I have been lucky, in life, to have met and loved so many different and amazing people. I have also felt the gut-wrenching loss of losing some of them to time, accident and illness.
Today I found out that I passed the NREMT-Paramedic Cognitive exam. After 11 months of blowing off friends, relatives, and my wife…months of missing out on events and holidays and just simple time together with loved ones, I have achieved the goal I set out to do last August: I became a paramedic.
I called my mother, as I do, to tell her the news. She was proud. She was happy for me. She also had bad news for me. My Aunt Norma, one of my most favorite people, passed away early in the morning from cancer.
I knew it was coming. The day of my Paramedic Practical exam, when I called my mother to tell her that I passed the first part of 2 tests that stood in the way of me reaching my goal, she told me that my aunt was basically on hospice care. She was losing her fight and on that day I lost it. My emotions were running too high and my energy too low and knowing that my family only had borrowed time with my Aunt was too much for me to take that day. I shut down.
I was mad. All this new medical knowledge, and there was nothing I could do to help my Aunt. I was devastated, because some part of me didn’t want to believe what I knew to be true, that I would lose one of the shiniest lights in my life.
I remember what I was doing during the time that she passed away. I was at work. I’m currently working as an EMT and I was just laying down on a couch at work, ready to take a nap in case we had a late night call. I remember looking at the time. It was 1am for me, 2am in New York, and I couldn’t get comfortable. I was on edge already, waiting to hear if I passed, and I slipped into a fitful sleep wondering if my world would suck when I woke up.
I just didn’t think it would suck for a different reason. I passed my exam, and lost my aunt.
I’m sad. As I write these words I feel that burning sensation in the back of my throat and I know I can’t cry. I can’t cry because I’m at work and if I start I don’t think I’ll stop.
So I’m going to sit here and write, and tell you about my Aunt Norma.
I didn’t meet my Aunt Norma the first opportunity I had to meet her. She wasn’t my aunt yet, but my uncle invited my family over to meet her and have dinner and just hang out together. I didn’t go. Back then I was tired of meeting people who would just walk out of my life just as quickly as I met them. It was a rough time for me and I didn’t want to deal with a new person. What I wouldn’t give for that moment back. To tell myself to go and meet this woman because I would love her and I wouldn’t have forever with this woman. I want that moment back.
But it was okay, I guess, because I eventually met my Aunt Norma and from the get-go she had my heart. This bubbly, insane woman who lived her life and didn’t give one damn about what others thought of her because she was who she was. She was just, Aunt Norma, who said crazy things. Like the time she was amazed that, in cookbooks, they put the recipes for the food in the books. My Aunt Norma was the only woman I know who can make coffee explode like a volcano, and what started of as leery amusement of this silly woman grew to love and understanding.
My Aunt taught me understanding. She taught me about unconditional love from a stranger, and what it meant to have mutual respect. She taught me about not caring what others said, as long as I was myself. But most of all, she showed me what it looked like for someone to overcome their own biases because they loved someone no matter what.
Let me explain.
By the time my Aunt came into my world I was already out as a lesbian (As many here have now come to find I’ve changed the way I identify myself). Something she apparently wasn’t aware of until I told her nonchalantly during a conversation when she asked me if I was seeing a boy. I thought, because my whole family (bless them) are the worse gossips I have ever known, that somewhere in the conversations, my sexuality would come up. Because during that time it did…a lot. It was annoying, but I understood.
Anyway, here is my Aunt; this New Yorker with a twangy accent dumbfounded because here I was, an out lesbian, standing in front of her in her kitchen. She stammered, something about gay people in the city that I don’t quite remember and went outside. I shrugged it off because…well…it happened a lot to me. What shocked me though, wasn’t the fact that I caught my Aunt off guard, or that she walked off with a confused look on her face, but the fact that I didn’t feel defensive. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I do now, but I’ll get to that in a minute.
Later that BBQ, my Aunt walks up to my mother and asks her how she could allow me to be gay. It was a good moment, and one my mom and I laugh about all the time even though some others might not find it entertaining. It was a good moment because my Aunt wasn’t being malicious; she was simply being Norma, and she asked a question because I don’t think she ever had the opportunity to talk about it. My mother very calmly, and with a hint of sarcasm, explained that she didn’t allow me to be anything (although we joke about how we should have messed with my aunt a bit.) I was who I was and my mother loved me.
What others don’t seem to understand is that my Aunt didn’t start ranting about how I was wrong, or how horrible I am for loving a woman. She didn’t shun me or berate me, or even say a degrading thing about me. Instead, my Aunt took the time to get to know me. To get to know who I was, what I wanted in my life, and where I wanted to go. We talked about random topics and would cuddle up and she would talk about taking me to the Shore and how we would have such a blast.
I watched my Aunt go from not understanding why I was gay, and not understanding why I was the way I was, to loving me without any label. She saw me. She didn’t see an athlete, or a student, or gay, or as a writer…my Aunt Norma saw me. She saw me and she loved me and I loved her back, and to see someone who can be set in their ways, or maybe even ignorant about something, not care about it at all because she loves you no matter who or what you are, and have her defend you? To be able to see that is incredible because you do not see that level of grace anymore. Not everyone in my community gets that kind of beauty in his/her world and I was lucky.
When my Aunt Norma met my (then future) wife you couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. Her joy at meeting my wife, and how she kept saying how proud she was of us, and how beautiful Amanda was, and how happy she was at seeing our happiness. This woman who asked my mother why she let me be gay…..seeing her tear up because she wished she could take us both to the Shore and how beautiful our wedding would be…
She hasn’t been gone but a day and it hurts that she’ll never sit on my lap again, put her arms around my shoulders and just chat with me. That’s how we would talk, with her in my lap or her resting her head on my shoulder, and just talk about everything. We’d talk about insecurities, and our perspective on people, and our experiences in life. We’d talk about how people never seemed to really understand us or where we were coming from…
I would tell her people were stupid and that I saw her, and that I loved her. And we would laugh and she would tell me stories and the world was bright.
I saw my Aunt at the end of June. My wife and I drove to NY to see the family, celebrate our wedding, and to see Aunt Norma. I knew she wouldn’t make it to the party, and on the day we were leaving to go back to Iowa, my wife and I drove down to my Aunt and Uncle’s to see her. I knew I wouldn’t see her again after that day, even though I wished with everything I had I would get one more chance. We talked about the Shore, and her girls. Talked about her grandchildren and how she hated being sick. We talked about my short haircut and my wedding. My wife and I didn’t stay long…I wished I didn’t have to leave when I did. It felt rushed. Like I suddenly was there, and suddenly was gone.
I’ll spend my life thinking, and wishing, for more time.
But that’s how it is when you lose someone you love. I should know. I’ve lost a lot of loved ones. But I lost someone who taught me how patience, and love, can grow beautiful moments. Someone who taught me to just say silly things, even if you know they are silly, because seeing people laugh and smile is beautiful. Someone who showed me the strength to stand up for what was right, in the face of those who think you are wrong.
I feel sad for my uncle, for losing his girl. I feel sad for my mother, for losing another sister-in-law. I feel sad for the world that lost this crazy, beautiful, funny, woman.
But it’s okay. She would be proud of me. She knew I loved her with everything and I will do my damnedest to continue making her proud, like I was always proud of her. Like I always loved her.
Rest in peace Aunt Norma. I love you.