can hear the rain falling outside of my apartment window. Brad Paisley and
Alison Kraus are singing a Whiskey Lullaby on iTunes. A mostly eaten Papa
John's hamburger pizza sits in the floor next to my desk. And I'm trying
to find the perfect words to remember my Aunt Sis with...
When an emergency comes in at work,
they alert us with a pager that emits a high-pitched tone. It will silence
a room during the day and wake the dead in the still of night. For some reason,
I thought I heard that pager this morning at 5 a.m. I threw the covers off,
pivoted to the side of the bed and was ready for a run. I looked across the
room, however, and saw my partner still wrapped up in his sheets. Our radios
were silent. I was lost for a moment before deciding that I must have dreamed
the pager tones.
I made a quick trip to the bathroom, crawled back into bed and fell back
asleep almost instantly. Not more than a minute or two later, my cell phone
beeped at me from the bedside table. I had a missed call. As it turned out,
I guess my brain confused the ringing of my cell phone with the pager. I
grabbed my phone and headed outside to see who had called.
I instantly recognized the area code as one of Michigan's. The prefix and
first two digits of the number matched my Aunt Sis's
House room. I figured that the news couldn't be good. After calls to
my mom's cell phone & my aunt's house got me no answer... the mystery
number called back. It was my mom. My Aunt Sis had died.
I remember when my mom called me last
September. She was so upset that she couldn't even speak at first. With the
long pause, I almost thought the call was from a telemarketer. When she finally
began to speak, she was crying... A knot formed in my stomach. She was calling
to say that they'd done surgery, that the news wasn't good and that there
was cancer all throughout my aunt's abdomen.
I think I was more upset then than I am today.
For my entire life, I've heard people talk about the celebration of life
whenever someone dies. I supported the concept in theory, but always found
it hard to put into practice. That's changed with my aunt's passing. Her's
is truly a life to celebrate. I'm saying this for the about the 74th time
today... but we'd all be lucky enough to live half the life she did even
if we had twice as long to try.
Aunt Sis paid for our lodging when Jessie
& I flew up to visit her last month. We arrived in Lansing late at night
and it was after midnight when we finally reached the hotel. As the desk
clerk checked us in, he took a second look at the reservation information.
His exact words escape me at the moment, but I remember him asking us how
we knew Dr. Gwen Norrell and if she was the same one that had been at the
university. I told him that she was my aunt and that, yes, she was the one.
This random hotel clerk in the middle of the night had known my aunt. He
had nothing but kind words to say about her.
I love that story. For that, more than any plaque in a hall of fame or a
name on an award, speaks to the impact my aunt had. She made something of
herself and then she shared the wealth. She spent her life in service to
educate the generations that came after her. She paved the way for women
in her field. She was an advocate of recruiting minority students before
most people called them something as nice as "minorities". The world is a
better place because my aunt lived. It's as simple as that. How can anyone
be sad about that?