This post is dedicated to my Aunt Jane Marie Washington April 27, 1967 - October 18, 2020
Me, Aunt Jane and my cousins at the Walk for the Cure Breast Cancer Walk in Jackson, MS
Aunt Jane was my aunt by marriage - the wife of my dad’s younger brother. Aunt Jane and I had a special connection and I loved how she affectionately called me “niece”. As I traveled the world posting pictures from South America, Asia, and Europe, she would comment on my Facebook pictures with “Have fun, niece." “Miss you, niece.” “Beautiful, niece.” There was something about her use of the word “niece” - a very simple word which by definition only meant that I am the child of her husband’s sibling - that made me feel special. It made me feel there was a bond only the two of us shared.
When I lived in Mississippi, I was very active in my home church. Seeking to know my church members a bit more than the weekly “Hello, Brother" or "Hello, Sister,” so common on Sunday mornings, myself and my pastor (who also happens to be my dad) created a program called Knowing You Better. Think David Letterman's My Next Guest. It was set up in a talk show format where we interviewed church members about their life outside of church. My Aunt Jane was the first guest. She shared with myself and our church family her upbringing in Wisconsin, how she met and married my Uncle Jerry, how she battled and overcame substance abuse only to find her next battle in breast cancer. She shared how being the mother of 10 and the grandmother to those 10 children's offspring was one of her greatest joys in life. She shared all of this with a strength and grace that reminded me of my own mother. That night, it was clear to all who were present why she was adored by her husband, children, grandchildren and all who knew her.
Aunt Jane was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014. Many times during her illness, she would text me questions about her health and the most recent updates regarding her illness. “Hey, niece. I hate to bother you but the doc says I can’t have my chemo because my white blood cell counts are too low. She says my platelets are low as well. What does that mean?” I’d first tell her that she was NEVER bothering me. I’d then go on to explain that giving chemotherapy when her immune system was already weakened and while she didn’t have enough clotting cells to keep her from bleeding out could be extremely dangerous. Aunt Jane always thanked me for these mini-consults but what she didn’t know was that I was honored to know she trusted me and valued my medical opinion regarding her illness.
Aunt Jane, or “Sister Soldier,” as she was affectionately known by our church family, passed 10 days ago from metastatic breast cancer. She fought a long and arduous battle for 6 years. Not once did I ever hear her complain. Now, as I stand in the bathroom of a Croatian restaurant with tears in my eyes and typing this post on my phone, afraid I’ll forget all I have to say if I wait until I get to my hotel, I realize how much I’m going to miss her when I return to Mississippi. I also realize that when I left Mississippi over a year ago, it was the last time I would see her on this side of heaven.
While my heart aches, and I’ve finally allowed the tears to fall, my only comfort is knowing that I will see her again. I even like to think that in the meantime, she and my mom will be cuttin’ up in heaven as only two women who’ve been through all they’ve been through and who’ve now been granted eternal rest, can do. Rest well, Aunt Jane. Thank you for loving me and thank you for giving the word “niece” such value.
...Until we meet again.
October is breast cancer awareness month. For more information on how breast cancer is affecting black women and how to prevent and treat breast cancer, please check out Susan G. Komen's Know Your Girls campaign.