No One Said It Would Be Easy

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

The last time I wrote was in mid-October, after speaking my truth powerfully at a spoken word event for my church social justice group.  I remember feeling empowered and strong as I reflected on my history and my identity, sharing experiences and thoughts that were personal in public, both out loud and through this blog.

Exactly a week after that post, I received a call from my cousin that my aunt was in the hospital emergency room.  Being the only local close family member, I dropped what I was doing to check in with my aunt.  I found her looking relatively well, but tired.  She assured me she was just having some trouble breathing, but the nurse told me that she had congestive heart failure, which sounded terrible and terrifying, and that she had major kidney troubles as well.  My aunt wanted to make sure that I had eaten, had told me not to come back the next day if it was too much trouble, and sent me on my way as soon as they had transferred her to a regular hospital room.

Every day for the next 19 days, I drove between 2-4 hours (Southern California traffic is unpredictable) to sit with my aunt and to act as the liaison between our family and the medical team.  I watched her slowly then more rapidly decline physically and emotionally.  I showed her pictures, told her story, held her hand, sat with her.  I put my life on hold mid-semester, telling very few people, making it to class each week (often driving directly from the hospital) and home for a few hours each day to try to maintain some normalcy in my life and support my students’ and my own children’s growth and development.

My aunt passed away on November 11, Veteran’s Day.  I was at my son’s Tae Kwon Do belt testing event when I got the call.  I watched him receive his belt, coordinated with my husband and drove to sit with my aunt one last time while waiting for the mortuary to arrive.

The following week came coordination of the viewing and memorial. Then Thanksgiving and a visit home from one of my older twin girls, who has had her own serious health concerns, then the services which were just this past weekend. In the midst, a dear friend was in a serious, life-threatening accident in another country, another dear friend lost a close family member, members of my immediate family experienced blatant racism, and I completely lost my voice for almost a week.

This semester, particularly the last 5 weeks, have probably been the most humbling and difficult experience of my faculty life. I haven’t had time to read or write or think. I’ve barely had time to teach or breathe.

And yet, it has been a time of growth and peace.

When faced with death, dying, illness, and so many situations beyond my control, I was forced to acknowledge that there are so many situations beyond my control.  I was obligated to live by faith.  My community and family drew close around me.  People prayed with and for me.  I prayed and sought support.  People sent me food (without me even asking, and with me being a pain in the butt about it because we have porch pirates). People asked how I was doing, sent texts and cards and e-mails.

I wasn’t doing anything (and I am always all about doing everything) and yet people showed overwhelming and abounding love and caring for me.

And, my academic career didn’t collapse.

I taught. A couple of pieces were published and one submitted for review; I gave a couple of small presentations; piloted and revised a course; I graded papers and gave feedback and supported students who were also in crisis.

What I’ve learned this semester is empathy and grace, that there are times in each person’s life when the external circumstances are too much. There are times in my life when this is true.  But, I am not alone, and I am also not expected to have it all together all the time.  I have learned that my humanity draws others closer to me and that true compassion is born in the root of the word itself–suffering with another.

I have learned that sometimes there is only enough and that enough is your best, and your best is enough, because sometimes, that is all that there is.

I have learned that holding space for someone who is transitioning from this world is a great honor.

I have learned that family, faith and community matter deeply and that time and space cannot separate those who truly love one another.

I have learned that we have to invest in the things that truly matter because time is not promised to us.

It has not been the semester I predicted.  I suppose it never is.  No one ever said that this journey (of life or academic life) would be easy.  But I am grateful for the opportunity to walk the journey and live this life. And I am grateful for the space and the words to write about it.

2 thoughts on “No One Said It Would Be Easy

  1. Thank you Betina – I appreciate your insights, going through transition with my Mom this year… Grace and empathy. Compassion. Seize the day. Show up.

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