My Aunt MaryAnn was one of the absolute funniest, kindest, and most family-oriented people I've ever met. These are just a few of the things I have learned from her untimely passing and beautiful life.
1. Don't take things too seriously.
MaryAnn having just received the help of her two eldest grandsons in blowing out the candles on her birthday cake. She captioned this photo, "Oh my gosh, I love them! There was some serious spit on that cake, though (pretty much Ricky's)."
Life throws all sorts of challenges our way every single day. It is important to not take everything too seriously and keep in mind the bigger picture of what really matters most as to channel your energy in constructive and positive ways.
2. Appreciate the little things in life.
MaryAnn and her dear father in-law, Hugh.
Sometimes we get to caught up in focusing on the bigger picture that we fail to recognize and appreciate the little everyday blessings right before our eyes. The untimely passing of my Aunt MaryAnn has significantly increased my awareness of such everyday blessings that I have so easily taken for granted and made me have an increased appreciation for each and every one of them.
3. Never hesitate to have fun.
MaryAnn giving "bunny ears" to her otherwise unwitting daughter.
It's no secret that life is stressful and can be especially trying at times. Just the thought of my Aunt MaryAnn makes me smile and laugh because I am so lucky to know what an incredibly witty and undeniably hilarious personality she had, always bringing the life to every party and laughs that filled the air.
4. Take lots of photos.
MaryAnn and Jim. ~1973.
One of the many things my Aunt MaryAnn and I had in common was our love for constantly (some might even say excessively) taking and sharing pictures of, and with, all of the people whom we feel so blessed to know and love. On her Facebook profile, you will find over one-hundred and fifty photo albums, the majority of which capture quality time spent with her family, immediate and extended. After her passing, it has come to my attention that out of the thousands of photos taken at our family events over my 20 years on this earth, I have not been able to find even one picture of me with my Aunt MaryAnn, whom I loved so dearly. MaryAnn was most often the one behind the camera at family gatherings, and while I very much appreciate all the quality moments she captured over the years, I so deeply wish it had crossed my mind to even pose for just one picture with her.
5. Stay humble.
MaryAnn, the epitome of a proud parent, at her youngest daughter's college graduation ceremony.
As a dear family member of MaryAnn's wrote of her after her passing, "MaryAnn was always smiling and humble, even when everyone knew she was the best!" This serves as a reminder for me to keep my feet on the ground, remember where I came from, and to keep an open heart and open mind at all times.
6. Be a kind person.
MaryAnn picking dandelions with one of her grandsons.
If I had to use one word to describe my Aunt MaryAnn, I would have to choose kind. MaryAnn was always looking at the bright side of things. If she knew you were upset in any way she always did anything and everything she could to try and help make you feel better.
7. Everyone needs help from time-to-time.
MaryAnn and her father, Willie. ~1966.
I found out about the untimely passing of my Aunt MaryAnn through a phone call from my brother. At the time, I was an hour and a half away from the rest of my family and in my apartment all alone. I immediately broke down and cried, and cried, and cried. I have never experienced a loss that has had such a great effect on me as hers has. Even though I knew there was ultimately nothing that could be done to so that I may ever see her again, knowing that I have such a loving family and caring friends to help me when I was down, makes a world of difference. I have learned that it's okay to ask for help - everyone needs help from time-to-time.
8. Always show gratitude.
MaryAnn sharing a most sentimental moment with her daughter on her wedding day.
While my mother was visiting MaryAnn in the hospital on her final day, she called me to tell me it wasn't looking good. I cried to her over the phone, begging her to go tell Aunt MaryAnn how much I loved her, but I would have given anything to have at least been there on that day to tell her myself. I cannot remember if there was ever a time that I told my Aunt MaryAnn how much I appreciated her. I don't doubt that didn't ultimately know, but I wish I had actually told her that I loved and appreciated her, so, so much. This has led me to be more mindful in showing my appreciation to those I hold dear in ways that I hadn't normally done before.
9. Every day is a blessing.
MaryAnn is overcome with joy on her daughter's wedding day.
It seems to me that a lot of people, myself included, tend to have a "not me" mentality in which we see or hear of such incidences happening to people in the world around us but still think, "oh, that will never happen to me though." Sadly, this is not the truth. Life is a fragile thing. Sudden illness can creep in and tragic accidents happen. I am even more aware now that every morning I wake up and every night I go to sleep is truly a blessing and should not be taken for granted.
10. Stay strong.
MaryAnn by her husband Jim's side at their youngest daughter's wedding rehearsal.
Even when mourning my Aunt MaryAnn's death, I found it almost impossible to do so without hearing her voice in my head telling me not to cry over her and that everything will be okay. I know that the last thing MaryAnn would ever want is for anyone to be upset, especially over her, even in death. Even now I have a sense of her comforting me, helping me carry on and to stay strong.