30 Day Lady Positivity Challenge- Day 16

by - Thursday, September 19, 2013

Day 16- Someone who you think has beautiful strength- Aunt Ann

Ok, if anyone actually copy and pasted the original list, you will know that I changed this one. I am not sorry. This has been on my mind for a while, and I want to say it, so there. My curves person is getting put off until later. 

My Aunt Ann is incredibly beautiful because she is so strong. I think her strength is often underestimated, because it isn't the kind of strength that announces itself the second she walks in the room. It can play second fiddle to her sweet and glowy personality. She may be the only one I know who is pure sweetness and pure strength in the same person, but I think they actually play into each other in a really profound way. In the last year and a half, we have watched as Ann has battled through ovarian (and now peritoneal) cancer, and she does so with grace, positivity, and prayer. If that isn't beautiful than what is?

Aunt Ann is the youngest of my Mom's four biological siblings. She and my mom are actually pretty different in terms of personality, but they perfectly complement each other. They are another set of siblings who are pretty close in age and grew up to be best friends (though they certainly had their rough spots as kids). My Mom is powerful like fire-it only takes one run in for you to realize how powerful it is, and even on her quietest day, she is still a powerhouse. My Aunt Ann has strength like an ocean, because she is the peacemaker, she is seemingly serene, and because of that people can forget that she can be very powerful too.

From what I have heard, in high school my mom was a bit of a nerd overacheviery type- she was the president of everything, hung with the band kids, etc. Ann was the opposite; she was in the knightettes and was a girl's girl (I think she has always been a girl's girl. I like that a lot about her). Their mom was sick for a good chunk of their teenage years, and she passed away soon after my Mom graduated high school, so Ann was still home taking care of Poppop. Mom likes to tell me stories about warming up Ann's bed (my Aunt Ann is always cold!) and their other adventures as kids.

 Despite their differences, the two of them have always had the very deep, very spiritual bond of two people who went through something really hard together. They understand things about each other that the rest of us don't get, and I deeply respect my aunt's opinion on my mom, because I know she really sees her. I think in their own way, the two of them are soul mates. I am not sure I even believe in soul mates, and I still think they are. I feel like God gave them so much grace by giving them each other, and Ann is the person who my Mom has had as her team mate for the majority of her life. We get so caught up in the idea that your potential soul mate would be someone you have a romance with, but their relationship consistently teaches me that the key relationship in your life might not be the romantic one. Ann is strong for my Mom when my Mom feels vulnerable, and vice versa. I see them anchoring each other and praying for each other and loving each other from a far distance, and I am so encouraged by that. It may be one of the most beautiful things ever.

When we were growing up, I always felt like our moms were working as a team and that Ann's daughter Shelly and I were more than cousins. As really little kids, we would go to Ann's house and she would watch us while our parents were at choir practice. We called her Sargent Ann because she could lay down the law! She and Shelly always seemed together (they even have a much cleaner classic aesthetic), and we were pure chaos. She has always been a calming, peaceful force in our life. For another chapter, we would go swimming on Wednesday in Titusville, and she and my Mom would chat while Shell, Thomas, and I sang songs from the Lion King. Because we were so close to them growing up, Rochelle and Ann still feel like home to me, and it makes me so happy and peaceful to be near them or even just talking to them on the phone.

In a recent conversation with Shell, she pointed out to me how much strength her mother had to leave her dad (when Shelly was just 4), to work hard to buy them a home, and to raise a daughter independently (Rochelle has a great dad, but he lived in another part of Pennsylvania, so she didn't go back and forth as much as we did). Now that we are older, I think Rochelle and I can both better appreciate the sacrifices and courage of each of our mothers. I now can see it is pretty amazing that Aunt Ann worked so hard and did buy a home for the two of them to live in. They had such a good life together, and Ann did that. And she still made time to take care of her church and her family and to be a good friend. She is a genuinely good person, and that takes courage and strength all on its own.

Ann is light and funny and a little bit silly. She has a really great smile and laugh, and she is pretty funny even when she doesn't mean to be. If she was colors, it would be like olive green and something really bright like orange or yellow. Like my Mom and I, she is a pretty awful cook (why is it that Shelly is the only culinarily-talented one). She is the ultimate peace keeper, but I know she can stand up for herself when the situation requires. She has always been very pretty, and she has a very beautiful face. She is one of those people who is always skinny, no matter what (now we need her to put some weight on!), and it makes her seem delicate.  I miss seeing her when I going into my Nana's kitchen. I miss hanging out in her house in Titusville or out on the lake in Tionesta. She takes incredible care of people in a way that seems effortless because she never complains.

Last year really tested my Aunt Ann's strength, and I think she amazed us all. First of all, she became a grandma (or Gigi in her family). I think LiamBaby is so lucky to have her as a Gigi, and I can only imagine the hijinks they will get into. I feel like she is the kind of grandma who will just be so fun to be around. I also think she could end up being kooky like my Great Grandma was, because Ann is generally so smart and thoughtful about what she says, so sensitive to other's feelings, and I hope when she is older she loses that wonderful filter and says all sorts of kooky things.

In the spring of 2012, the day after Easter, we found out during an "exploratory" surgery that Ann had a very large tumor on her ovary. The news was scary and horrible, but from the beginning I feel that Ann faced cancer with grace and FAITH. It was the kind of faith informed by strength and wisdom. I never got the impression, especially when discussing it with my mother, that my aunt was unaware of what was ahead of her. She knew it would be a battle. She knew she might be sick and miserable (just like their mom often was when she battled cancer). She was really not looking forward to losing her hair (though come on, that woman looks just as gorgeous with short hair- if God made you that good looking, there is really nothing your hair can do to get in the way). Ann knew how bad it could be, and she had her weepy days, but she always had faith in God and faith in the MANY prayers that were being said for her. I don't think faith always gets the reputation for requiring strength, but faith in moments like that take something incredible, and she has that.

In the first round, Ann took IP chemo which is where they put the chemo right into your belly. Where other women going through the same thing were really really sick, Ann still held on to her positivity and it got her through it. Again, she definitely had rough days, but she had really good days too (isn't that a miracle all by itself? To have a wonderful day in the middle of all of that shows what a miracle that woman is). She did lose her hair, but she rocked some hats, great earrings, and at times, a wig. We were so blessed to get to spend Thanksgiving with them, and as she regained her health, we had so much to be thankful for.

As she and Shelly had the worst week ever this year, and Ann is back in the battle, I am still blown away with their faith, peace, and joy. Ann is so good about setting her limits and recognizing what she can handle. I am also in awe of Shelly, who deals with every turn with such faith and peace. Because of this peace, they can handle everything as it comes. Cancer is freaking scary, maybe one of the scariest things you can face, and Ann and her family would have every right to freak out and do something crazy (face tattoo?) or sad. She is so amazing because she has the strength to pull herself out of that fear and sadness and to keep on fighting. She is a miracle and I am so proud of her. I know she has a tough road ahead of her again, but I truly believe she will fight through it like a freaking girl. If you want to know what strength is, look at this woman.

As a not-so-on-the-side side note, September is ovarian cancer awareness month. If you, like us, are rooting for a woman who is struggling with this really awful disease or if you just want to support research that will help women like my ridiculously amazing aunt, you can start out looking at the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition here.

 So here's to you, beautiful and amazing Ann Marie Hartle. For having a big bouncy laugh. For keeping the peace and greasing the wheels. For rocking your short silvery hair like you have been doing it for your whole life. For still putting so much energy and love into others when it would be perfectly acceptable to just focus on yourself. For modeling love, faith, and unbelievable courage in the face of that stinker cancer. For showing us all the power of prayer. For teaching us that you can't really be strong without also being vulnerable. For being a wonderful mom, best friend, and aunt. I am so proud and honored to be your niece. You are ridiculously beautiful because you are so strong!!!

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