Five years ago today I lost the single most influential person in my life; a true Bodhisattva, the kind of person one is fortunate enough to meet only once in a lifetime and perhaps, only once in several lifetimes.
I met my husband’s aunt, Annette Madia Becker, for the first time through letters from her, shortly after we were first married. We lived in Arizona at the time and Aunt Annette wrote from New Jersey, on peacock-adorned stationary, to welcome me to the family and to introduce herself. She had a way of making me feel special before I ever had the honor of being in her presence.
When we moved to NJ in 2000 Aunt Annette invited me to visit her on a weekly basis, and I found myself in awe of this beautiful soul. She had an incredible way about her; her presence commanded your attention while at the same time creating a quiet sense of centered calm. She spoke with authority, captured my attention and taught me the most important thing I would ever learn: how to breathe and take my seat. She set me on the path to becoming a yogini long before it ever occurred to me to explore my first asana, or yoga posture.
Aunt Annette gently re-navigated my course from a life-long practice of reactionary self-destructive behaviors to a path of mindfulness and self-awareness. I learned from her that life is an elegant dance and we must be present and experience each and every moment. She was a life-line in my tumultuous sea of self-induced suffering. Although it would take several years before I would firmly find my footing on this path (and I, admittedly, still have my struggles, particularly in the Winter), I imagine I would still be floundering in that rugged sea had she not recognized my potential and committed to invest in me.
I spent the next five years under her protective wing, learning everything from Pranic energy healing to Native American Spirituality. The American Indians believe in animal totems and animal spirit guides; peacock energy seemed to surround Aunt Annette and during the years that I spent with her, peacocks and peacock imagery would frequently show up in the most surprising and unusual ways. It had a way of making her seem near, even when she was in another state.
She taught, as all the great masters do, through the experience of day-to-day tasks, such as walking, cooking and gardening, with an emphasis on present moment and intent. Aunt Annette was an incredible cook; you could actually taste love in everything she prepared. She was also a powerful healer and I am convinced that my time with her changed me on a molecular level.
Losing her came as an incredible blow to anyone who knew her. She was many things to many people. Each of her loved-ones experienced her loss in their own deep and unique way; in the way that she had made them feel; in the many things that she had meant to them. For me, it was the emotional equivalent to having the wind knocked out of me. Having lost the person who had for the first time taught me how to breathe, I found myself unable to catch my breath.
Yet, even as I was deeply and completely experiencing her loss, Aunt Annette found ways to reach out and inform me of her presence. I knew she was with me, for example, when exiting the ladies room during the dinner following her memorial service; lost in my sorrow, I looked up to see a striking painting of a peacock towering over me. I couldn’t help but smile. There have been many such indications of her presence and guidance over the past several years, and of late, I actually catch a scent reminiscent of her in the room.
It took some time, but eventually I managed to catch my breath and start breathing again. Really breathing, the way she had taught me; the way we breathe in yoga. When I began exploring yoga nearly two years ago, it was the intricate connection of breath and movement which most appealed to me.
So for now, I am off to practice sun salutes in honor of a Bodhisattva and then enjoy some soup prepared in present moment and sprinkled with love.
Shortly after she passed we added a tribute page to our literary website, with a tribute written by Joey and I poem by me. After several months of working through her loss I added another poem to the same site.
I offer the links here for anyone who may be interested: