Joan Iris Worthman died yesterday, and I miss her.

“Hello, Aunty J.”

“Hello, Nephew Gregory”

That’s how all our phone calls began, and the memory brings a smile to my face.

Anytime I had a long drive, I could give her a ring and pass the time chatting about life, family, philosophy, TV, movies, her latest roommate, our role in the universe, and everything in between.


Joan Iris Worthman - Artist
Aunt Joan plays with bubbles

Aunt Joan was a being of light and love.

Born and raised in Brighton, NY, along with her sister (my mom), Aunt Joan was a macrobiotic chef who opened the first vegetarian restaurant in New York City in the 1960s. The biz didn’t make it, but that just means she was a woman ahead of her time.

She spent years studying the teachings of George Gurdjieff, whose work helps people on the path to self-knowledge. This deeply influenced her thoughts on the nature of existence and enlightenment … two concepts we connected deeply about.

As for our relationship, Aunt Joan bopped in and out of my life until around eight years ago, when she moved into a hospital’s long-term care unit. That’s when we really grew close – through lots of phone calls and some occasional visits. 

Joan had an amazing memory and often shared stories of her and my mom as kids. My biggest takeaway is how much she loved her little sister.

During my visits to NYC, mom often came to the hospital with me. This was my favorite! The two of them would make each other laugh the entire time. When Joan shared stories, my mom would either blush or learn something new about her own past. Either way, it was fun to watch … especially when the sisters got reeeaaally silly.

Of course, I also loved going to visit Joan by myself. We could sit for hours talking, looking at photos, and passing the day away.


Celebrating Joan’s Birthday in 2013 with my mom


Great Aunt Joan

When my son was two, we visited NYC. Aunt Joan was beyond excited. 

No pressure, right? Just put a kid in a hospital room with someone he barely knows and hope that they become best friends. Good thing he had toys.

Upon arriving, we could tell that Bodhi was feeling timid and needed something to do. So, we gave him a few action figures, which slowly made their way over to the edge of Joan’s bed. That’s when everything changed. 

Much to Bodhi’s delight, his Great Aunt picked up a few of the action figures and began playing with them. She asked Bodhi questions about their backstory β€” and went along with whatever his imagination created. She bopped the toys from side to side, making funny sounds as they moved.

Within minutes, Bodhi was sitting on the mattress with Joan, playing and connecting with his silly aunt. To this day, Bodhi still fondly tells the story any time we talk about Joan. I hope it sticks with him forever β€” I know it will for me.




Aunt Joan was a wonderful artist

While living behind the institutional walls of the hospital, she found inspiration in the things closest to her. Using the styrofoam plates and cups that came with meals, she painted cityscapes, flowers, patterns, and all sorts of other beautiful works of art.

I’ll always cherish the day that she and I had a photo session, as she proudly showed off her creations.


Joan Iris Worthman - Artist
This is my favorite Aunt Joan creation – it combines the street outside her hospital window with the NYC skyline and the smokestacks that represent where my mom lives today

Joan Iris Worthman - Artist

Joan Iris Worthman - Artist


The final memory I’ll share is my favorite.

In 2014, my wife surprised Aunt Joan with bubbles across her hospital bed. The joy on Joan’s face was that of pure joy and wonder. She was a kid again, enraptured in a world of pure innocence. I can still replay the entire scene in my head – complete with the sound of Joan’s laugh.

For your moment of zen, here’s a video of Joan and her bubbles.