I thought I heard someone coming down the hallway until I paused and realized it was my own heart beat pounding inside my chest. With every thump I perceived the image of what my brain believed before my body could understand no one is walking down that hallway. It’s just me.
That part about humans intrigues me- it always has. The fact that we can be so mechanical and symptomatic, yet we don’t always read the signs right away or even right at all.
It sparked something inside me and gave me a new perspective I want to share with my readers.
Our bodies belong to us, yet can sometimes feel like a dungeon or small hell hole because there is no magic switch to change bodies or transform you into a superhuman.
The only way I could possibly understand what is going on inside is by pausing, and jumping on a deep breathe (inside my mind) that I follow down my throat, deep in my lungs and into my bloodstream.
I imagine passing by each organ, gently vibrating on the ones that need love and tend to the others like a garden, rinsing and watering toxins with each breathe.
This is how I cleanse my body from the inside out- with my imagination…you know that thing we used to use on the daily when we were kids…that thing can be more powerful than you could ever imagine.
Getting back in tune with my imagination is something I had to relearn during my spinal fusion surgery recovery and I want to share a story with you guys about how I got to that point of mental, emotional + physical healing by digging deep within.
Meet Aunty Rosa
Today would have been my aunts 50th birthday if she were still here.
If she were here on earth, I think she’d be sitting on a beach somewhere sipping the sweetest + strongest drink she could get her hands on. She probably rub raw baby oil on her tan skin and insist “that’s how us Cali girls get our tans” and would joke about how she is finally over the hill but doesn’t look like it….not to mention it’s a Saturday and weed is legal here ✌? we’d be besties.
But in reality…She wouldn’t slow down, she wouldn’t hit pause, she wouldn’t look in the mirror and look at her life from a different perspective. She dug her heels deep into her beliefs and wasn’t open to changing into what the world wanted her to be. She felt judged and different and wasn’t scared to be on her own. She pushed people away while she pulled other people close. And to those few I am grateful. ? thinking of my aunt today and all her death has taught me.
How perspective has proven to be an essential tool in my arsenal of life-skills. How proud I am to have been her only niece and how scared I was to admit how alike I was to her..how alike I AM. I think that today if she were alive she would be happy and free. She would be schooling me on all the mistakes I have made + show me the way to a happiness beyond myself.
I’m still not even clear honestly on how she passed because some dots just don’t connect for me in the bigger picture but the reality of her being gone keeps my focus on the things I can learn from her vs. all the things in her life I can use against her.
In all honesty…she was a recovering alcoholic battling mental health issues, probably bi-polar disorder, as it runs on the female side of my family (go-figure). She held the role of a single mother, a pariah and dedicated worker. She figured shit out on her own terms unapologetically while never really figuring out anything.
That last part sticks for me…she never figured it out…
What did she miss? What wasn’t she doing that she could have to save herself from the downward spiral she went on? I found myself thinking about that so much that it effected me. It felt like a burden I would carry for the rest of my life. A secret key to her life I could only find if I went on my own healing journey.
That year she died in her smokey one bedroom apartment laying on her back untouched by the fire other than a few singed hairs from the heat. She looked asleep and for whatever reason did not make it out before the smoke got to her.
I remember that morning. I was living on the east coast with my husband working for a small publishing company. I was editing a photo of a bird and I was totally in the zone, totally unaware.
My phone vibrated with a text message from my mom that read something along the lines of “I don’t know what’s going on but aunty rosas apartment is on fire and no one has seen her”.
Guys it felt like my heart exploded in my chest. It seeped into every crevice of my soul and it stayed there. I knew instantly- she had to be in there and there was no possible way she could survive what I was already googling at my fingertips.
I can’t describe how helpless I felt sitting in that New Jersey office staring at the screen that spoke louder to my consciousness and screamed “she’s fucking in there!”. There wasn’t a fire department I didn’t call or a friend I didn’t reach out to. In that moment I had wished I was home. I had wished I could undo my own life just so I could be in California a day or two previous and save her.
How? How can something that happened to someone else make me totally destroy my own existence in a matter of seconds? I couldn’t possibly do anything other than I already had.
You see, we had a falling out and she had cut everyone off from the family and moved a few cities away. Meanwhile, I got pregnant, married my husband and moved away. I started my own life and felt like that drama had no longer applied to me so I reached out to her to mend what was left.
That phone call was all tears. And if you knew my aunt you know she cries when she’s happy. She cried when my cousin got his drivers license, she cried on our graduation and I remember she cried on our first day of college. She cried out of joy which can tell you she was a really emotional person.
We’d get to the beach and set up camp near a life guard tower we’d remember because she wasn’t at the beach to play with the kids. She’d set up her chair, slap some fresh baby oil on her already perfectly tanned skin, toss a towel over her face and zone out to TLC as she tapped her red finger nails to “don’t go chasing waterfalls”.
We’d play in the water for hours, always looking up to make sure we hadn’t drifted too far from the life guard tower. Trust me…you didn’t want to be the one that got “lost” or you would hear about it the entire drive back.
Those are my memories of her- at least the good ones. Those are the times I believe she must have been happy. She must have felt the most like herself. Fast forward 15 years, what happened?
I have speculated for the last 3 years that her death was a suicide. Maybe she didn’t want to make it out. Maybe she was done. Maybe she had a really bad fucking day.
That year she died my life changed. I got sick. Then I scheduled my spinal fusion. I found out I was pregnant and then I was given the choice of what to do next…
If there was ever a time in my life to need my aunt, this was it. I had to make a really hard decision that year. To terminate my 4 week pregnancy and have an immediate 3 level spinal fusion with 2 disc implants in my lumbar right where that baby had just been.
Initially, I thought- God is trying to tell me something I couldn’t understand. I fought with it and struggled to be okay with my choice to choose the quality of my life over the creation of a new one. I went to therapy, I turned to my pain medication to numb pain only my emotions could heal. I got lost in what my life was supposed to look like vs. what is actually was and I had a realization. I am following in her path and I need to make a pivot.
I can‘ tell you the exact moment I had that realization but I know that I have always felt like her daughter in one way or another. A few conversations deep with my therapist gave me the epiphany that maybe she struggled with what I struggle with. Maybe she feels like me on the inside and maybe she didn’t know how to cope with the mountains of emotion + energy she’d absorb over the years.
So I turned inward. Over the last year I would pick a memory of her and dissect it. Try to remember why she ruined Christmas or always had to talk shit out the side of her neck when something didn’t go her way. I tried to have perspective.
I can tell you- it was like all broken pieces of my heart that had melted deep into my soul had started to mend back together. With each scenario I played through, I’d put myself in her shoes and try to understand, “what could she have been feeling or not feeling?”
The only thing I could think of was serenity. She couldn’t get a handle on that part.
You know that prayer mantra- “The Serenity Prayer”…”God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
I wondered if maybe she had given up on all the rest and just focused on the serene part. She threw away her courage to change, she lacked wisdom to accept the differences. She wanted the serenity more than anything and I can totally resonate with that.
I’ve never had this conversation with my spouse, but I wrote it in my Life Book, my second pregnancy and first child loss, I’d name her Serenity and recognize her as a person and not just a moment in my life I had to make a choice or an embryo that got lucky.
The moment I became aware was the moment my eyes opened to all that had fallen into the gray area. I detoxed from my pain meds, I focused on my health and I started to process each emotion on a real level. I’d welcome sadness with a hello and see where it was wanting to go, and then I’d kindly walk it out the same door and name it kindness.
Over a year of repetitive interpretation of what I was feeling, I was able to recognize the sources of my pain and heal them.
The one thing wish, is that I could have been able to teach this imaginative life-skill to my aunt, because I think it could have worked for her.
On another note, what did work for her was reaching out to people that understood her. Tuning out those that wished ill and giving her heart to those that saw the good in her.
I never got to say thank you. But if I could…I would thank her boyfriend at that time. I met him at the funeral with a handshake and sat near him while her children spoke of her and I just starred at him. I never knew him before that day but I knew one thing…he had come back into her life after many years and she had found a piece of herself I hadn’t seen in a long time. I truly feel that those last tears I heard on the phone with her weren’t only because she was so happy to hear my voice. The more I look at it, her heart was full and she had only one way to express that- by truly being overcome and filled to the point of tears and laughter.
I am so fucking grateful to have the wisdom to know the difference and the perspective to share what I’ve learned by walking in someone else’s shoes. Even if its only for a memory.
I found out 2 years after she died that I was pregnant again, unexpectedly in one of the worst years of my marriage. It was the most painful and complicated pregnancy, but the birth came almost as fast as my aunt went. I held her in my arms and cried tears of joy, I remember gasping for air as if she took my breathe away.
I named her Charly Rae.
We went back and forth a lot on the names. My aunts name was Rosemary but Charly Rose sounded more like a porn-star. I settled on Rae as in “a ray of sunshine” and decided to honor the spelling of her name after my aunts boyfriend, Charly. Who I am forever grateful to for coming back into her life and allowing her to die as herself. Helping her feel and process emotions and love that would make her feel the serenity and thrill she had been seeking her whole life as she’d ride on the back of his Harley.
I am grateful that he had the compassion within to reconnect with her and allow her to be herself. I strive for that connection everyday and am trying to merge that into my marriage. Where we see each other for who we were and not what we have become…
I definitely think about her every day. Any time I have a bad thought I think of how her death has effected my family and I go the other way.
I wish she were here to meet my children and I wish we hadn’t been fighting so she could have attended my wedding. But a wish is a wish.
The reality is that I have to and every moment to look forward to and my intention is to fill it with the people and emotions that I love.
Remembering my aunt for all that she was and all that she dreamed of being today.
With all that being said- if you love someone- fucking tell them!