This post has been so difficult for me to write because my current reality is incomprehensible. When you are able to read this, time will have lessened my waves of sorrow however, right now, it’s all very raw and emotional. I’m going to try my best to write through my grief so you can see your mother’s honest vulnerability.
On September 22nd 2019, your aunt, my only sister, completed her battle with bi-polar depression. How can I begin to explain the person she was? Words cannot describe her contagious laugh. The mere stories I will tell over the years will never give justice to her vibrant life. No longer is the person who would sing to you in your car seat to make you smile. How can I possibly make you feel just how much she loved you?
Your aunt was the sun, our Shani-sunshine.
Bright– Shani was so incredibly smart and she was such a good student. I teach with women who taught your aunt in grade school and they all loved her personality and work ethic. They refer to her as one of their favorite, most memorable students of their careers. Throughout her schooling, she had completed her masters degree in psychology and was working towards a Psy-D, Shani was always the “teachers pet” and proudly, the top of her class. I always thought, if Shani was in school, her mind was in the right place. I knew nothing about the mania that accompanies bi-polar disorder and what she felt necessary for the success in her prestigious, doctoral program. Her energy source was the same disorder that would lie to her and put her down.
Nurturing – Our bodies need the sun’s vitamins and you could call Shani, my vitamin D. If I was having a bad day, or I was walking alone in a parking lot, if I needed someone to talk to, Shani was only ever a phone call away. She loved to FaceTime with you and we would, daily. She was the first person to babysit you while I went to my six-week OB appointment and she took the sweetest pictures of you inside of your stocking. During the last phone conversation we had together, she commented on how sweet your little voice sounded and how much she missed you. We were making plans for her to come visit for your second birthday and how she thought I was ridiculous for wanting to rent a kangaroo.
Shani and I would talk about our futures with one another; pool side, on the porch, sitting on her bed in the early hours of the morning. She always said she would carry children for me if I wouldn’t have been able to. She was so excited when I told her I was pregnant for you. She said that she would be the “cool aunt” that you could go and live with during your rambunctious, teenage years. She wanted you to be able to talk to her about your crushes and all the awkward things you wouldn’t want your mom knowing about. She threatened me by saying that she’d tell you all about my years in high school. She had plans to help pay for your college. She had plans to care for you and her future family.
Your aunt knew a song for every occasion and she had an incredible voice. When she auditioned for women’s chorus in high school, she sang, “Lean on Me”, which is incredibly fitting for the friend that she was. If we couldn’t spend Thanksgiving Day together, she’d call me up and we’d sing the turkey song over the phone. On the day you were born, she kept singing, “Edelweiss”. Small and white, clean and bright. You look happy to meet me. She listened to all genres of music; gospel, show tunes, rap, country, etc. She even dabbled in recording. Her range was great and she had an ear for harmony. I had amazing opportunities to hear Shani sing; beautifully at a wedding reception, in the church at Bridgewater, and my favorite memory of her voice – singing to you cradled in her arms.
Shani cared for everyone. It didn’t matter race, sexual orientation, social status, etc. When we were kids, she would find dead mice in our garage and make beds for them out of old shoeboxes and try to keep them as pets; completely disregarding Gams wishes to throw the dead rodent away. In high-school, she started an equality club for the LGBTQ community (sorry if I didn’t use the correct acronym, Shani – she would be quick to correct me if it’s wrong). She got a speeding ticket in college while taking her sick roommate to the hospital. Shani had no money to give but she gave freely to friends and causes, despite what I had to say about it. She had clients who clung to her every word and had her cellphone number incase of emergencies.
Shani would make sure everyone was well fed. She loved tomato sandwiches in the summertime. Shani was always the one to cut up the fresh pineapple. Your aunt worked at Johnny Rockets, a diner where she would dance and sing in between serving milkshakes and she had so many regulars because of her bubbly personality. She had so much fun baking my bachelorette party cakes; one black and one white, you’ll understand that when you’re older. Shani was always first to try my vegan recipes and was supportive of our family’s lifestyle. Last year, she urged everyone in the family to stop using plastic straws for the sake of the sea turtles.
She took you to the beach when you were six months old and bought you toys to play with in the sand. She always bought you things that would help grow your brain. The Veggietales DVDs and Noahs Arc toy were gifts from her for your dedication because she wanted you to grow in Christ. She wrote you a book and bought you so many books; she didn’t just read them to you, but she encouraged you to read them aloud. Shani cared about the students that I taught, too. My second year of teaching, Shani bought my entire classroom clipboards for my birthday. She helped run a fundraiser for my class to get ukuleles. On her spring break, instead of sleeping-in, Shani ran the music for my choir concert.
I desperately wish that she could have turned off the voices inside her head that told her she wasn’t good enough. To everyone else, she was vitamin D.
Dazzling – Her beauty was effortless. We are so fortunate to live during a time where pictures and videos can be retrieved in seconds because some of her radiance was captured in those quick moments and short clips. She exuded confidence. (Now, I question how much of that was a facade due to her disorder.) Men wanted her and women wanted to be her. She would talk about getting her ears pinned back, having an eyelid procedure, and needing a boob-lift; I vetoed the surgical nonsense every time she brought up because your aunt needed none of that. She had the most shiny hair, the quirkiest placed dimple under her eye, an hourglass figure, a pixie nose, and most petite hands and feet. The Friday before Shani took her life, I told her that I wished she could see herself the way that I saw her, but now I know that the darkness of the disorder would prevent her from feeling that way.
Consistent with the rising sun is unforgiving darkness and unfortunately, Aunt Shani experienced that, too.
Your aunt struggled to find men who were worth a damn. There were plenty of men interested in her and she would date them when she felt like it but she was notorious for falling for the guys who needed, “fixing”; the divorcee, military men with ptsd, her exes. I told her many times, you can’t force someone to change and that we only have control of ourselves – but the disorder kept her from having control of her feelings. Shani told me that she would never, “settle” in a relationship and that she believed in soul mates; I argued with her about this. I wanted her to find stability in a relationship. Now, I wish I could have done more to help her obtain stability within herself.
We shouldn’t stare directly at the sun. I would wait for the “right time” to tell my sister things, not knowing how she would react. If you would ask Shani a personal question about her love life, significant choices, or her mental state, she would quickly change the subject, get irritated and defensive, and remind you that she was, “fine”. My sunscreen was you. No matter how frustrated she’d be with me for asking too many questions or how upset she’d get when I wouldn’t agree with her on a political stance, I could change the subject to you and her entire attitude would change. She always agreed with my parenting choices and would never tire of the stories I’d tell her about you.
I don’t remember life before my sister was born because as far back as I can remember, shes been there. Shani has always been there just as the sun has been burning for 4 billion years. I never thought I’d have to live life without her. Life ceases to exist without the sun and I’m having an impossible time without mine. Learning to navigate this changed world is incredibly difficult; the finalization of death. There are nights when the tears won’t end. I no longer listen to the radio or watch television for the fear that something will remind me of her. I have to push myself to speak to my friends, do anything outside the house for myself, and celebrate the holidays. And I’m sorry for the times you see me crying in the kitchen – I just hate that you’ll never get the opportunity to be in your Aunts wedding or to hear her beautiful voice at Christmas time.
But you, my love, are a light and I need you to know that during this time of heavy darkness, you will forever be my saving spark, my energy source, and the illumination that keeps me going. I pray that God will carry us through this time of heartache and that Shani is resting in paradise with our Heavenly Father.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
I love you, Ashani Leigh Pompey and I’ll never stop. It sucks that we can’t make any new memories together but I know that one day, I’ll get to see you face to face and tell you all about this crazy, beautiful life. On the other side, my baby sis, my sunshine.