For those who don’t know, my birth wasn’t planned. And I start off with that sentence because regardless of the surprise of me into the world, it never felt like one.
Especially because of my aunt—Tita—Ela.
Growing up, she had always touted me as her “first-born” or the little sister she never had. She was always holding me, loving me, and spoiling me.
But like a little sister, I put her through a ringer.
She often liked to remind me, that as a baby, right before she had to go to school one morning, I pooped on her uniform.
It’s very much a metaphor for how she’d deal with my shit the rest of her life.
Whether it was banging on her door to watch Beauty and the Beast with me for the millionth time, even after staying up late to study for her exams, or taking the VIA Rail on weekends from Toronto to Ottawa to come hangout, or even sit through hours of me trying on prom dresses before I finally settled on one—my Tita Ela was always there.
Like sisters, she let me cry on the phone with her when my first boyfriend broke my heart, and let me vent when I got into another fight with my parents. She would calm me down when I had anxiety because I thought would die from eating undercooked pork sausages. And she would scream just a little when I told her—after the fact—I had jumped out of a plane.
I still have the teddy bear she gave me one Christmas, years ago.
Tita Ela wasn’t just a mother and a wife, or a sister or aunt, for a lot of my family she was also a confidant, a best friend.
I remember when she told me she was pregnant with her (real) first-born. My cousin David and I had jokingly, a month ago, made her eat Rockets but called them pregnancy pills.
I was ecstatic when I got the news.
I remember her Winnie the Pooh stuffed toy she had in her apartment, her love of Dalmatians (and dogs in general—she still claims Buddy as her own), and how she could draw (she once sketched Betty and Veronica and Snoopy in my sketch book).
We’d gush over our mutual love of Nick Carter and how Pierce Brosnan is still fine (like aged wine). We’d talk about future travel plans when COVID was finally done and her youngest’s latest audition.
We’d dissect the story arcs for ABC’s Once Upon a Time, I’d sit through her worrying about my partying some days as well as recipes I should try, and also sent pictures back and forth to help her decide on what dress to wear to her Christmas parties.
In my third year of university, my Tita let me do a project on her for my photojournalism class.
She was diagnosed with breast cancer and a week later found out she was pregnant.
My series and documentary followed her through her second trimester, asking her how she felt.
And what stuck out to me as I watched in on loop—just to hear her voice again, just to feel a sense of calm wash over me—was that despite all the fears, and the unknowns, and the exhaustion in her voice, she knew that her “little one” was worth it all, was something to look forward to.
One day on Instagram I asked my followers what they loved most about themselves and it couldn’t be physical.
“One thing I know I have and can be proud of? Resiliency.”
And that’s the thing about Tita Ela… she would never give up.
It’s something I will forever remember her by.
I know right now she’d sassily—honestly, I think that’s where I get my sass from—tell me to not be a cry baby, that everything is okay, and she’s with Lola and Tita Tess now. But I also know that I miss her immensely.
I also know that no matter how many funerals you go to or how much grief you have, it never gets easy the next time around.
I don’t think it ever will.
It never gets easy writing these, no matter how many times I have. No matter how many walks down memory lane, no matter how this time around I was able to hug her one final time, no matter how many walks in the rain or tears you shed… still I have all the words, and none at all.
In moments like this Tita would remind me that our peace doesn’t come from the departed—it comes from God.
So, in this moment, like Tita, I’ll quote a verse she shared only 11 days ago: Romans 8:28.
Today I woke up to a world without her—and I don’t like it one bit.
Today, I woke up knowing I can’t FaceTime her randomly during the work day nor can I text her about the next boy I like.
Today I woke up wishing we could have more memories to make.
And while I know she’s up there with a mother and sister she’s missed, I hope it’s okay I miss her too.
I hope it’s okay every time I see a butterfly, I’ll remember her too.
Besides, I already know—and will wait for the day—when we meet again.
I just know she’ll roll her eyes, put up her fist and shake it back and forth, going, “What did you do that for?” as she proceeds to rip me a new one for all the crazy antics and mistakes I’ll probably make moving forward.
And to that I’ll say, “Thank you, always and forever, for putting up with my shit.”
Pun intended always, Tita. Pun intended