2011 Essay Contest-Young Adult Winner

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As a child, I often reflected upon the beauty of my aunt’s name, Neeraja, imagining that it was my own. She served as a constant source of strength and affection, and her enthusiasm for life constantly inspired me. These days, I frequently flip through family albums to gaze at photos of us together. In most pictures, her hands are placed gently on my shoulders.

In June, my aunt, only 38 years old, suffered a cancer relapse. Over the next few months, my family traveled to New Jersey to spend time with her and to help care for my cousins. On Columbus Day weekend, we made one such visit. Pumped with medicines, my aunt rested upstairs, eating little and sleeping often. Before I left, I hugged her warmly. She strained to respond, despite her weakness.

Shortly after that visit, my aunt unexpectedly suffered a seizure and stopped responding. We drove to the hospital to see her for the last time. Her eyes closed, she lay on a white bed with a periwinkle blanket pulled over her. Her soft hair fanned above her head on the pillow, all black with not a single streak of gray. Noticing the two pale blue tubes connecting her to the ventilator, I began to cry. I could not fathom my aunt’s inability to perform a function as basic as breathing.

Not one person’s eyes were dry as the nurses prepared to disconnect the ventilator. My uncle lifted my young cousins, aged 3 and 8, up into his arms and told them to say goodbye to their mom. I held on to my aunt’s sock-covered foot as she slipped away. My world splintered into a million different pieces, and I knew instantly that I would never be able to make sense of her death.

The past several months have endowed me with a perspective that I feel other experiences could seldom lend. My aunt’s passing has helped me to re-evaluate my priorities, and my sense of appreciation has been greatly enhanced. Over Thanksgiving break, I began to grasp the true meaning of gratitude as I enjoyed the time spent with my uncle and cousins. Rather than worrying about my upcoming Art History test or dwelling on social drama, I let myself be with them. Their outstanding need superseded my obligations. This new, nuanced view of life has imbued me with a deeper spirit of selflessness. Having experienced the numerous needs of a relative afflicted with terminal illness, I am more sensitive to the day-to-day needs of others.

As I strive to follow my aunt’s example of living in the present, I find myself paying homage to her memory. I value small experiences more deeply, and I give of myself more fully. Boredom is a choice, not a necessity, and I am determined to make every moment count. Though I may never completely come to terms with my aunt’s death, I am infused daily with her courage and her spirit. Her hands continue to rest on my shoulders.

Vishnupriya Manavasi Krishnan graduated from Holton-Arms School and will attend the University of Maryland, where she plans to study biology and music. She lives in Potomac.

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