Dear Aunt Kiki: What Your Death Taught Me About Life

Dear Aunt Kiki,

You probably wouldn’t remember the summer of 2007 as well as I do.  

That summer I got my driver’s license, drove my grandfather’s 1980-something F-150 with two gas tanks all over, had a great camping trip at Santa Cruz with my friends (somehow we got away with beach camping alone as 16 year olds), gas hit $5 / gallon, and you paid me too much to work on your property about 30 hours a week. 

I had no experience outside of cutting my own grass and pulling weeds when my dad made me, but you hired me anyways, probably knowing full well you’d my amateur 16-year-old-self more than you would have paid a professional crew to get the job done in less time.

I’d like to think we all believe in magic a little bit, or at least are curious if it really exists. I can’t have been the only kid who would sometimes wave his hand at a door hoping it would close or try to transmit my thoughts via ESP to a buddy. 

One day, as I was standing in the garden in your back yard—about half way between the weeping willow and the fence line—I was taken back by how much more work there was to be done. It was probably 105°and as I stood there in my long sleeve and hat I realized I couldn’t possibly finish it all before school started.

In what was probably a combination of my childish curiosity and just wanting a break, I wondered if the trick in magic is actually believing in it. You know how they say in sports “you gotta believe!” Maybe the same is true for magic, right?

I closed my eyes and didn’t open them until I had absolutely convinced myself that when I opened my eyes the garden would be absolutely beautiful.

I stood there in the central valley sun and day dreamed about your backyard. 

I imagined bark dust wrapping along the fence line glittered with vibrant yellow, baby blue and purple flowers. 

The weeping willow tall, beautiful and healthy with its vines nearly touching the ground. 

The grass perfectly manicured and gorgeous green. 

Not a blemish or weed in sight. 

Once I believed I would open my eyes to a new garden (or was at least 98% sure of it)—after what I guess was about ten minutes—I opened my eyes.

And what did I see?

The garden exactly the way it was before I closed my eyes, of course. 

But that’s not to say magic didn’t happen.

Before I closed my eyes I saw a job that was too big for me to tackle in the timeframe I could give. Bark to spread, grass to cut. Weeds to pull. Flowers to plant. Changes to make. 


But when I opened my eyes, the backyard was transformed. 

The flowers that followed the fence line were suddenly brighter and more brilliant than ever. Bees buzzed from pedal to pedal, spreading pollen that would someday grow into the next flower.

The vines on the weeping willow swayed mildly in the breeze like my wife’s hair in the soft wind. I became aware of that same gentle breeze on my face.

The grass called for kids to throw a ball and dogs to chase their tails.

It was peaceful. God was there.

That same tedious backyard was now a beautiful garden.

I didn’t share this story with anyone until your funeral, nine years later.

When Jake called me and told me you died, it hit me hard. Nobody was expecting that. I was sitting in the passenger seat as Ana drove and I burst into tears. All I could muster in response was a “What?”  

You always believed in me. You always made me feel welcomed and at home. You always took care of me and loved me. 

And it wasn’t just me, it was all our family. Everyone you loved. You were our Aunt Kiki.  

I spent a lot of time after that call thinking about you, and I kept coming back to that summer in your garden.

Full of weeds. An insurmountable amount of work to be done. Corrections, improvements to make. Not enough time or energy in the world to do what needs to be done to make it perfect.  

And at the same time, beautiful, vibrant. Colorful. Peaceful. Joyous. 

Absolutely perfect. 

Then I realized the big picture: I think this is how you saw me.

Full of weeds, full of flowers. 

Imperfect, yet beautiful. 

Through this, and through you, I learned to see others this way, too.

Nobody is perfect. Everyone has stuff. Some have more weeds than others. From some points of view those weeds stand out. Sometimes they get pulled, sometimes they grow back.

And at the same time, everyone has beauty deserving of awe and attention within them. Peace, joy to be celebrated. A person to be appreciated. A person to love.

This is the final lesson you taught me, after your death. It seems fitting. I don’t think you would’ve had it any other way. 

And when I forget your lesson, or all I see is weeds, I close my eyes, go back to your backyard, and see a beautiful garden when I open my eyes again. 

Maybe magic does exist. 

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2 thoughts on “Dear Aunt Kiki: What Your Death Taught Me About Life

  1. She loved you so much Kyle. She loved all of us. Thank You for reminding us how wonderful she was. I remember her backyard too. It was peaceful and her love was there. She is alive in our hearts… that love never dies.


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