember that moment like it was yesterday. I couldn’t have been more than 12 at the time, and I’m quite certain it was just because I got lucky with the cards that were drawn, but I was no less proud of it!
When her nose wasn’t in a book, Jane was constantly doing crossword puzzles. She loved music, and I remember my amazement at her CD collection when I was a kid.
Most significantly, though, Jane dove into raising Jay and Rachel with all of her might. She was very involved when they were in music and sports, and probably ruined the day of more than a few educators during her time as a Mom. It wasn’t a good idea to treat one of her kids unfairly, that was for sure!
I’m so proud of both Jay and Rachel today. They have each been shaped by the loss of their Father while in their teens. There’s no question that that was difficult—and I’m sure remains so to this day. But each has carried on and pursued and achieved great things since then. They’ve demonstrated great resolve and fortitude as they stood by their Mom during her battle with cancer over the last few months. I was heartbroken for them as they lost their Mom.
Likewise, my Mom has lost both of her parents and now her only sister. My heart breaks for her as well. The same could be said of her brother, my Uncle Steve.
I know that Jane had a very deep faith that kept her connected with God throughout the ups and downs of her life. She was, it seems, especially made to suffer at the hands of some of the “old school” religious ideas that were handed down early in her life. I don’t have a way to know this with any certainty, but I’m guessing that she spent some time being angry with God (not to mention some people) over some of that. But Jane yearned for freedom, heart and soul. As my wife, Jill, and I prayed with her in recent months—often alongside other family members and close friends—we could see Jane’s heart reaching out to God with everything she had.
As I ponder this, I am especially grateful now for her true freedom. She’s free of all the pain and nastiness that was brought on by cancer. But she’s also truly free in her spirit and soul right now. I can only imagine the reunion as she saw Jim and her parents again.
A graveside service will be held on Saturday, December 28th (tomorrow, as I write this) in Katy, Texas at 2pm (local time). Her body will be laid to rest alongside that of her husband, Jim, at the Katy Magnolia Cemetery. Jay and Rachel will be there, and I’m sure some friends from Jane’s years there in Katy will join them.
I miss you and I love you, Aunt Jane.