Two nights ago, I finished reading When Breath Becomes Air, the story of Paul Kalanithi, a dying neurosurgeon and his quest for meaning through his profound love of neuroscience and literature. Three mornings ago, I also lost of one of the greatest human beings I’ve ever known and had the equal fortune of being loved by.
Paul’s story helped me to find the words to honor my aunt, and in his words, “In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.”
My Tia Ada, who was also my godmother and the only grandmother figure I’ve ever really, really known, passed away at the young age of 81. Though, I have definitely, definitely shed a torrent of tears, I am surprised by how peaceful I feel with her passing. Of course, the guilty part of me feels like it’s unnatural to be so… ok… and I can feel the tempting pull to join the chorus of the bereaved and declare that “the world just got a little bit darker…”
… but almost like a gymnast on a balance beam, I righten back up to my center, and I find that I really, truly, am GLAD for her… happy even… in awe of her new birth into the other side. My days don’t feel darker; they feel brighter!
Because I feel more connected to her than I’ve ever felt before.
Two nights before she passed, I was cooking dinner and listening to the Oldies station on my Pandora radio. Usually, the station plays a really nice diverse mix of songs. But that night, every other song was an Elvis song. My aunt LOVED Elvis. She had Elvis memorabilia all around her house, even had a Elvis wall clock that would play one of his songs at the top of the hour, every hour. When I realized Elvis’s familiar croon kept coming back, I knew it was a sign. She had been at the hospital in Dallas for a week at that point, and her kidneys were failing, was suffering with high fevers, and was no longer able to speak. Maybe she was already floating out in the abyss and came to let me know that her time was coming to an end.
You guys, she was the jolliest, loudest, wittiest, most loving soul I ever knew. I think I even learned how to laugh from her! When she laughed, she BURST like a starburst, showering everyone around her in contagious merriment.
GOD, I loved her. How my heart aches knowing I will miss her every day for the rest of my physical life.
Thank you, Paul Kalanithi, for living, for searching, and for writing your book. Because what I have learned is this: The way we view Death is how we, ultimately, live Life.
And my Tia Ada, that pistol-packin’ Texas girl… she definitely LIVED.