Tuesday, November 24, 2015


I've tried to write this post for two days now. And it won't come.

The words and emotions are tightly knotted inside me, unable to find their way to my fingers.

If anyone would understand writer's block, it would be her--reader and writer, English teacher extraordinaire.

My beloved Aunt Sally.

She had been suffering for a few weeks. Doctors thought it was a kidney infection and treated her accordingly. On Monday afternoon, they diagnosed her with leukemia and took her to LDS hospital in SLC. They told her she could try chemo and it might buy her a few months, but when she came down with pneumonia, they said she was too weak. Friday afternoon they sent her home on hospice, and she died Sunday around 7 pm, with her son on one side and her daughter on the other. It was crazy how quickly it all changed.

Aunt Sally died on Sunday evening. Can that be true?

I got to talk to her just a few hours before she died. Mom held the phone to her ear as I told her how I loved her and how much I will miss her. I heard her struggling to talk, "Love you, Jen."

I also asked her to hug my grandma for me. I hope she remembered that. What am I thinking? Of course she did. She never forgot. She remembered all of her nieces' and nephews' birthdays for years. She remembered our spouses and our children--her great-nieces and great-nephews. She even remembered my grandkids' names and to whom they belonged--her great-great-nieces and great-great-nephews.

It wasn't just her blood family that she always remembered. She always remembered everything about everyone. Friends growing up in St. George, UT. Friends who became family in Redlands, CA. Students who learned to trust her and love her in the classroom. Friends sitting next to her in church every Sunday. She remembered everyone. And she had the kindest heart of anyone I've ever known.

Everyone who knew her benefited from her most generous heart and loving spirit. She loved to give gifts--for birthdays and holidays, to be sure, but she brought gifts every time she came to visit. Small gifts and big gifts and surprise gifts. When I was a girl, I had given her my bedroom to use while she visited us in Idaho. I'm sure she brought my rolls and rolls of 135 film for my Kodak camera (we had the same camera, and she always made sure to supply me with film), which I kept stashed in the treasure section of my dresser's bottom drawer. When I climbed into my bed that first night after she left, I found an envelope under my pillow. Out dropped a $20 bill, and all of my siblings were jealous and begged to give their room to Aunt Sally next time she came to visit.

It was always exciting to have Aunt Sally visit, not only because she brought presents, but because she brought light and life and joy and fun. We would play games for hours, go out to eat, and talk. She always knew what to talk about with each person she loved. She would tell stories (we all heard about the shark attack as she would show us the gaping hole on her calf, only to hear her laugh and say she'd had a cancerous growth removed from that spot years earlier) and ask to hear us play the piano or see what we had been working on. With me, conversation changed from musicals and photography when I was a teenager to history and family when I was first married. Then, this past summer, we talked education--the pitfalls and problems and possible solutions. She was well read and always had good book recommendations for me (even introducing me and Brad to a great used bookstore in California when we visited her early in our marriage). She knew politics and world events and could defend her perspective in any discussion. She was brilliant. 

Aunt Sally loved God. After a long time away, she returned to the church when I was a teenager, and her commitment never wavered again. She attended the temple with my mom a month ago, and two important items on her to-do list were tithing settlement with her bishop and a final partaking of the sacrament in her home on the day she died.

I knew I was her favorite. I knew it and even told her so. Ironically, so did everyone else she met. She had a way of making you feel important and special and so, so loved. She was quick with hugs and kisses and intimate conversation. She was the best.

Wow. She was my favorite.

Aunt Sally was my favorite because . . . 

. . . as long as I can remember, my mom used to tell me how much I reminded her of her sister Sally. I don't know exactly what it was that connected us, and Mom would try to explain it to me. I know it wasn't the kindness or the generosity or my hair or eye color or her insatiable love of games. But it was something.

And I will try to treasure that piece of me that is somehow like her for the rest of my life.


  1. I've been reading your blog for quite some time but I never comment. Sorry for that. But I also want to say I'm sorry for your loss. Your heart must be broken but wow, such wonderful memories you have that will hopefully bring you peace as you heal.

  2. Oh Jen - so sorry for your loss. 2015 has been a year of loss for me, so I feel especially tender when I hear about a new one. Your aunt sounds a lot like my aunt that I help care for - she has been a very special force in my life. I know you'll miss her - I am missing my dad, especially at this time of year - but it cheers me up a little thinking of all the new adventures and learning they are experiencing. It will be a happy day when we see their faces again. The catch up will be epic! Love to you and your family.

  3. Thanks for this wonderful tribute to Sally. I love her dearly and will miss her like crazy for all of the reasons you stated. She is truly just that wonderful.

  4. What a beautiful post. I'm sorry for your loss. I have an aunt like this who I feel connected to. She is such an angel, the friendliest, most generous person I know.

  5. I am in Sally's ward up here in Orem and got to know her through our music calling. She was a true gem and one of the sweetest women. I use to tell my husband how much I loved so many of the older ladies and especially Sally. She always made me feel important and she always had a smile. She will be missed.

  6. Here's to Aunt Sally! I hope you will feel her spirit with you often. Somehow, I think you will. Hugs to you and the family. 💕

  7. I just found your blog as I was searching to see if Sally Olsen was on Facebook. I was saddened to see that the teacher responsible for making me a writer, a reporter and finally a professor of journalism, had died.

    I believe it was her first year of teaching (1967-68) at Del Vallejo Junior High in San Bernardino when I had her for language arts and student newspaper. I will never forget the cool story she told us about a haunted house she liven in while in college in Utah. The details are a bit foggy now but if her story is recorded or available anywhere I'd love to read it again.

    She was a tough critic, which I'm thankful for now. She was engaging and involved in each student. I absolutely loved her and am sorry I didn't get the chance to reconnect with her.

    Dona Nichols