Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Christmas Elf
My aunt Janice died last Wednesday. Exactly a week before, she had been taken to the hospital because she couldn't breathe. It turned out this was because she was having a lot of cardiac trouble. My mother called the hospital and we talked to her that night. I talked to her first, and she sounded like her usual self. We talked about normal stuff, a silly website with historical action figures, nothing much, and she told my mom that talking to me had cheered her up a lot. The next day, she went into a coma, I am told due to a double heart attack.

To backtrack some, I should say that this is not as sudden as it may sound. Janice had been fighting cancer for nearly a year. Last December, she was diagnosed with colon cancer. She underwent chemotherapy and seemed to have recovered. She came to visit all the family in North Carolina in August, fortunately after I had returned from Taiwan, in order to make up for having missed seeing everyone last Christmas. When she returned to Chicago, though, it was discovered that cancer had spread to her liver and lungs. She was put on a new, more intense series of chemotherapy treatments. This was much harder on her body, whereas before she had had no ill effects at all, and they frequently had to interrupt or slow down the treatments so she could finish receiving the full course for the day. It appears that this much stress was too much for her body.

The double heart attack she suffered caused a lot of brain damage, and she never woke up from the coma. Really, she wasn't there anymore. So I'll tell you about how she was.

* * *

My aunt was my father's oldest sibling and only sister. I am told she had excellent aim with both shoes and cups when annoyed. She read constantly. My favorite Janice & reading anecdote from her childhood was from when she was reading Macbeth and came downstairs to find the family dog, Spot, sitting in her chair. She reportedly pointed at him and yelled, "Out, out, damned Spot!" at which point he very obediently got out of the chair. (My entire family shares this sense of humor. I can't help it. It's clearly genetic.)

My aunt met her husband when a coworker noticed she had the same Tolkien calendar in her office as this other guy who worked at the same insurance company. My uncle once said he decided he had to ask Janice to marry him because she was the only woman he had ever met who would go into a dungeon with him (while playing Dungeons & Dragons.) They continued gaming long after they were married. I used to sit and listen to them talk about the game worlds they played in and the characters they and their gaming compatriots had created. They loved their cats more than some people love their children, and loved each other more than I can ever hope to have.

Even though I only saw my aunt and uncle once a year, they had a large effect on my life. They undertook to introduce me to as many good fantasy authors as they could. I especially remember one Christmas when I got an entire box full of books, each by a different author. I still have them, and I went on to read a great majority of the rest of the books by each of those authors. I could talk to the two of them about books to my heart's content, long after the patience of other mere mortals would have expired. Entire plots, in-depth analysis of characters, theories over what would happen next... I'm sure my parents were glad I was talking to someone else.

My aunt is the one that got me interested in needlework. She was an avid needlepointer. So avid, in fact, that she single-handedly provided everyone in the family with probably fully half of the ornaments on any of our Christmas trees. I still have the set of coasters she taught me to make of yarn and plastic canvas, as well as several example models of Christmas ornaments patterns. Though my own projects moved on into the realm of cross-stitch, my uncle has asked me to finish the last piece Janice was working on for this Christmas.

Janice loved Christmas, possibly even more than me. The family referred to her as the Christmas elf. My grandparents were not allowed to put any ornaments on the Christmas tree in Raleigh until she had arrived from Chicago to direct their appropriate distribution. She wrapped presents for herself, my grandparents, and one of her other brothers every year. We could always tell which ones she had done by the excessive amount of tape we had to get through in order to actually get to the present.

This Christmas will not be quite right without her. It wasn't the same without her there last year, either. I think, though, that I can serve her memory well by trying to be as true to the elf spirit as possible. And by reading books. Lots and lots of books.

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