Late one Thursday evening in 2017, my cousin Letty called my mom from a hospital waiting room. “Do you know if my mom’s been drinking? She’s been slurring and tonight while driving home with Biankah she drove off the freeway.” Her mom, Tia Rosa, lost control of her car while trying to exit the freeway. The car ended up wedged in an off-ramp embankment. Fortunately, they were not seriously injured.
After hours of tests and scans the doctor finally talked to Letty. Tia Rosa had a large brain tumor, a glioblastoma. This was the reason Letty had noticed her slurring and off balance in the previous weeks. Glioblastomas are like overgrown spider webs that invade the entire brain quickly. My Tia was immediately scheduled for surgery and then radiation, but the prognosis wasn’t good.
Before her diagnosis I existed in my middle class, suburban life as a mother of 3, wife, and business owner. My days were filled from morning to night with work, drop-offs, soccer, dive, gymnastics, music lessons, fundraisers, corporate events, groceries, cleaning, cooking, laundry, bills, and homework. By the time bedtime came I was usually exhausted, ready to watch my trashy soap for 30 minutes before lights out. But the night I got the phone call about my Tia’s car accident and cancer diagnosis, I was forced to change my failing perspective on living.
It’s truly unfortunate that we wait until bad shit like this happens to accept and embrace the fleeting nature of life. We didn’t know exactly how much time Tia Rose would have so every day took on new energy. This energy was a mix of anticipation, anxiety, sadness, and hope. We prayed for a cure like we’d never prayed before. On a primal level you feel that every single day is IMPORTANT because, well it just is when you’re dying. And my self absorbed, human part imagined what it would mean if I was the one dying instead. What would I do differently?
Towards the end while talking to Tia Rosa she told me about her past loves and lovers. She sheepishly told me she had not been “good”. Her stories made me laugh and cry. But the best thing she told me was this, “I don’t regret a damn thing because I lived.” These words freed my soul. Tia Rosa was going to leave this world with no regrets, and she wasn’t bullshitting. She was a chingona (badass) and I could feel with every part of me she was telling the truth.
The last year of her life made me refuse to have unimportant days. I started a gratitude journal during that time initially to help me cope,, but later to help me notice all the little things in my day I was grateful for. On some days the list was profound and on others ridiculous. One day I wrote that I was grateful for spanx when I had to fit into a much too tight dress for a party. On another day when life was harder I wrote, “I’m still here.”
My Tia died on March 30, 2018 exactly on my 16th wedding anniversary. 5 years later I have streaks when I remember that every day is important and notice the little things that give me joy. Other days have been a grind and I have only existed as I did before my Tia died. But today, 28 days into my 50th year of life, I know I don’t have the luxury to have unimportant days anymore. Every day matters from this point on and they are all important!
I will never be the chingona my Tia Rosa was, but I sure as hell am going to keep on trying so I can also leave this world with no regrets.
From left to right: Me, My Mom Lupe, Tia Rosa, and Cousin Letty