Let me tell you about my Aunt Teri. When I was growing up, I had 2 Aunts named Teresa--with different middle names. So as a way to distinguish them, I called the youngest one, Shaoliang, which my father said meant "little aunt" in Mandarin. It, apparently, also sounds close to "little sheep" and so I used to draw a picture of a little sheep when I would write letters to her.
My Aunt Teri was one of those people who created community wherever she lived--and she and my Uncle moved around to various places throughout their lives. But she really had a knack of cultivating friendships of a breadth and depth that is unusual--in other words, she has both a very large and intimate circle of friends from every place she has ever lived.
When I recently confessed to her that I was nervous at the thought of being a parent (Matthew and I are looking into adoption--which will be the subject of a future post, I'm sure--what it's like to be a breast cancer survivor going through the domestic adoption process) and when I asked her whether she had ever been nervous, she told me that she had always known that she wanted to be a mother--that it was one of the things she was most proud of--and that she knew that it was what she was meant to do--be a Mom--be someone who could give unconditional love to children.
My Aunt Teri was a stubborn person--a trait common on both sides of my family. She had stores of compassion but also stores of stuborness--she was not a pushover but could assert herself in a caring yet forceful way. There were times when she would not take no for an answer. She knew how to fight for what she wanted--for what she felt was right--for what was important.
This morning my Aunt Teri passed away after complications due to her marrow transplant, which was a result of being diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia in February 2010 (2 months before my own breast cancer diagnosis). I got the call right before my 10am class--and I had to shut the door on my emotions in order to get through class (something I've learned to be good at--compartementalizing that is, because I got the news about my cancer diagnosis half an hour before a grad seminar a year and a half ago). Although I've teared up throughout the day--and gotten choked up--I haven't yet had a proper cry. As I told one cousin, I feel emotionally constipated--I can feel something sitting inside my chest, wanting to be let out. And I trust that when the moment is right, my emotions will come spilling out.
When I got my breast cancer diagnosis, my aunt was one of the first people to call and reach out to me. She shared helpful hints and suggestions about going through chemo and things to eat. We talked about our similar experiences--and the differences in our cancer treatment and care. We were connected in this intimate manner, which I know is something neither of us wanted to have happen. This is the fourth relative I've had die of cancer--the first on my father's side. It all feels surreal--the number of family I've had who have died of various cancers.
My Aunt Teri was one of my favorite people. She was someone I confided in and trusted. She is someone I love wholeheartedly and who will always live in my heart. And I will always miss her. Always.
[a picture of Teri and me when I was a very young youngster and she was in the prime of her youth]