Close your eyes and imagine I am about 11 or 12 years old, lying on a rented beach raft that floats gently away from the Hilton Head shoreline, under the perfect summer day. Just beside me, on an identical raft is my Aunt Patrice. She is beautiful and full of laughter. As we float further and further, we hardly notice because we are making up imaginary stories about the clouds floating above us and the creatures living under the water. Occasionally she grabs my hand to make sure I don’t drift away from her. I feel safe. I feel free. I feel loved. Only moments later on this summer afternoon, our lackadaisical drifting is abruptly interrupted by the sounding horn of a Coast Guard resuce boat. We had drifted out into open water where large boats were just on the horizon. They warned us to return to shore and moved along. My Aunt Pat laughed and slowly she and I paddled our way back. One for the record books. The time we almost got lost at sea.
This is what I call my lasting memory of her. She made me feel safe. She let me be free. She made me feel loved. Last month my Aunt passed away and to say I am having a hard time is putting it mildly. This is difficult and I am taking time to honor all of the feelings I encounter. This memory is the one that sustains me, but also makes a lump in my throat. I have a million memories of her but this one helps me float to sleep peacefully. I am using this post to be open about my loss but also to share some of the most valuable lessons I learned from Pat. I could say I writing this for the people who are reading it, but the truth is I am writing this for me. I can only manage my grief if I tune into my gratitude. I am grateful for her life, for the role she played in my life and the lessons she left for me. I am very fortunate to have a loving mother but I can really say I had two. She and my mother met at Clark College (Now Clarke Atlanta Univery) living two doors down from each other in a dormitory. My mom married her brother and my Aunt Pat, who never married or had children, treated us like her kids. We spent our summers with her. She was present to celebrate our births, birthdays, graduations and life’s moments. My mom is the rule maker and follower. She is kind but doesn’t play. I learned how to negotiate on her. My Aunt Pat was the rule breaker, the party girl, my confidante. She is the one who could talk to my mom on my behalf in favor of new clothes, ear piercings and personal freedoms. She lived, like really lived and there are some lessons to her life that I felt like sharing….
Show Your Love Through the Details. My Aunt was obsessed with the details, presentation, the wrapping of every gift or meal. She made freaking flowers on the potato salad from left over egg, celery onions. She was going to be late ALL THE TIME, which drove everyone crazy, but in it there was a valuable lesson for me. She was meticulous about remembering your favorites, your birthday, your favorite color. There was a card that arrived on your birthday, your favorite meal when you visited, a reminder that is no one else cared she did. If she loved you, you knew it because she used these details to lift you up and to make you feel loved in times of grief or celebration. I want to be a giver of those same feelings, just as she was. I want people to leave me and feel better knowing someone always cares.
Celebrate Everyday in Every way. To live with my Aunt Pat (as my brother and I did every summer growing up) was to know how to party… while you cook, while you clean, as you drive to work and while you got dressed. Yes it may take longer, but it will definitely be more fun. Music turned up loud, dance moves between every action, singing at the top of your lungs. Our summer evenings were filled with card parties and cook outs. The nights were long and joy filled. Every holiday was just a run on of celebration and I think sometimes she didn’t even sleep. She made normal days festive and memorable. It is a reminder that each day is a chance to celebrate our lives, with people we love.
Love People Exactly Where They Are. Pat had a wide circle of friends. She loved everybody. She showed me, though, that the people you love can be flawed, and they can hurt you and you can love them anyway. Once I called her because I was so hurt by someone I loved and I couldn’t understand how they could be so mean and self centered. Long before the Four Agreements came along, she explained to me that everything that had been done or said wasn’t even about me. She went on to explain that without making excuses for them, I had to accept who and what that person was and release my hatred because they were operating on the highest level they had, that anything besides continuing to shine a beacon of light was below me. It’s a lesson that has helped me continually.
I miss you Aunt Pat. Love always Kelley