like a cup of hot tea

On Sunday, my aunt was killed in a car accident. The driver ran a red light at 76 mph through Chicago traffic and sideswiped my aunt. She was on her way back home from dropping off a gift. He stepped away with minor injuries, albeit in custody. My aunt was killed instantly on impact. Pictures and video of her car posted by local news outlets show her tiny outdated Honda severed in half, the inner workings of the car gutted and charred. The driver was high on PCP. It was approximately 4:45 in the afternoon. 

Losing someone you love is a tragically common experience. Couples break up, friends move away or move on. People die. Loving and losing are both weaved into our humanity. They exist together with such synchronicity that it can be hard to pull them apart; one cannot exist in this world without the other. When I allow myself some "big picture" perspective and try to look at myself from the outside, I believe that the awareness of this synchronicity at a young age has shaped me into who I am. I do not think the awareness of loss at a young age is uncommon. But it cannot be unlearned. Once we realize how fragile something is, we do not look at it the same. We are hyper aware of how easily it can break. We are hyper aware of how impossible it could be to fix. 

I am familiar with death. I attended my first funeral, that of a distant family member, before I was in grade school. I had schoolmates die through the entirety of my academic career. Friends of a similar age have fallen victim to drug overdoses, suicide, or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes a mixture of the above. People in my family have been taken by old age, sickness, and addiction. Their absence is harrowing and over time their memory becomes a ghost that quietly haunts the subconscious. Sometimes I have to do a mental "double take" and realize they are in fact gone. It can often not feel real. 

A few years back, my father died. There is much to be said about his passing and I am still in the process of trying to grieve and understand. I will probably exist in that process, in some way, for the rest of my life. I am hoping this blog will serve as a navigational tool. What I can say, and what you probably know to be true if you've lost this type of figure in your life, is that his passing was not a linear event. Not a singular experience to which I responded or reacted. It was not even a pebble in the lake; a dropped piece of stone that sinks while the ripples borne of its falling cascade out and hold space long after the pebble has hit the bottom of the water. His passing was a teabag; a bundle of herbs sunk into a hot mug. My father was an avid tea drinker and always had boxes of Lipton black tea at the ready. His death steeped heavy in my soul that was transformed into hot water by grief. I developed a murkier shade, a bitterness I had never tasted before. This steeping cannot be undone. Water cannot be extracted from the effects of the herbs. It can only take more in and become stronger, more potent. 

Now my beautiful aunt. Technically my great aunt, my grandmother's sister-in-law. Her brother, my grandfather, died of a heart attack in his mid-40's . He was the type of man who insisted on driving himself to the hospital, a demand that was met despite the protest from coworkers. It left my grandmother widowed, four kids fatherless, and my aunt without the only real family she had left. The loss of my grandfather is catalyst that I will talk about another time. His passing left my family a smaller unit, but one that has continued to show up with a special fierceness in times of need.

She started lying about her age young, as many women on her side of the family did. Even now the reports of her accident cannot report her age correctly -- some outlets list her age as 77, others 76, others 78. I hope wherever she is, this brings her a smirk and a feeling of accomplishment. Regardless the specifics of her age, she had more life to live. The women in my family are blessed with long lives even when they don't take good enough care of themselves to merit it. She was interesting, beautiful, stylish, and kind. Present at every important event and family party. She was always a calming, quirky presence. Always filled with so much love. I will never forget the way she cried for me at my father's funeral. My aunt never liked my father much and I can't blame her. The first impression he made was that of a deadbeat musician who got my mother pregnant. But on the walk out of the church, as I descended from the front pew down the middle aisle, I passed the section where my members of my mom's side had congregated. There were so many tears I thought we might flood the building. Her heart broke for me in a way that I hadn't seen before. But I know she'd had this heartbreak before. When she attended her brother's funeral so many years ago, she watched my mom and her siblings mourn the death of their father. She looked at me with a poignant, genuine empathy as I'm sure she did for them. It was a moment I will never forget. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to tell her this while she was alive.

As my family is beginning to fully realize this insurmountable loss, we are talking about opportunity. There are so many limitations on how we can celebrate her life and so many opportunities we will never have again now that she is gone. The pain of this tragedy happening amidst the global pandemic is only amplified by the fact that we cannot hold each other, or cry into each others arms, or safely have more than ten people at her outdoor service. We will follow these guidelines because it is the safe and smart thing to do. There is no denying that. But I also find it important to allow ourselves grieve missed opportunities if we feel the need to do so. These can be things, places, or people with whom we won't have another chance. A sentiment that is ringing through my family in light of the accident has been simply, "do it." If you want to say it, say it. If you want to try it, try it. If you want to go, go. But just do it. Because we do know how much time we have with this one life to live. I understand how much privilege comes with that statement. I am a woman in my late 20's with mental illness who doesn't make a lot of money. But I still aspire to make that mindset true in my own life, however I am able. 

Grief is not a place that stays habitable long-term. I want it to move through me like water -- a ripple rather than a steep. I want to exist in a place built on memories and love. A home built through fragility realized and opportunities taken.