|Janma and first BBE: Rachel Otwell|
Death has not visited often, but it came this week.
With age, I thought I had better processed the whole circle-of-life conundrum and neatly wrapped it in the rationalisation that, yes, death will come to us all; death is inevitable and to be honoured as another life stage, traversed with openness and dignity.
And in fact, in instances of suffering, death may be welcomed.
And I still believe that.
But today I am reminded of how there really is no death where love lives.
When we love someone strong and hard and true, their lives are imprinted within our hearts; they become a very real part of our energetic being.
This week the world lost an amazing woman, Jan Otwell of Evanston, Illinois.
Jan's personal and professional accolades are many, but what will live on is how she touched the hearts of all that knew her.
For a good long while, Jan was my mother-in-law; she never once put our mutual love and respect on pause as it morphed into a new label which later included "adopting" my later-in-life child.
"He's our adopted grandchild," she proclaimed, remembering his birthday and Christmas with gifts (always a thoughtfully chosen book) and treasuring seeing him at family gatherings and visits.
That ten year old son's sentiments upon hearing of her death summed up the success of her adoption-- after heartfelt sobs he proclaimed, "I love her. I don't care what anybody says, she was my grandma too."
I'm left being flooded with memories that highlight just how significant Jan was in my life-- meeting her thirty years ago, I felt so old at age twenty three. A young woman--in love with her son--who had never before stepped foot in Chicago, let alone been exposed to the life and happenings that accompanied Jan and her husband Ralph's impressive tenure.
The flashes I have now include my faltering steps at prestigious dinner functions, looking to Jan so I could follow her graceful lead, but mostly the memories are of the relaxed and hell-of-a-lot-of-fun Jan.
I see her kicked back on a sailboat on Lake Michigan, tan legs propped up, laughing her gorgeous giggle.
I vividly recall the holidays in the kitchen as we cooked together. Seeing a standing rib roast for the first time in my life and learning from the master of organisation the timing of the dinner.
Making beds together while she shared her heart with me. Her bicycling to our house in Springfield from her work apartment for regular visits.
And getting to hang out with her and the "political activist Thelma" to her "Louise"--Ethel Gingold--was an amazing privilege. Human rights warriors both, to be present for their stories was a lesson in history and change-making, as well as how to make mouthwatering chopped chicken livers or plan a great party all tossed about over a nice glass of wine.
These were well-rounded women with infinite wisdom.
Jan was a great story teller and would delight at sharing her daily adventures with a flair that made it read like a children's page turner-- a genre of which she was particularly fond.
For many years, Jan regularly drove to the east coast, alone, (and for a period of time in a very smart little Camaro) to visit her elderly high school English teacher with whom she had kept in contact.
Jan was a giver.
Having three sons she adored, while also nursing a bit of longing for a daughter, Jan was quite open with the fact that she enjoyed having another female in the family and little did she know how much she was a mother to me. Coming from a rural upbringing, I learned so much about how to walk in that new space from her.
And then the delight when her first grandchild, a girl, arrived still lights my heart. She nick-named our less-than-placid little beauty BBE (best baby ever) and in her mind all of her grandchildren have held that perfect love-shaped space in her heart.
With the death of one so dear, I find the circle of life highlighted. And I give thanks that Jan Otwell's boundless energy has been a part of my life, imparting a loving father and amazing grandparents for my dear children, and being a second mother to me.
A "city mother" counterpart to my lovely "country mother" who Jan also loved dearly.
At times like these, my words are the tears that clumsily attempt to articulate the many emotions I am trying to process.
One thing is for certain: Jan was a lover of words.
Here are links to words in the Chicago Sun-Times and Springfield State Journal-Register that tell more details of Jan Otwell's beautiful life.
Rest easy Jan and thank you for the love you gave us.