JASNA Fun & Family Woes, by Sharon Lathan

JASNA Fun & Family Woes, by Sharon Lathan

In three days I will be fully enmeshed in the super-duper fun-o-rama happening at the JASNA Annual General Meeting (AGM) in Louisville. I am SO excited about the conference, and as a member of the Louisville JASNA region and on the committee, have been helping to plan it for over a year now. Thus, only something major could dampen my spirits. Alas, that something major occurred last week, and I am fighting to renew my enthusiasm. In a weird twist of fate, the bizarre but all too common ups and downs of life — which everyone experiences at various times — has hit me hard this month just as it did exactly two years ago. As a result, I feel the need to get serious AND lighthearted within the same blog. So strap on your safety belt, and join me on the roller coaster ride!

Backing up a few decades, here is a bit of relevant personal history with a life lesson attached. My parents divorced when I was a toddler. My wonderful father, Ed, is Mississippi born and bred, a Southern man to his toes with generations of deep bayou in his blood and DNA. I never faulted him for saying goodbye to California and leaving my sister and I safely with our mom and step-dad. It was the best decision for him to make, and considering how the pieces of our lives fell into place as a result, who am I to argue with fate? As the years passed, my dad was always there for me. He visited often, was involved in every major event in my life (graduations, wedding, etc.), called on the phone, wrote letters, and his love was deeply sensed from afar. I never felt any lack… except for when it came to my enormous Southern family. And I mean ENORMOUS! Until I was 40, the many relatives living half a country away were mere names to me, and since that was simply the way of it, I never realized what I was missing. That changed when my father’s brother Bobby died in 2006. He was my uncle, yet I could only feel sadness for my dad. The personal sense of loss was non-existent since I had never met this man my father spoke so lovingly about. Like the lightbulb clicking on, I suddenly saw clearly what I was missing out on. That was when my sister and I said enough was enough! We planned a road trip, and finally visited my birthplace in 2008. We visited the places firmly entrenched in our familial history, looked through all the photo albums to attach faces to the endless stories, and met the surviving relatives. It was utterly fantastic!

Since then we visited a dozen times, brought all our kids with us to also meet the extended family, and now I live about 10 hours away from my dad so can visit more often. Tragically, I far too soon learned that with opening my heart to new kin comes the grief I didn’t experience when my Uncle Bobby passed away.

Two years ago, a week before leaving for the JASNA AGM in Minneapolis, my cousin Renee was diagnosed with cancer. We all knew it was bad, but no one thought it was so bad that I had to miss the AGM. We were wrong. Renee died on the first morning of the conference. Somehow I managed to get through the conference, and yes, did have loads of fun. Yet it was fun dampened by the grief I felt personally, but worst of all the grief I felt for Renee’s brother Don (also a dearly loved cousin) who not only lost one sister but another sister (not related to me directly) on the same day! And, that day was his birthday! Oh yes, this is tragedy compounded tenfold.

As rough as that period was, I recognized and was thankful for the blessing in having spent time with Renee. I could grieve, honestly, because I knew her. Perhaps not for a long time, or as closely as more time would have allowed, but better than not at all. Additionally, the awareness of just how precious it was to have been counted Renee’s friend led me to strengthen my relationship with others in my family, especially my cousin Don, his wife Leslie, and Renee’s mom, my Aunt Joyce.

Me with my aunts Yogi (L) and Joyce (middle) in 2010.

My Aunt Joyce.

Oh, how I love that woman! The first time I met my dad’s youngest sister (and only living sibling) was when my sister and I made that road trip in 2008. Joyce was living in Pensacola at the time, which by another weird twist is where my brother and his family live. Never knew! My brother is from my mom’s second marriage, so no blood relation to my Southern kin. Except that such piddling trifles mean nothing to Southern folk! Gary was our brother, so that made him, and his wife and daughter, kinfolk too! That trip wasn’t the first family gathering that included them, and I know it won’t be the last.

Sharon and dad, Ed Hudson, on funeral day.

Later that same year my aunt moved in with my dad in Pascagoula. It was an arrangement that worked well all the way around. Auntie had her health issues, but was in better condition than my dad, so assumed the caregiver role within the new household. None of us, including my dad, expected she would leave this earth first.

Last week that changed. Within hours after the initial complaints of heart pains, my wonderful aunt passed away. It was one day before the date that her daughter Renee died two years prior. My cousin Don’s birthday, again. And one week before the 2015 AGM. If I believed in curses I might swear off ever registering for another JASNA conference.

Far too soon our family rushed together to grieve and remember an outstanding woman. The phrase “has a heart of gold” is perfectly apropos for my Aunt Joyce. In our lives we encounter those rare individuals who instantly draw you inside, opening their hearts in such a way that it is barely noticeable. As if you have always been a dearly loved part of their life and on intimate terms forever. Such was my Aunt Joyce. There was no “getting-to-know” her, no question of acceptance and love, no hesitation. Not even for this Yankee! She was my “auntie” from minute-one. To say she will be missed is the greatest understatement of the century. My best comfort is in knowing of her faith, and therefore knowing I will someday be blessed to sit beside her in heaven, drinking coffee while she tells me more of her childhood antics with my dad.

I don’t believe in curses or jinxed dates, so while my heart remains very, very heavy, I am gradually regaining my excitement for the AGM. It helps that my sister and niece are now with my dad. He is 80 and one incredibly strong man, but incapable of fending for himself entirely. We all foresee adjustments ahead, and our amazing family has come together in support and assistance for the patriarch of the Hudson family. Without that assurance, I would be unable to set my worries aside for the thrill of conference fun.


Louisville, here we come!

Despite my sadness, I can’t contain my happiness to be a part of this year’s JASNA AGM. Since I moved to Kentucky two years ago, I have anticipated this event. The blessing of living a stone throw from the hosting city, and thus being able to join the Greater Louisville JASNA region and commit to the planning in any way I could, has been an enormous joy. Now the day is upon us. Yippee!!

Austen Authors coming to Louisville are: Sharon LathanElizabeth Ann West, Melanie Schertz, Sarah Price, Rose Fairbanks, and Regina Jeffers. We are gonna PAR-TAY! My girly-pals will cheer me up, I’m sure of it. Plus we will be hanging out with other fabulous writers and lovers of Jane Austen. How could that not be tremendous?

If anyone reading this is coming to the AGM, be sure to look for us!

We will be wearing buttons with our badge and have a special something for everyone we meet. Cool gifts and a fun game for prizes! Whoot!

For those of you not able to come, keep your eye on the Austen Author Facebook page for updates and photos. The 6 of us will do our best to keep the social media frenzy going!
Watch Twitter for #AuAuAGM2015

Bring on the fun…. I sure do need it.

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Sheila L. M.
Sheila L. M.
October 9, 2015 4:16 PM

My mother, too, is from Mississippi and her family is now spread all over the deep south. I have an uncle-by-marriage in Pensacola who keeps in touch via e-mail. But we did visit often when we were young and even once in awhile after adulthood and marriage and children took up our time. I am sorry to hear of the deaths in your family. And I know how I mourn the fact that I can’t attend every funeral what with the distances and other circumstances of life coming into play. I won’t be at the AGM but am thinking of everyone. Have fun.

Diana Oaks
October 6, 2015 12:11 PM

Oh, heartbreak – that truly is a roller coaster series of events. This is the hard part of knowing and loving, isn’t it? I have great faith that when our loved ones pass on, they are at peace and that they do watch over us. They would definitely want to you live your life to the fullest and let the sorrow mellow into joyful memories of the time you did have together. I’m so glad you’re not letting the pain of loss prevent you from enjoying this long-anticipated AGM. I wish I could be in two places at once, and join you all there. I too am looking forward to your pictures and stories of good times. I’m hoping to make it in 2016!

October 6, 2015 4:44 AM

It is a blessing that you have such a wonderful family and that you got to know them. It is very heartwarming. I am so sorry for your losses but happy that you had /have such wonderful people in your life.Have a wonderful time at AGM. Wish I could join you. Such a joyous event!

October 5, 2015 6:53 PM

I am so sorry for your loss. I hope you can enjoy AGM and I look forward to your updates!

October 5, 2015 6:16 PM

I’m so sorry for your losses Sharon! Your family will be in my thoughts and prayers. I’m sad that I can’t join in the festivities at AGM (especially since it’s so close to where I am in southern Ohio) but I have other things going on that week.

You are not alone in having multiple bad/sad things happen around a family member’s birthday either – my maternal grandmother’s birthday has had family illnesses requiring ICU stays in 2003 ( grandpa – her husband), 2004 (my dad – her son-in-law). Also 2004 my brother was unhurt but in a car wreck on his way to school that same morning. 2006 regular hospital stay for my dad. And day before her birthday in 2010 my mom (her daughter) lost her battle with leukemia

I know you’re still mourning your loss but sometimes doing something out of the norm like a conference helps you to re-group. I attended my first neonatal nurse (ANN) conference in Savannah in 2010 after dad and mom had passed away that summer. It was a good opportunity to learn things about the job I love, spend time with some of my amazing friends/co-workers, and escape the cycle of grief I had started to fall into. I still miss my parents deeply but know that they would want me to be happy and I’m sure your aunt and cousins feel the same for you. I hope you have a wonderful time at the AGM!

Melanie Schertz
October 5, 2015 4:32 PM

Let the party begin Wednesday. Louisville will never be the same.

Jennifer Redlarczyk
Jennifer Redlarczyk
October 5, 2015 3:35 PM

I too am sorry for all of your loses, Sharon. I’m happy to hear that you have been able to connect with your family which is so important. As for AGM, I was tempted to come since I only live about 5 hours away. However, we are driving back to Indiana from 8 days in Wis. Dells for a church event that always takes place this time of year. I thought it would be fun to meet everyone and represent Brenda’s forum as a moderator. Of course, getting my DH to dress in Regency for the ball and take the lessons would have been a monument in itself. My mom was born in Monticello and I’ve heard so much about her youth in Kentucky, though I have never been. Nevertheless, I shall be with all of you in spirit. enjoy! Jen Red

Jennifer Redlarczyk
Jennifer Redlarczyk
October 6, 2015 8:25 AM

PS We hope that all of you will post pictures and tell tales of your Louisville Adventures. Then it will seem like we were there too. Have a great JAFF week. Jen

October 5, 2015 1:11 PM

I’m so very sorry to hear of your loss, Sharon. What a wonderful tribute you’ve written to your Aunt, though, in letting us all have a glimpse of what a special, amazing woman she was! Prayers to your family and to you, and I hope you have a wonderful, uplifting time at AGM, just as your Aunt Joyce would surely want.

October 5, 2015 12:57 PM

So many losses…I am very sorry. Just
thinking of being surrounded by the “family” of Janeites is – I know from
experience – a true and happy consolation.

Stephanie L
October 5, 2015 12:43 PM

So very very very sorry. I have one of those families…splintered and spread out and a good deal of them unknown to me for reasons outside of my control. I am so thrilled you got to have those relationships even though there is additional heartbreak. Praying for peace and joy for your entire family, it really does help to know that they knew where they were going doesn’t it?

I desperately wanted to go to this AGM (especially so I could see you!) but couldn’t afford it no matter how I tried. Have a fabulous time!!

October 5, 2015 10:32 AM

Goodness but life throws us curve balls! It is the lows that make the highs so much more amazing and I know I am grateful for lows, as bad as they seem at the time. Without them I couldn’t appreciate the wonders that is family. Both the family I’m born to and the family I choose.

JASNA is one of those families – so enjoy the highs with them all at the AGM. There is nothing like a week with the girls to reaffirm the joy of life.

To all the authors, fans and folk, have a marvelous time. One day I may even get to join you


Brenda Webb
Brenda Webb
October 5, 2015 10:04 AM

What a blessing that you got to know your aunt and your father’s family before they began to pass away. And to know that they are with God is another blessing altogether. You have been in my prayers, Sharon, and I intend to keep all of you and the other who will attend the AGM in my prayers for a safe journey there and back. Have fun for all of us who cannot attend!

Joana Starnes
October 5, 2015 8:41 AM

So sorry to hear about you losing so many loved ones, Sharon! But it must have been such a blessing that they were part of your life at all, even if for much less time than they should have been.

I’m glad to hear you don’t believe in jinxes or curses, and I hope the JASNA event will be a wonderful time for you and everyone else who’s going. I so wish I could!!! But it’s my turn now to live vicariously through my friends, so bring on the FB posts, the tweets and the photos!!

October 5, 2015 8:40 AM

I am so sorry for your loss. Maybe being at the AGM will help in the healing process.

Debbie Fortin
October 5, 2015 6:18 AM

I am so sorry for your losses. We received the phone call that my father-in-law dies 6:15 am on our Wedding Anniversary. He as in rehab and we were with my mother-in-law. My grandmother and mother-in -law dies within 2 weeks of each other (I loved both deeply). We go on. It is in our nature as humans, but there is always a hole left. I wish I could be at the AGM, but perhaps next year, I am sorry for your loss, but enjoy.

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