Sunday was a sad day for me. I have been trying to figure out how to deal with this issue. How to get out my pain. How to honor someone who meant a great deal to me. You see, Sunday my Aunt died.
To start her story I have to go back to a time when not a whole lot was known about birth defects. My Aunt was born with Cerebral Palsy. Unable to speak, walk, or have full use of her hands. Unable to do many of the things most of us take for granted everyday. Her family was told that they didn't know how long she would live. As it turned out my Aunt proved their assumptions wrong. She not only lived, she lived happily, strong, and full of laughter for fifty nine years.
Looking back in my memories of her, I can remember many things. I remember her struggles to use her hands. Her struggles to point to a board that had words on it to say what she wanted. Her struggles to go out and not be stared at. But I also remember something else. Aunt Debbie's strength.
She wasn't just a person with a disability, she was a whirlwind of laughter and joy. She had the brightest smile. A great sense of humor. She loved animals and children. She loved music and bowling. She loved life and when I think of Debbie I can hear her laughter in my head. She had quite possibly, the biggest most fullest laugh that I have ever heard. One of those infectious laughs that once you heard it you started to laugh as well. She was like that. Infectious with her joy.
She faced obstacles and judgments I am sure. I am sure she was stared at and possibly even pitied by those that didn't know better. What those people failed to understand is that Aunt Debbie wasn't someone to pity, she was someone to look up to. She was able to look at life in a way that most of us never do. She was able to see joy in the little things. The things we take for granted everyday. A child's laughter, a small breeze, a butterfly landing on your shoulder. Things we overlook because we are to busy trying to achieve whatever we think is so important that we fail to see that the big achievements aren't what makes us who we are. What makes you who you are, what is important are the little things you do in life. The things you take time out for. The things you really look at and appreciate. Aunt Debbie was more aware of this world than we ever gave ourselves the chance to be, because we surround ourselves with excuses not to. We are too busy, we will do it tomorrow, we will procrastinate and look at that sunset later on, when we have more time. She didn't hesitate or procrastinate. She took joy in every moment.
One of the biggest most vivid memories I have of my Aunt was the first time I saw her participate in the Special Olympics. She and another woman were in the wheelchair race. I am sure she had been told many times that she would never walk. That she would never be able to to run. That racing would be something she would never achieve. Instead of listening to that, instead of giving up, she raced. She was laughing all the way to finish line. She was beautiful and graceful as she glided down the race track as fast as her wheels would carry her. I think that is when I first realized what a strong woman she was. That she ignored what people said she was capable of and not capable of and just did what she wanted to do. She did what she wanted. She believed in herself.
I don't remember the whole day or every course that she participated in. What I do remember is that race. Her race. That was the moment I realized with the wind blowing through her hair and the smile beaming on her face that a girl in a wheelchair didn't have to be able to run to fly. She only had to believe in herself, spread her wings, and laugh all the way down the race track. That is when I realized my Aunt wasn't special because she was disabled, she was special because she refused to let it stop her from living the life she wanted. In my small child's brain I saw her for the first time, as not just someone who had to work three times as hard to do the things everyone else takes for granted but that my Aunt did something no one else knew how to do. She knew how to live unedited. She knew how to give everything she had. She knew how to fly. And I was certain as she flew down that race track that she was a miracle. A miracle person that had a superpower. She was strong, funny, beautiful, and she could fly right in the face of everything others had said she would never be able to do. Her superpower was faith in herself. Stubbornness in what she wanted, and strength in her ability to live happily no matter the obstacles she encountered. She did those things regardless and she did them with a flare that showed just what an amazing person she was. Although I am sure she never really knew it, my Aunt Debbie was in many ways after that day, my hero. A humble hero that never knew how that one race changed my outlook on things.
To say everything that spending time with my Aunt taught me would take hours, days, months, years even but I will leave you with a few things that she taught me without ever uttering a word. Things I think, have helped me to grow not only as a person but a person that struggles with a mental illness. Things that she obviously knew and things that we all tend to take for granted or simply don't take time out for because we always expect them to be waiting for us tomorrow.
Life is precious. How you treat others in the face of adversity is what defines you as a person. Hardships and struggles are a part of life but there is always tomorrow and tomorrow can always be better. Believe in yourself. Be stubborn and never give up. Love with all of your heart. Take pleasures in the small tings in life. Admire the butterflies, smell the roses, listen to the sound of your loved one's laughter and laugh with them. Love deeply, Smile freely, and Laugh often. Be proud of all you have accomplished. Look for tomorrow but always be present in today. Go bowling. Do things that make you happy. Never allow your disability to make you give up. And maybe most importantly......Never let anyone tell you that you can't fly.
Rest in peace Aunt Debbie. I will always remember you and all of the laughter you brought to my life. And when I think of you I will always see you as you were that day with the wind blowing through your hair and the smile on your face...and I know that is an accurate depiction because I know that now you don't need the racetrack anymore, you fly with the angels.