When I contemplate individuals in my life who have the right to be bitter, my maternal aunt is the first person who immediately comes to mind. In the span of her lifetime, she has lost two husbands and her only son. Her first husband passed away when she was nine months pregnant with their fourth child. He succumbed to pneumonia while in the hospital, post gallbladder surgery. In the years that followed, my Aunt struggled to raise her four children without the benefit of their father. She worked at a job, cooked, cleaned, sewed garments and managed all the issues it usually takes two parents to accomplish. After being single for nearly a decade, she remarried and gave birth to her fifth child. And when the youngest of her children was a mere toddler, her second husband passed away from a major stroke.
In the years that followed, the hardships of life once again came knocking at her door and she suffered another heartbreaking event. As a result of an extreme allergic reaction, her only son died from anaphylactic shock. This loss was a traumatic blow to her psyche and one which appeared to traumatize her spirit.
In the days following her sons' death, I watched as my Aunt struggled with her faith and her will to move forward in life. It was the only time in my memory of her that I can recall observing her strength of resolve compromised. During this period in my life, I was serving as a police officer and had viewed death under many a circumstance. But this loss left not only me, but every family member, feeling unprepared for the sorrow and aftermath that followed. In the subsequent months, I watched my aunt struggle to reconstruct the pieces of her shattered life and that of her four daughters.
As I viewed her doing so, I felt privileged to witness the strength of her indomitable spirit. Each day, I observed her with her family and friends and I marveled at her ability to retain her kind and caring manner. And at that particular time, it was very hard for me to understand how she was able to preserve a sense of kindness when life had dealt her such a cruel blow.
Once I asked my Aunt a question regarding how she had kept herself from allowing the bitterness to overtake the happiness. And her response provided me some insight into not only her life, but an "aha" moment in mine as well. She responded to my query by saying, "Think of the two emotions as you would the scales of justice. One side of the scale holds the keys to happiness and the other the path to bitterness. Now with this in mind, try to keep the scale tilted in the 51 percent of a happy life. If you do, you'll be able to find the joy even when life deals you an unfair misfortune."
When she finished with her reply, she smiled that familiar grin, patted me ever so gently on the arm and walked away. At that time, I wasn't astute enough to understand that her smile camouflaged a deep sadness. Yet she wore that grin well and seldom ever frowned.
As the years have passed and both of us have grown much older, I am still in awe of this wonderful woman who found her way past the bitter moments in life and chose a path to a more worthwhile approach toward a heightened state of awareness. Through her enduring examples of resilience and inner strength, I have come to better comprehend the words of wisdom she shared with me more than 25 years ago.
In watching this dear lady respond to the traumatic events in her life, I have learned the importance of letting go of the bitterness. Because holding on to it not only causes problematic health issues, it also removes the ability to experience the fleeting moments of joy. Throughout these many years I have grown to admire my dear Aunt. Not only as a beloved family member, but as a woman of great fortitude. For in her resilience, I have found a shining example to emulate. And in her smile, lies the constant reminder of the light that is illuminated from within.
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