The Bitter-Sweet Beginning of a Big Adventure

A week ago yesterday, I watched my aunt die. 

I visited her the previous day, after she was officially diagnosed with acute leukemia. She was to begin chemo therapy immediately. After 14 days of treatment, she had a 50 percent chance of remission. She didn’t make it through the night before her heart stopped.

She was resuscitated and by 10:00 a.m. or so her entire family was gathered around her. Most had only learned she was sick the day before. Fewer had the chance to visit her. In a conference room, her husband, daughters, siblings, nieces and nephew (me) were told by experts that she was already gone. They recommended she be disconnected from life support. 

Sometime around noon we saw her go, before they could even detach her breathing tube. We hugged her, whispered goodbyes in her ear, embraced each other. I cried more in a day than I can ever remember. It was a hideous turn of events, she was dealt the bottom card. 

The silver lining of beauty was that she was surrounded by people who loved her, more than could fit in the room at one time. She earned that love.

I was supposed to leave for my two month adventure in South America four days ago. I quickly changed my flight to make the services. 

The death of my aunt was unfair in so many ways. She was the heart and soul of our family. She was the primary care-giver for my 90-year-old grandmother. She had two daughters who were her best friends. She had two grandkids that worshipped her – 4 and 6 years old – who were cheated of growing up with her. She was only 65 – she had decades left to live. She was an integral piece of the company my dad runs – he lost a business partner, a sister and a best friend he got to see every day. Even if she had only lived the 14 days, everyone could have had said goodbye.

As a close friend recently observed, a buddhist nonetheless, “Karma is bullshit.” And it is. If you knew my aunt, she was the last person in the world who deserved this. 

But as I reflect, in-transit to my first destination, I know what I can do that would make her proud. 

I’m going to sculpt the world with her vision. I’m going to nurture the weak, find the best in every person I meet, and speak against what I know is wrong. I’m going to laugh a lot. I’m going to drink and eat well. I’m going to read more books.

I am never going to skip a chance to visit with the people I care about and make sure they know I love them. I was lucky to have that last day with my aunt, to squeeze her and say “I love you,” but I won’t always be so fortunate.

I will never again take life for granted. It doesn’t matter what kind of life you choose to live – you could be gone tomorrow. I plan on living with this terrifying reality in mind. Life is too short and too uncertain to be wasted with what doesn’t make you happy.

As I embark today with a cautious but defiant spirit, I carry a weight I didn’t expect when I bought my tickets. I am going to take risks and focus on myself for a little while, but my number one priority is to make it home safe. There is no ego in valuing how much you mean to other people, and I’m lucky to have friends and family who remind of that.

-Sept. 22, 2013  6:54 a.m.  Ft. Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport

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