Last week, I flew back home to South Jersey to be with my family to attend the funeral for my Aunt Jutta “JJ” Holmes. I was honored for my cousins to ask my sister and me to stand in the receiving line with them as we accepted condolences. It was delightful to see the people who came to say goodbye one last time. I was one of three to deliver words to the folks in attendance. I wanted to share my words with you:
Although we’re losing her physical presence here today, for the folks who knew JJ, her time on earth was more of a gain than a loss.
I’m no stranger to loss. When I was eleven, I lost my mother. Aunt JJ was there. On the scene. That night. She drove my younger siblings and me to her house while my dad and his big brother dealt with the aftermath.
After that night, we never left her caring arms.
Throughout my turbulent teen years, she was always my safe place. I remember late nights sitting in the kitchen watching TV, talking. Just me and her. She always spoke to me like a person. Not a kid. She made me feel important. I’ve always used that example as the way I want to approach my relationships with the next generation.
She was a pillar of the community, playing mom, chef, and friend to everyone who needed her. Her door was not just open. It was always unlocked! No kidding, this lady never locked her front door. No one was unwelcome. Back in high school, Steve and I had a close friend whose parents moved out of state. JJ let him room there for his entire senior year so he could graduate with his friends.
No one I ever knew was more well read, no one more compassionate, and no one who could see through bullshit better than JJ.
After she started undergoing chemo, I heard that marijuana helped with some of the symptoms. So, before my next trip back to Jersey, I visited my local “green doctor” in Venice Beach, California; bought some THC-infused gummy worms, and disguised them in my luggage to fool the cops. I wasn’t sure if she was really going to eat them or not, but that wasn’t the point. I did it for the sole purpose of saying, “Who else would smuggle drugs for you?” Yes. I risked hard time in the ‘clink’ just to make that woman laugh!
For the last 24 years, I lived across the country. Every visit, she and I avoided the mushy goodbyes with my saying “You and I don’t need words.” She always agreed.
I almost didn’t make this trip because I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to handle this moment. Fifteen years ago, in this very room, my late father delivered a touching eulogy for his big brother, the love of JJ’s life. He told me the thing that gave him the strength to get through his emotional speech was a hug from Jaime. I remembered that and I knew I’d be okay.
Hey Jaime. I’ll take that hug now.