An Ode to the Woman That Saved My Life

Survived by three nephews and one niece. I’m that one niece.

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Life has an ill way of touching your heart enough to find yourself grieving in the most unorthodox places. For me, it was in a bar. Penguins playoff game in my left year, a drunken conversation about corporate buyouts in my right. It was one of those days where a glass of wine would make you feel better. The bartender poured it for me before I even finished checking if my debit card was in my purse.

I had this moment previously where I was upset about a potential date gone sour. He ghosted. Right after I sent him pictures to see if “my face matched my beautiful voice.” I fully understand that I will never be everybody’s type but it still hurts to be rejected. And there I was, staring at text messages in my phone that weren’t showing up. Ghosts, perhaps.

Hurt. I couldn’t understand it and I was frankly bewildered by my own emotions. But I needed to wax it all away and Riesling does that. Or so I thought. Because after four glasses, I was thinking about this dude, what he did and how he just told me everything he ever felt about me by leaving me the hell alone.

So I went looking for my Dad’s obituary.

I grieve for my father when I hurt.

It’s a trigger that I never want to go away.

And after searching four of five different configuration of his name, I could not find it. But I could find Aunt Shelly’s.

I remember when I got the phone call from my Aunt Marcia to leave work early so I could go visit my Dad in the hospital. I told her that I didn’t think that I could early and she got upset. So upset that I could hear her voice trembling on the other end.

“Your Dad is now paralyzed from the chest down”. I sat in her car confused. My Dad had a way of never telling me about things he knew would scare me. To him, he didn’t want me to worry. Like that would ever stop me. I have a fear of the unknown.

Imagine facing something insurmountable while looking in the eyes of the person who presence taught you to never doubt yourself. That was my Dad. And he couldn’t move. And I couldn’t think anything else but that we were going to be okay. Not because I believe that God would help us triumph over all — that would come later — but because I refused to believe that all of this was happening. To him and to me.

So I was walking into a situation I couldn’t fathom to comprehend at 24 years-old. And I felt like I fought everyone in my way to figuring it out.

Including my Aunt Shelly.

“You should consider moving to Pittsburgh and living with Aunt Shelly.” It was almost a year after my Dad passed away. I was living in Philadelphia, thinking I was getting my life together but really things were spiraling out of control. Aunt Marcia’s call woke me up from sleeping all day, something I did when life just got too much. In this case, I was up the night before. Somewhere in Southwest Philly. With a guy I had just met online minutes before I walked into his house.

Destructive was an understatement. And everyone in my life knew about me but me. Even Aunt Shelly knew, enough for her to open up her home to me.

She and I hadn’t talked since my Dad was in the hospital. She didn’t come to my Dad’s funeral. Her holistic approach to healthcare didn’t match with my desire to see my Dad get healthy enough to come home, even if it took medicines, surgeries and tubes in every orifice to do it. So we remained distant because pride. We both had the same goal just different ideas of how to get there. Frankly, I didn’t care enough to give her’s any credence. I just wanted my Father back.

I still do.

I told Aunt Marcia that I didn’t want Aunt Shelly’s help, even though everybody and God knew that I needed it. I didn’t have anything against Aunt Shelly at this point. We talked a few weeks prior because the estate process was getting too heavy for my shoulders to bear alone. So we were okay. And she wanted to help.

At this point, with pain in my way, I told her no.

To me, Pittsburgh was always this far away place that was forever present in my life. We had a picture of what was Three Rivers Stadium hanging in our living room. My father was a Steelers fan and he made sure everyone knew about it. From the Hill District to Moon Township. That was him and that was our family.

So when I got off the train, I felt like I was home. Somewhere else but home nonetheless.

Aunt Shelly picked me up. I remember her telling me about the city and what I could do there. I just kept thinking about Philly and what it did to me.

I thought falling on the floor in tears and hysterics was only in movies but there I was. I just kicked some random guy out of my apartment and everything about the last two weeks in Philly hit me like a brick. I slept with multiple people in an hours span, one wanted to be in relationship with me and I obliged, high. I just had this moment where I knew I was living in a way that didn’t make sense to the person I always knew I was.

I had to call Aunt Shelly. I had to tell her that I was coming to Pittsburgh. I had no else to go, I needed to go. And I did.

I told her everything that had happened. She cursed me out and told me to get my “fucking ass” to Pittsburgh. I told her I could be there in a week. I was there in less than that.

The hurt was so intense that I slept with someone before I left. The brokenness was so deeply entrenched that even that moment of epiphany didn’t break the cycle. That’s how much I was a lost cause even though I pleaded to be found.

She found me standing outside of the train station, Penn Ave.

I found her deceased the day after Easter in 2014.

We had went to an Easter dinner hosted by her friend the night before. While she was there, she fell violently ill. She refused to go to the hospital.

I was coming home from work with chicken noodle soup and some Powerade. We all figured it was a stomach virus, nothing more or less. I just wanted to make sure that she was okay.

When I found her, I didn’t even find shock in it all. I just called the police even though I knew she was gone.

I didn’t feel like deja vu. It felt like everything was set to crash down around me. Months later, it almost did.

We were in a way better place before she died. She taught me how to make her sweet potato pies, I taught her about Beyonce. She still made me angry with the way she would talk about my Father. I would make her angry with the way I would talk about her. But it was a necessary time of release in a moment where we both needed it.

I never thought I need her in this way.

Shelly .. daughter of Helen … sister of Marcia … survived by three nephews and one niece.

I am her one niece.

As I looked at her obituary, it dawned on me that April was almost over. It had been three years since she passed and every year, I thanked her for saving my life.

This year should not be any different.

Aunt Shelly, I love you and miss you. Say what’s up to my Dad for me and thank you for saving my life.

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