Monday, January 26, 2015

20th Anniversary of a Devastating Month

In 1995 I rejected January as the beginning of the new year.  I announced that I was beginning my year with the Chinese new year, in February.  I did that because the month of January was so devastating that I didn't want to include it in my life at all.  In January 1995 I lost three members of my family.  While none of the deaths was unexpected, their quick succession was overwhelming, and much of the rest of the year disappeared into a fog.  I think I'm ready to bring that month back, by commemorating the lives of those relatives.

Myra, Lillyan, Sarah
My mother, Myra Roslyn Meckler Sellers Preuss, died on January 2, 1995, at the age of 54.  She was on her second go-round with colon cancer, and we had known from the time of that second diagnosis that she would probably not survive.  All three of us children went to Florida for Thanksgiving to see her, but my brother was the only one still there when she passed away.

My mother had such a huge effect on my interest in family history.  I've written about how she and my grandmother used to tell me family stories when I was just a little girl and shared several of those stories on Mother's Day in 2011, 2012, and 2013.  It's a pretty safe bet that I wouldn't have become a genealogist without my mother's influence.

Sidney, Al
My grand-uncle Alexander Gordon died on January 9, 1995, at the age of 77, just one week after his niece.  He had had a severe stroke many years before that and had been in surprisingly good condition, all things considered.  But his health had been worsening, and when I received the news that he had passed away, it again did not come as a shock.

I didn't get to see my Uncle Al often, as we lived on opposite sides of the country, but he was always friendly and welcoming to us.  I heard only good stories about him from my mother and grandmother (his sister).  He seemed to be a genuinely nice person every time I saw him, and he maintained a cheerful outlook on life.

Betty, Bert, Catherine
My paternal grandfather, Bertram Lynn Sellers, Sr., died on January 23, 1995, at the age of approximately 92 (I still haven't found documentation of his birth!), two weeks after my uncle.  His health had been very good even past the age of 80.  But around 1991 he had a bad stroke and lost a lot of memory.  His health began to deteriorate slowly but steadily shortly after that.  I was able to visit him on the same Thanksgiving trip when I saw my mother.  Unfortunately, he no longer recognized anyone except the young woman, a relative of his wife, who came to the care facility every day and helped him with his physical therapy.

My grandfather was a pretty impressive guy.  His family was not well off, and he lost a leg at the age of 13.  But he went on to have three marriages and another significant relationship, father seven children, and work as a civil engineer for the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force.  His leg didn't slow him down; he even drove vehicles with stick shifts.  My first job, not counting babysitting, was working for him in his stamp shop.  I learned about stamps and coins, and also how to use hot lead to make rubber stamps.  I tell people that "old" doesn't start until 80 because that's when he began to slow down (a little).

Even now, twenty years later, it's difficult to think about how that January did a number on me.  But I'm glad I can share memories of my mother, uncle, and grandfather and celebrate their lives and the good memories I have of them.


  1. Janice,
    So sorry for your loss. What a hard way to start a year. It's good that you're now able to celebrate their lives.

    1. Thank you, Lisa. I was a little surprised when I realized how many years it had been. I'm happy to be able to focus more on good memories. - Janice

  2. I've been your friend for years, and I didn't know half the things you wrote about in this post; the rubber stamp thing, for example. Thank you for remembering all those wonderful people - and for being a person who honors and celebrates them with us.

    1. Thank you, Carol. When you do family history, it's natural to focus on learning information about your ancestors, but you're often told to record your own memories also. I'm trying to do more of that.


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