She was small, graceful and resilient. Her eyes exhausted from treatment but glimmered with hope. Her voice was gentle, a mere whisper that lured you forward to catch the sweet words instead of becoming an imposition by asking her to repeat herself. Her skin was rich gold, like the Ancients of her ancestry. She carried the lineage of strength, honor and courage proudly and defiantly. When she looked at you with her almond colored eyes, she looked through you- down to your soul. She had that unique indicator that could sense when you were having a not so good day. “Tell me what’s wrong,” she often inquired. While gently laying her delicate hand atop of mine. With a heavy sigh I would start, “Well, it’s about a boy.” Because, it’s always about a boy. She’d listen, hanging onto every word and on cue, as soon as I would finish my bluster she would say, “I am sorry to say, forget about him.” With a dismissive flick of her hand the integrity I needed to muster, she would conjure for me, “He doesn’t deserve you. God will bring you somebody better. You deserve better.” The ones who understand the whirlwind in your eyes, the quiver in your voice, the heaviness in your heart are the ones who you should treasure, forever.
She was small, graceful and resilient.
When her days grew darker, her faith grew brighter. “I’m not afraid to meet God, Jehan,” she would tell me. “But, I want to hang on for my two youngest. I just need to know they will be OK without me.”
Even in her darkest moments, she allowed devotion to lead her. Battling a terminal illness brings out our authentic vulnerability. Most people in her situation would have succumb to anger, resentment or severe psychological trauma. Aunt Coco’s* perseverance was driven out of pure love for her family. I have never witnessed someone fight for life with so much tenacity, than Aunt Coco.
No other word but grace characterizes the life she led. Since the early age of five she dealt with grief, trauma, and circumstances beyond her control that led her to mature faster than her years. After her daily studies her evenings were filled with tending to her siblings. Never to utter a word of complaint, she took her role in this world with dignity.
When you are confronted with a terminal illness, you start to prepare for the imminent death. I was never good at this phase. Aunt Coco’s youngest son calls this stage, “beautiful.” He’s a creative genius so he lives in this alternative universe where he can take pain and turn it into art. Whereas I, on the other hand, through staccato of tears, mucus and traumatic epileptic style convulsions, fall apart.
I spent the last two and a half months writing her a goodbye letter in my mind. These last two months, she declined at an alarming rate. It was heart wrenching to see her plummet with such a force it was as if the illness was fulfilling some sort of unfounded vengeance. And taking it out on the wrong angel, at that. Every time I sat with her the depth of her faith was inspiring. It is hard to keep your faith when faced with grief. Yet, faith is what seems to carry you through an impenetrable time.
After three non-consecutive nights over the course of three weeks, she flirted with death and on the fourth night she surrendered. I was walking to the restroom and had this urge to go sit with her one more time. Suddenly, I was hit with a wave of remorse. Perhaps I did not do enough. I should have pushed our sessions longer. I could have tried one more modality up my sleeve. All of these thoughts consumed me and the urgency pulsated down to my core. I rushed into her room and upon seeing her youngest son clenching her right arm, her face turned to the left and she was gasping for air, I fled to her bedside. The room was dark but the angels lit it with their presence. This was it. I couldn’t waste the last minutes of her precious life regurgitating my regret. I needed to hold space for her to submit, peacefully.
I envisioned this moment to be like a swirling vortex, plunging me into the depths of grievance hell. There is no way to articulate how deep the sadness permeates to the cellular level. This is the part of grief that is often misunderstood. You do not simply loose a person. You lose their presence in every aspect of your life. Therefore, your life has irrevocably changed.
By the time this publishes it will have only been two days since her passing and it has already felt like years. Right now, I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. I can still hear her voice and sense her angelic presence. Aunt Coco’s beloved husband told me, “You do not need to make yourself complete, right away. Keep submitting to God and allow Him to heal you, when the time is right.”
Deep healing requires rest and introspection. Being present with grief and all that it must teach us is sacred and definitely not for the faint of heart. You are in it. It’s raw and you can’t escape it. Keep breathing. Keep praying. Keep feeling. Keep acknowledging. You will learn so much about your capacity to heal and what your measurement of strength is.
May Aunt Coco rest in His eternal light. May her soul remain elevated in His radiance of mercy, blessings and grace. While her soul has already departed, her spirit lives on through her extraordinary children and grandchildren. Even the adoptive ones.
* Names changed for privacy purposes