|Jan and me at my 40th b-day party|
My aunt and dear friend Jan Murray passed away today after a long battle with cancer. I took the time a couple of weeks ago to write a love letter to her:
We’ve shared a lot of beautiful memories of good times together.
My absolute favourite story you’ve ever told is the occasion in the mid-1970s when you were living in Guelph while attending university. We also lived in Guelph, where my mom and dad met and eventually married in 1967. In 1972, the year I was born, our family moved into a home on Eleanor Court in the city’s north end. You must’ve started at University of Guelph probably in 1973 or 1974, although you were living elsewhere in town. But you visited us often on Eleanor Court.
One day, my mom Dianne, your eldest sister, had driven you back to your student apartment (I think somewhere near Water and Gordon Streets?) after one such visit to our home. Mom brought two or three-year-old me along for the ride and I was buckled up tightly into a kid’s chair in the backseat. If I was three, it would’ve been 1975.
Now as we know, you and my mom could talk. You had long, beautiful conversations your whole lives. And that day was no different. Mom’s car pulled up to drop you off at your student apartment, but of course there was still more to talk about. So you both kept on talking about whatever was on your minds that afternoon. I was no doubt unhappy about being tied to a chair and stuck in the backseat. I’m not sure what time of year it was, so no telling if it was a warm Guelph day. But as you can imagine, three-year-old me was getting impatient.
I must’ve finally deduced that the delay I was experiencing getting out of this baby seat was due to the fact that Mom and you were still talking in the front seat. And that relief would only come for me after you finally got out of the car so we could drive back home and I could be released from this bondage.
So little three-year-old me blurted out, “Jan, get out.”
You told me you and Dianne looked back at me and then broke into uproarious laughter. No doubt, my protestation probably brought the adult conversation that afternoon to a swift end and you took your exit to resume another week of studies. Mom drove me home and released me from the backseat.
Jan, you told this hilarious story again and again over the decades. Every time I introduced you to new people in my life, or you introduced me to people in your life, you mentioned this hilarious story about the impatient toddler who told you to “Get out” of the car. And I loved each and every time you told it.
But you didn’t really get out of the car, did you? You stuck around, metaphorically speaking of course, and my life and the lives of our whole family, the lives of everyone you ever met, were enriched and made more beautiful because of you.
Jan, when I think of you, I think of:
Joie de vivre
An open heart
You embraced the most cosmopolitan of lives in Toronto as an adult. When I was a teenager, I always looked up to you and was inspired by the example you gave. You often mentioned your “gay buddies” as early as the 1980s. Your presence and your example gave me hope as a closeted teen. It showed me a way forward in the family, that a happy life could be possible. You were talking about gay people living happy lives whom you called “friends”. That meant so much to me in those days.
Over the years, you became a dear friend, a confidant, someone I knew had my back and would always listen. I have tried to be that friend and confidant back for you. We’ve shared so many glasses of wine or delicious meals together. Maybe too much wine on occasion, but who cares? We were having fun! We’ve sat through so many amazing movies or had so many great conversations about the world we’re living in.
You joined our family for every holiday event you could attend. We’d often meet up in downtown Toronto or in Mississauga and you’d give me a drive to Guelph or Cambridge. Sometimes I’d pay for the gas, sometimes I’d pay with a bottle of wine we’d enjoy at the festivities, but often you simply accepted no payment. You were so generous and loving. You became a staple of my life and of our family. You made our world bigger than it was because of all you brought to the table.
I related to your struggles in life, as I shared them. Even though we are of different generations, we came from the same family and were facing the same challenges of modern times. We had each other to turn to. Thank you for all the listening and advice you’ve given me. I hope I’ve been able to give you a modicum of what you have given me.
There are too many memories and occasions to count that brought such joy. Some that stand out as I write this:
Your absolutely adorable crush on Chris Pratt. The way you swooned when you first laid eyes on that hunky actor in Guardians of the Galaxy brought such a smile to my face and everyone else in the room at the time. Yes, you have very good taste in men. It was so much fun watching you swoon again when we watched Chris Pratt in Jurassic World in Montreal last year.
I also remember the relaxing drinks we enjoyed at the open window bistro in old Montreal this past June.
The time you insisted I read out loud my entire first screenplay for you.
The time we went off to New York state to attend the wedding shower for a gay buddy of yours marrying an American. We enjoyed the house party, but nothing was more entertaining than the karaoke performances we saw later that night at the bar next to our hotel. We didn’t sing ourselves because we understand the limitations of our talents, unlike most of the folks who got behind the microphone that night. But man, some of those folks were awesome to watch.
There are too many memories to count. I cherish them all.
Every room you entered was made brighter, more fun and more full of love because you arrived.
Yes, I am very glad that you “didn’t get out of the car” after all. You stayed with us and changed all of our lives.