Sleep Well, Sweet Jean

Published February 18, 2015 by Liz Ault

There are a few people who had a life-long impact on me. My mother’s mother, Mabel (“Hoot”) is the first to come to mind because she was the most constant. She lived in the same city and would take me most weekends as I grew up. It was her love that made the weekdays almost tolerable until I was back with her again. My grandmother seemed to instinctively know that her daughter didn’t want me or understand me.

The other two would be my mother’s sister, Hoot’s middle child, Jean, and her husband Ed. Ed and I were kindred spirits. We were both adopted, and there was a bond that never needed words. He seemed to just get me.

In June of 1968 my family moved from 53rd to 118th Street. It was shortly after that that Jean and Ed came to Omaha for one of their almost annual visits. They never stayed with us, they had a favorite motel that had seen better days, but held great significance to them. They would usually come to my parents’ home in the late afternoon or early evening.

On this particular evening in the summer of ’68 I overheard an interesting conversation between mom and Jean and Ed. My bedroom was right above the kitchen, and shortly after moving in I discovered if I lay on the floor under the windows, the vent that heated and cooled my room also had direct access to the vent in the kitchen. I had a very clear pipeline to kitchen discussions. This day there seemed to be a seriousness to the conversation that had me sent on upstairs.

My aunt and uncle approached my mother with the idea that I go to California with them and live with their family. Mom’s first reaction was no. After some discussion, Jean said it could be a trial. I could start eighth grade there and reevaluate at Christmas. Jean observed that a break between my mother and I could be just the thing to improve relations. I don’t remember breathing during this entire conversation.

My own reactions were very mixed. I had a baby brother who had just had his first birthday, and I was like a mother to him. The thought of leaving him was horrible. Yet the thought of continuing living under my mom’s abuse was horrible, too. I think if I’d have been given a choice, I would have gone with them. I would have been the only girl with four cousins for brothers – it sounded wonderful.

It was never to be. In the end my mother decided she just couldn’t face her friends/piers with explanations. The same old “what would the neighbors think” mentality reared its ugly head again. It kept me from getting counseling in grade school, etc.

Twenty years later, my uncle Ed would pass away. In August of ’88 I had been living in St. Louis for four years with my young kids. My mother didn’t tell me of Ed’s passing until after she returned from California to Omaha where she attended his funeral. It was about 10 days after the funeral when she happened to mention it during a phone conversation. I was crushed. I was angry. I was disappointed.

A few years later I was in California on a business trip. I flew up on Friday instead of Sunday so I could spend the weekend with Aunt Jean. It was a wonderful, peaceful and quiet time. I told her how heartbroken I was when I learned of Ed’s passing and that I felt awful that I wasn’t able to send something to the funeral. I also told her how much Ed meant to me and shared some of my favorite memories of him with her. There was so much love there.

The last time I saw Jean face-to-face was at my mother’s funeral in 2008. She was 88 and was a bit frail, but doing well and sharp as can be. A little over two years ago she lost her youngest son to cancer.

Yesterday I got word that she had just passed away, two months before her 94th birthday. I have a hole in my heart right now.  One thing I don’t have is regrets. I had many chances to tell her how much she meant to me, and I took advantage of every one of them.

Sleep well sweet Jean. I smile as I imagine your energy joining with Ed and Mark’s to brighten the sky and surrounding all of us who love you.

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