Life. Full of adventures, mischief, and lessons that grow us with every passing day. 2018 has been a journey that I will never forget. Between relationships, school, and family, I've been given lessons in this past year that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. One of the biggest lessons life has to teach us, ironically, is that of death. As a twenty-one year old, I haven't had many experiences with the idea that seems so difficult to grasp. Death is something so natural, but yet we keep it as far away from us as possible in our lifetime.

Now I don't mean to be so morbid, but then again maybe that's the reason we avoid the topic of death so much. For much of my life, I avoided even the thought of it based on pure fear of what comes in the after life. I believe in God, I believe in Heaven (and completely understand those who don't), but yet still fear what comes after our life is completed. On August 14th, 2018, I lost my aunt to her battle with metastatic breast cancer. On that Tuesday night, I held her hand as she took her last breath, wiped the sweat off of her forehead from the exhausting battle, and closed her eyes one last time. For a brief moment, I sat with death. I sat with him and stayed speechless as he took my aunt by the hand to the golden gates. This woman raised me, from the time I was released from the hospital as a new born, to her last breath, she was always teaching me lessons. The lesson in this moment as she walked away from us was hidden under anger and sadness.

I was angry, and sat for days wondering why this happened. Why we didn't have more time together. Why I couldn't gain anymore lessons from the one who seemed to teach me the most. I lay at the empty hospice bed wishing to break apart the last memento left behind. Confused, I was about to begin a journey that I had never seen coming.

"Because of the existence of love, sacrifice is born, as well as hate, and one comprehends, one knows pain". - Pain, Naruto: Shippuden

The days became longer, and I found myself lost in thought more than I was reality. Wishing to bring back moments we spent with each other. Fishing, canoeing, fixing stuff up around the house, and even staying up with you when I couldn't sleep at night. Remember that time I ate fourteen Flintstones Gummies and thought I was going to overdose? I do. You sat up with me while I panicked, and at two in the morning we sat on the porch and watched shooting stars fly by until I calmed down. It was the small things that made me the young man I am today. Every Harry Potter book release, Star Wars marathon, and Lord of the Rings movie I fell asleep through. It was the small moments spent with me, that I knew I would bestow on my children. Till this day I am still angry that you won't be here to see me graduate, have my first child, get married, and grow old, but I'm content knowing you'll be a guiding light through every one of those journeys.

The lesson in this, was to tell those you love exactly how you feel, before it's too late. I know now that not everyday is guaranteed, and you do not know what someone is battling on a daily basis. Let your loved ones know you care, your teachers that you are thankful, and your friends that you are here for them. Your legacy is not what you do, but how you have affected the people around you during your time here. Based on that ideal, my aunts legacy will live on as long as I, and everyone she knew carries the lessons she taught. Those lessons you've taught me will live for generations, and I will make sure of it.

At the age of twenty one, I have experienced the birth and death of family, and even some friends. Through these events, you realize the gentle balance between the two, how life is so beautiful, yet so painful at the same time. For anyone who is continuing their journey without a loved one by their side, know they are only not next to you, because they are watching over you. They will do everything in their power to bless your path, so long you keep their legacy in your heart.

You used to share my writing with all of your friends, I only wish I had known how proud I made you.

My aunt, my godmother, my second mother June, for every role you took to make sure I lived a young life full of excitement and joy, I thank you. I will carry you with me, wherever I go.

For those who have lost a family member or friend to cancer, I encourage you to keep fighting. As October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, take a stand on the health of yourself and those you care about. Remind those around you that you love them and every moment spent is one cherished. For those who may not have heard this today, I love you, and I hope that whatever challenge you are going through only turns you into a stronger individual than before.