I was prosecuted for a crime I didn’t commit years ago.
I sit here writing my blog with tears in my eyes and a warm heart. For nearly two weeks, I have been in a skilled nursing facility daily beside my Aunt who is dying. She has lived a long, healthy, good life. She worked hard, made mistakes, corrected her path, took chances, won some/lost some, grew in her faith, served a lot of people in countless ways… and she loved hard. She has been the poster child of how to grow old gracefully. We all should be so fortunate.
When I was prosecuted for a crime I didn’t commit, I had to tell her personally. I owed it to both of us to deliver this news. I had to do it in a way that made sense to her when it didn’t make sense to me. The words didn’t come, but my Aunt didn’t make me suffer and choke on the words I couldn’t find because she knew me. She knew the essence of my character, who I was and who I was not. No explanation was needed.
My Federal criminal case lasted 6.5 years. Unlike others that pummelled me for answers, she didn’t require updates about the case. My Aunt wanted to know I was taking care of myself. She listened when I had to vent and she didn’t judge. She listened hard. She asked what she could do to help and actually meant it. She didn’t tell me all the terrible things that had happened to her as though some comparison could comfort me. This was my own horrific experience and I was entitled to feel whatever way that I did. She didn’t speculate or encourage me to forecast what was ahead because all we had was that day and we should live it well even in these extremely difficult times. When I was in the Courtroom, she showed up. I didn’t have to ask her to be there, she knew where she belonged. So much was understood and unspoken.
When the prosecutors wanted me to take a plea deal multiple times throughout my prosecution, she announced, as though she had full authority from my Father, the words she knew that my Father would have said to me and the words I needed to hear. My Father, my Aunt’s brother, had died a short time before my prosecution. Dad would have said that “he would never walk away from the truth”. It’s one of those moments that you will never forget. It lives in me. It was one of the many gifts that my Aunt gave me.
When I was found guilty for a crime I didn’t commit, it was a day or so before Mother’s Day and my family was determined to show their support. No one knew when sentencing would be and my fate. All we had was that day, Mother’s Day. Nothing more. No one was prepared to reach too far in the future and forecast potential next family gatherings. My Aunt pulled me aside at one point during the celebration. She put a treasured bracelet in my hand. It was a bracelet with charms on it that represented many distinguished times in her life. I had admired it year after year mostly because it jingled and she would sit with me when I was a child and tell me stories about what the charms meant. It felt like we were on an adventure together when she held each charm and painstakingly described the world she had lived in and one I barely knew existed. She was a living history book on life, faith, our family, and far away places.
I share all this because as my Aunt demonstrated to me every day, life is …..how you respond to it. My Aunt responded with love, truth and courage consistently… no matter the circumstances. She helped me be a better person.
For her last year, as she was able to do so, we met on a bench in a park behind her retirement community. We shared whatever the day brought us. She wasn’t supposed to leave her house due to COVID, but it was a short walk outside. It was like getting a shot of mental health for both of us. Even when there wasn’t much to say, she would say, “not much happening, do you want to know the details?” (sigh).
I am alone on a bench now and have tremendous memories of her life well-lived. The best thing I can do to honor her is to live the best life possible. Thank you, my dear Aunt, for being who you were to all of us. I love you.
What is your legacy?