Death came knocking on my family's door once again. At first, I was surprised and I was sad and I was all the emotions one feels when you hear the news about a family member passing. My latest family member to pass was my 51-yr. old cousin who died a week ago today. He had suffered years of drug abuse. Reckless living. And I don't know what else kind of pain and grief must have tormented him for him to choose a life of addiction, but that was his story. I loved him though. He was one of my favorite cousins, although I love all of my family.
Usually when I would see him we would be at a family gathering, a barbecue or festive occasion of sorts, and he'd be my Spades partner. Back in the day, we could easily smoke a pack of cigarettes at one of these events, and the entire backyard would be smoked out from the grill and the cigarettes. Then we'd dance. We always HAVE TO dance if Cousin Ruby was in town from LA because she was the Soul Train line dance queen, and it was fun! I mean REALLY FUN where newcomers who'd never met us could come and blend in and have a great time. We are a family of love, so when we get together, our family events never end in arguments or brawls like some other families' parties I know of. No, not us. We laugh, dance, party, drink, eat and used to smoke the night away.Except lately we aren't getting together for festive occasions like the 4th, or weddings, or graduations, or any other happy event. It's death. It's always death that brings this or that one back to Chicago. And the more I work in the field of health and fitness, the more it hurts when my family members die way too soon; but, it hurts even more for the ones who are still here drinking and smoking their lives away.
I know people think ex-smokers become so judgmental and forget how they used to smoke. But that's not true. I haven't forgotten at all. I thank God time and again that I have been delivered from that addiction. I thank God that I now live a healthy lifestyle to the best of my ability. I thank God I am able to exercise and enjoy an optimal level of health free of hypertension without my painful Crohn's disease. The long vertical scar going up and down my abdomen for having part of my intestines removed makes me never forget the pain I've overcome. I don't judge them. I hurt for them.
My heart hurts because I got to the repass late, and when I got there, there they all were. My remaining family members, where there used to be at least 15 more of us, is dwindling year by year. My grandmother and her sister each had five children, and of their five children, my mother is the only remaining sibling, and of my grandmother's sister side of the family, only two remain. All the others have died of some kind of health problem, most notably, diabetes, cancer, or stroke, just like cousin a week ago. He had several strokes and then found out he had full blown AIDS.
Hearing this news last Monday incited a greater sense of urgency and deeper passion for me to help others. I teach fitness classes and help others improve their nutrition, and all I could think was, I HAVE TO help more people! So this past week I have just been on fire encouraging participants in my fitness classes to embrace healthy living. I have been sharing nutritional help and support with others. I have been watching my own diet. And I even joined a 75-mile Challenge to complete for the month of August--and I hate running! Dancing, kickboxing, and step aerobics I love, but jogging--that's a big fat negative. Yet, I just felt a need to do more, to be open to new possibilities, and I wanted to share this with my family.
So, as I prepared to see them all, I brought my healthy shake samples and information with me. What better time to share this great news since we'd all be together! When I got there, the party was already in full swing, and as I approached the backyard, I was overcome and overwhelmed by all the smoke--only this time there was no lit grill. Of the dearly beloved gathered there, the majority of them smoked voraciously, and add to that, had also gained at least 10 or more pounds!
Here I am, out in the world teaching fitness and helping others with nutrition, and my own family who hugs me and loves me and tells me how proud they are of me, has minimal interest what I do or advocate. While going through all the hugs and joy of seeing my loved ones who I hadn't seen since the last funeral, which was my uncle who died back in November from stomach/digestive complications, it hit me like a ton of bricks. My cousin is gone. Suddenly I felt the finality of not being able to see my cousin ever again. We would never run another Boston, or have people get up because we were on a roll and dominating the table. This made me to stop what I was doing and just weep. That really hurt.
And yet, seeing my living family hurt me more than missing the ones who'd already passed on. Everyone else seemed happy, and the wine was flowing, and the food was laid out for us all, but I had no appetite or desire to laugh, drink, joke, dance or play. I sat there dazed and hurt wondering who the next person would be to bring us together. Let's see, there's my cousin who's in her mid-40s like me, only she's about 100 pounds overweight with lupus and other health complications, not to mention her young teenage daughters who were seriously overweight. Then there was my own sister who's in her mid-50s who's been smoking packs of cigarettes since HS, and all the others with hypertension, diabetes, and the like. A few of us have either quit smoking, or then there are even fewer who never had, and even fewer who looked healthy. I had a difficult time holding myself together. I had to get out of there!
I had no desire to blend shakes or talk about health and nutrition and exercise or anything. Not because it isn't my passion, but because I knew they weren't interested. They like what they are doing. They are happy. And I can't do anything but honor that.
So, to all my loved ones gone too soon, I vow to live a better life--a life in FITNESS and health-- and leave a legacy of health and wellness for my six daughters. And for those still here, I release them to live the lives of their choosing. I know that I am here should they desire to change.