Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The End Of An Era



Wake 002

Janice Rhinehart Wheatcroft Rothenbush


Last month my aunt Jan died. I am still trying to wrap my brain around that. She was 95 years old and the matriarch of our little clan. For a month now I have been wanting to write a post, a tribute really, but somehow I couldn’t find the words. When I tried to write down what I felt in my heart the words seemed insufficient, almost trite. So instead, I think I will just tell you all a little about this amazing woman who was such an important part of my life.

Jan was my mother’s sister. The two were only a year and a half apart in age and incredibly close until my mother developed Alzheimer’s in the late 1980’s. She had four daughters almost one after another so we were all very close in age and grew up together. The Princess Park and Lynn Valley areas where our families lived were pretty much wilderness in the latter half of the 1950’s and early 60’s and in retrospect, I marvel at how Jan and my mother took the antics of 5 little girls all racing in different directions through the woods in stride.



Jan, Mable and Helen; aunt grandmother and mom


My uncle David, Jan’s husband, was a big strapping fireman that adored his little gaggle of girls. David built a cabin on a small patch of land on Gambier Island, off the coast of Vancouver, and our summers there were full of swimming, hiking and fishing derbies. Sadly he died of a heart attack very young leaving Jan to raise four young girls alone.

The call came while we were at the cabin on Gambier. I was about nine or ten years old at the time with one cousin a year older and 3 younger. I can’t imagine the shock, grief and fear that Jan must have experienced then, but she rallied, got a job, maintained her house, looked after her aging mother and raised her children.

Jan became an accomplished business woman, working for the Citizen Newspaper in North Vancouver for many years. She was also an amazing seamstress and continued to create beautiful clothes and home décor almost until she died. It was easy to forget then that she had begun her career as dancer. When she was young she danced at The Cave in Vancouver with Yvonne De Carlo.

Heartbreakingly we lost my cousin Nancy to a car accident in the mid 90’s and my cousin Sally lives in Europe, Susan in Sechelt, Jannie in North Van and I’m in Mexico so our little family is scattered now. But for Jan’s 80th birthday we came together for a week of fun. It began with dinner on the old Royal Hudson Steam train and a ride up the coast. The picture below is in the train station with Sally, Jan, myself and Susan.



Then we took the 80 year old Jan rock climbing along the river near Pemberton to watch the salmon spawing.


Hiking around the lake near Pemberton.


And she still had energy for laughs and cocktails late into the night in the basement suite Susan was building in one of her townhouses in Pemberton.



I went to Vancouver last month for the first time in 8 years for Jan’s wake. It was wonderful. The only thing missing was Jan herself. She would have loved it! Susan’s stepson Joel made a video of Jan’s life which looped continually throughout the wake. We all watched and remembered and laughed and cried.


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In a way she was with us

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Even at 95 Jan still found wonder and joy in life every day. She was an inspiration to me and I will miss her.


  1. So sorry to hear that you have lost the physical presence of someone special to you. She looks like she was a ton of fun.

    1. She really knew how to get the very most out of life Brenda. She was great fun.

  2. Bless your heart and hers, too. My very best friend is my soon-to-be 95 year old aunt. Intellect tells me I may well go before she does. Emotion tells me I am in store for major heartbreak one of these days. Reconciling emotion and intellect - as is often the case - is difficult to do.

    Thank you for sharing this. I understand. How blessed we are to have known and loved someone we miss this much. Still. So very, very hard.

    Hugs to you,


    1. Thank you Barbara. It is difficult but she, like my mother, will always be in my heart, not really gone.

  3. That was a lovely tribute to a woman who impacted your life and left you with such wonderful memories!

    1. Thank you, she did indeed impact my life in so many ways. I'm not sure that I even realized how much until she was gone.

  4. Shannon, what a treasure of memories you have to remind you of the love and joy of your aunt. How blessed you are! I'm sure in the future you will have little mental conversations with her and you'll realize she isn't gone, except physically, and just on another aplane waiting for you! Thinking of you.....

    1. I do have some wonderful memories Barbara, and I agree that the people we love always stay in our hearts so we don't completely lose them.