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The image of my Aunt Natalie would be one of my first childhood memories…I remember being in the kitchen with the sunlight beaming through the window and her eyes, with dark circles, so heavy with sadness. As an impressionable 4-year-old child I would stare into her eyes and inquisitively ask her what was wrong with her eyes? She replied it’s just the glare of the sunlight that was bothering them. What we do and say to protect children from the realities of life, but I knew the truth even at that very innocent age. Something was terribly wrong and I FELT IT!

She was the spitting image of Jane Russell young vibrant with her whole life ahead of her but she was suffering a very private and deep pain for which the details will remain privileged. But our family and world would lose a remarkable woman to the devastating grips of depression and mental illness.

My Aunt would take her life on January 6th, Little Christmas her namesake, and would be buried on my 5th birthday. There would be many stories, rumors, and innuendos surrounding the cause of her death which always intrigued me. I thought why is the truth so difficult to embrace? What would have happened if the truth were spoken? This devastating tragedy could have been an opportunity for us to unite and come together to discuss and educate ourselves about mental illness. What did we fear? These questions and many more remain with me today. But, as I come to terms with my own internal reconciliation I realize that I rather bear witness to the truth no matter how painful it is to own.

There is no doubt that my brief, but impactful, interactions with my Aunt had infiltrated my unconscious thus steering my personal and professional career in directions that I never imagined nor could I have ever predicted. Nothing fuels my rage more than when I flippantly hear people say, “children adjust, they will be fine” after they have endured devastation and trauma. Just wait until they become adults and they are questioning why they can’t get out of bed, why they are suicidal, why they are numbing themselves with drugs and alcohol, and why they are spiraling into the depths of despair. Then tell me these children will be fine! I think people feel the need to convince themselves that everything will be fine…what is that about? What are we trying to avoid?

We compromise our physical and emotional wellbeing when we create toxic distractions and immerse ourselves into the very private and personal affairs of others. This is just one of the perilous defense mechanisms that one employs to avoid examining their own psyche and familial demons. Manicuring and maintaining one’s own garden is critical for self-preservation, a healthier mental state, and a more authentic existence.

I am now in the prime of my life and the age my Aunt Natalie was when she took her life and one year shy of the age my father was when his life was taken in a blink. Needless to say, this reality is surreal and sobering and makes me question the next chapter of my life and how I want to live it. With that, I have come to accept that our time on this planet is brief so be mindful how you choose to occupy your time and where to exert your energy. Think carefully and ask yourself, is this really how and who you want to spend your valuable time with?

My hope is that my Aunt Natalie’s death was not in vain and that we can learn from this senseless tragedy and emerge from familial, ancestral, and tribal denial because the consequences of ignorance is not bliss but catastrophic.

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