Aunt Donna’s funeral was today and we said goodbye to an incredible woman. While I knew her in life it’s still amazing to learn more about her than I knew before. She was remarkable in more ways than I can even begin to count. One day when I see her again I am so excited to sit down with her and ask her so many questions. Every additional story I’ve heard about her helps me see that I only saw the tip of the iceberg… and I already held her in very high regard!
I was honored to be asked to give some family reflections during the service today and wanted to share what I wrote below. Many of her family members sent me thoughts, memories, and deeply heartfelt messages of what the appreciated the most about her. In reading their stories I was moved to tears by the love of them for her and her love for each of them that came through clearly in the stories. In some cases I literally laughed out loud at some of the stories that I hadn’t heard before.
Donna was really quite the gardener, wasn’t she? She grew so many beautiful plants and flowers. She had a knack for planting the right things in the right places, giving them just the right amount of sun, water, and love… That wasn’t the only thing she grew though. Look around this room… She grew us as well.
To put it simply, Donna was awesome. How else do you describe someone who was an incredible cook, gardener, friend, and polka dancer who was also able to run a chainsaw, teach you how to drive a clutch, and milk cows? Throw in the fact that she was always willing to share advice on a recipe, sewing, and gardening. Awesome, right? And that’s before we even get into the incredibly loving and giving person that she was.
Donna was such a giving person and in so many ways. When new siblings were being born the other young siblings all went out to Donna and Tom’s. She even knew that those “city boys” didn’t like fresh milk so she had chocolate milk waiting for them. When her mom needed to go shopping or go to a doctor’s appointment she did without question and always with a smile. Donna touched many lives as she volunteered for hospice, the nursing home, and her church.
I’d be remiss to not mention how giving she was when it came to meals and hospitality. During hunting season everyone received a hot meal from Donna, no cold sandwiches there! I remember so many holiday meals at her house, a tradition that had been ongoing for a long time. Her brothers and sister remember going to her house on Christmas day for lunch. Not only did they never leave hungry, but they’ve said those were some of the best meals they’ve ever had. That was Donna’s gift to all of them.
In many ways Donna was a second mother to many of her siblings. She was always there to listen, help, and guide them through life. One of her many strengths was her ability to listen without judgement and help guide them through any situation. Whatever they needed, she was there for them.
One of the most heartwarming moments of my life was when I had the privilege of taking her back to see my dad for the first time after his surgery. My thought was that I would be strong for her and help hold her up. I couldn’t have been more wrong. As she talked with my dad her voice was pure love. It was the pure love of sister for her brother, a mother for a son, and an aunt for a nephew. I may have gone in with the intent of being strong for her, but by the time we left the room it was Donna who was carrying me. She helped me see my dad through her eyes and it is a beautiful gift that I’ll never forget.
Donna loved us all completely, simply, purely, and without judgement or expectation. Her love for everyone was unconditional. As her granddaughter Julie put it, “you could hear love in her voice.”
She had the rare ability to truly see us each for who we are, faults and all, yet she always saw us as the best versions of who we are. The best way for each of us to honor her legacy and keep her alive in us forever is to try to be that person she saw in us. To be that person who is kind, good, thoughtful, and always puts the needs of others first – the same way she always did.
This spring as the weather warms, the flowers start to bloom, and you see the first butterfly of the year please take a minute to pause. Donna will be with you, smiling down from her eternally sunny garden. If you listen close I’d bet you will even hear her beautiful voice in your heart.
If you listen closer you might even hear the polka music in the background as she and Tom are dancing together again.
As you’ve just read, Aunt Donna was an amazing person and I’m so fortunate to have known her, spent time with her, and learned from her.
Aunt Donna, thank you so much for all you’ve given my family and I throughout your life. While you will be missed we’re happy that you’re home with your other brothers and sisters, your parents, and your beloved Tom. Please keep an eye on my dad, who knows what type of trouble he’s already causing up there! Love you!!!