As I reflected upon my life in 2011, I realized that 2011 was the year I became a woman. The year I finally started to own my womanhood. This is the year I finally had the audacity to say, “I’m a grown woman, and I’ve got the battle scars to prove it!” For this, I am truly grateful. The point of adulthood is different for everyone. For some, it occurs when they turn 21, learn to drive, graduate from high school or college, or vote for the first time. For others, getting married, having children, or getting their own place is their rite of passage to adulthood. And for others, facing an illness is their introduction to the grown-up world. For me, caring for my granny through her battle with Alzheimer’s, watching her fight for her life, and ultimately losing her were my rites of passage. Caregiving of any kind has a way of forcing one to grow up. Facing and accepting death also grows one up. At some point during granny’s last hospitalization, I finally began to accept that she would never return home. I repeatedly said to myself, “My granny’s going to die. I can’t imagine life without her.” And then she passed away. And dealing with her death was hard, devastating, and disorienting. Six months later, it is OK. I am OK. I’m not over her death. Not anywhere near close to being free of the pain and void she has left in my heart. But, I am here. I survived. Six months ago, it was hard to imagine being where I am now. I have learned that loss is a part of life. Granny’s death is the biggest loss I have ever suffered, akin to losing a mother because she raised me. But, her loss won’t be my last. It doesn’t mean that future losses will be any easier. But, her loss has grown me up. It has forced me to remember how important it is to be strong, independent, and a survivor. Her loss has taught me the importance of love, friends, and family.
As I walked home one night, I remembered how granny used to wait for me at the train station every night with a cane she swore she’d use to fend off anyone crazy enough to mess with us. I thought about how I would begin the process of starting life anew after granny’s death. And then it hit me. This is how granny must have felt when she returned to New York after the death of her own parents. By the time granny was my age, thirty-three, she had given up her job and apartment in New York on two separate occasions to care for her mother and step-father. And after each one’s death, she returned to New York and started over. If she could do it, then surely I can. After all, I come from strong stock. But, loss and starting over weren’t my only rites of passage this year.
I also found my voice. I found the audacity and the self-love to start speaking up for myself in ways I have never done before. Oftentimes, we find it easier to advocate and care for others than to do so for ourselves. I found the audacity to ask for what I want and to begin living life on my own terms. I also realized that I needed to figure out what those terms are. I am still a rough work in progress and may not be where I should be. But, I’m not where I was.
Every New Year’s Eve, granny and I used to write two letters to God: one thanking him for everything he did for us that year and the other detailing our prayer requests for the upcoming year. While on a New Year’s Eve flight to San Francisco, I completed both of my letters. My “thank you” letter turned out to be nine pages, because I have much to be thankful for. My “prayer request” letter turned into a two-page “bucket list.” As I reviewed my request letter, one theme emerged: I wanted to live a joyous and audacious life. So, this is my New Year’s resolution: to have the audacity and courage to create a life that brings me joy and satisfaction. Here’s to a joyous and audacious life! Happy New Year in 2012!