My Favorite Aunt

You don’t choose your family. They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them. (Desmond Tutu)

This past week, while I was in the middle of recovering from surgery, and the day after my family celebrated my daughter's 2nd birthday, I learned of the death of my Aunt Mary, the eldest of my Mom's sisters.

Maryanne Newman / Hafner

Aunt Mary and her family have hosted almost every Easter, Thanksgiving, and Christmas family gathering at their house, and were always gracious and loving hosts. Through these parties I grew in my bond with the rest of my extended family. But our bonds are deeper than most; starting with Grandpa Charlie and his beautiful wife (who's still with us!), then passed on through their wonderful daughters, the connection and love that my extended family shares is extraordinary.

For as long as I can remember, all the Aunts on my Mom's side had an informal (heck, maybe it's formal and us cousins just never knew it!) competition for the coveted position of 'Favorite Aunt'. Sometimes, the designation would go to an Aunt who drove us around in a fancy new convertible. Other times it would be the Aunt who took us to the Zoo or some other destination. My cousins and I took advantage and played Aunts against one another at every opportunity!

But for all the fun and crazy things we got to do with our Aunts, there were a hundred mundane moments I shared with them that were even more formative in my life. Like an Aunt driving me from school to the hospital when my little Sister was born 3 months premature, and my Mom was in critical condition. Or an Aunt helping me edit important papers for admission to high school or college.

Aunt Mary wasn't always known as one of the more 'crazy' ones like her youngest sisters, but like my Mom, she had a crazy side. And she always enjoyed sharing joy with everyone else around her, most especially her immediate and extended family.

Jeff with cousins and Aunts
Can you guess which one is me?

I also have to admit that I likely wouldn't be in the job I'm in today had it not been for my Aunt Mary. Through high school, and even during parts of my time in college/Seminary, she retained me as the unofficial 'IT guy' for her law office. I worked on projects for her like acquiring and networking a bunch of Macs and PCs in a SMB environment, and getting them all set up to sync calendars, back up files, etc.—all well before 'the cloud' was a thing. She also helped me gain exposure to some gadgets and tech were pretty new and rare in the late 90s and early 00s, which ignited more of a passion for computing.

It's funny, because she wouldn't admit to being a techie or someone with advanced knowledge of computers—even though by any comparison with the peers in her field, she was a wizard!

I mention this because many people don't get to see the long-term impact they've made on others close to them. Aunt Mary was a substantial influence for good for her family, her friends, her colleagues, and even her clients. And she was one of the few people who were key to me finding my career and passion for tech—for that I'm indebted to her forever, as my career has given me so much joy, and also sustains my family and gives me the power to do good for so many others.

I know my Aunt Mary had a lot of pain and discomfort in the past few months (and longer) as she suffered from a body that fought against her will to carry on, but now that she's gone from this Earth, I pray that she may enjoy infinite time in Heaven, where she'll be reunited with many other matriarchs and patriarchs who helped build the great family of which I'm lucky to be a part.

The great danger for family life, in the midst of any society whose idols are pleasure, comfort and independence, lies in the fact that people close their hearts and become selfish. (Pope John Paul II)

Aunt Mary was selfless in her interactions with me, and for this, she gets the honorary status of favorite Aunt in perpetuity. Sorry to the other Aunts ?


Thank you for this tribute to our wonderful Maryanne. She was all you've said and so many more. She will be missed.