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Maria was one of eleven kids born in Cuba in the 40’s during a time where you honored your mother and father. You took care of them and defended them if people talked bad about them. Into their old age, you did whatever it is you needed to do to take care of them.

This may not seem like a big deal to most people today, but back then, and still in the Cuban culture today, it’s a huge deal. You didn’t kick them out of your house. You didn’t talk bad about them to anyone and everyone. You didn’t neglect to take them to doctor’s appointments when you know you are all they have to rely on.

You didn’t curse at them no matter how bad they were.  You still held a sense of honor and love and gratitude for the individuals who brought you into this world.

I’m not saying that douchebag parents got a free pass, but honoring your parents was just something you did no matter what; and, if it was a toxic situation or relationship, at the very least, you’d find a way to do it for your own good, sake, and karma, not theirs.

Maria turned out to be a badass, fearless in the pursuit of love and happiness. And, she was also haunted by her own demons and spent most of her life running away from skeletons she didn’t want to face. Her recent passing has had me reminiscing about her stories, reflecting on mine, and embracing my own demons.

Being one of eleven children didn’t provide for an easy childhood just because her family was more well-off than most. Maria adored her father and did anything she could to gain more of his love and attention.

Her father was frequently and publicly unfaithful to Maria’s mother, and that played a big role in Maria being programmed as a child to fight for love, to sacrifice for love; to give, and give and give until there is nothing left of her ….for LOVE.

It shaped her into the type of person who would do anything for love. It made her desperately want and need the love and attention of her father even more. She grew up with such a notion of what love meant and what one had to do to earn and receive love, that she often didn’t felt good enough.

I don’t know if it was growing up in a such a big family, competing for attention, or seeing her mom constantly strive for her father’s undivided love, but Maria spent the rest of her life searching for a whole, complete kind-of-love. She searched for it in relationships with men, she tried to find it in her children; she looked for it in people she loved and would do anything for.

In her 50s, she even adopted a child of a family member’s who was born in jail. She decided in an instant that she would rescue that baby, but it was also her way of giving that child and herself another chance, a better chance, at love. I was 8 years old and her only translator when she went to pick him up at 7 days old.

I’ll never forget the look on her face when she first held him.

I’ve heard stories of when she was younger and witnessed it for myself throughout my childhood: Maria was not perfect, but she would help anyone in and with any situation. She would literally take the shirt off her back and give it to someone in need.

She would shamelessly re-gift something you had given her if she knew of someone, she felt needed it more than her. She would drop everything, even her own family commitments and responsibilities at times, to help a friend or family member in need. That is just the type of woman that she was.

When she was 20 years old, in search of only God knows what, she was unfaithful to her husband with a co-worker at the hospital where she worked. They conceived a child, and even though Maria loved that child, disappointing her father and causing more turmoil in her marriage and to her other two children at home, was too much for her to handle.

To soften the blow of Maria’s new daughter’s existence, the baby was sent away to live with Maria’s sister on the other side of the country. Maria’s older sister was a kind, loving and infertile woman who welcomed the baby with open arms.

They called her Mama. I am grateful that I was able to meet her before she lost her battle with Cancer. And I hope Maria realized while she was alive that even though it hurt her, sending her daughter to live with Mama was the best thing that could have ever happened to that child.

Maria never told me this personally. She was never the lovey-dovey, sticky type. She was not a big hugger or kisser, and she didn’t really like to talk about her feelings or past pains.

But I know she loved all her children dearly. All of them, especially the daughter she sent away. She showed it countless times in countless ways. And despite what any of them may be holding on from the past, they know it, too.

I’ve heard and lived many of Maria’s stories, knowing her for my entire 36 years of life. I can tell you she was no angel, none of the women in my family are. She made her choices, she made her mistakes, and she tried to live with them. But Maria also had a heart of gold and an unmistakable sixth sense for people.

If Maria didn’t like you, I mean really, really didn’t like you, and she liked almost everyone, she had already given you a hundred chances; she had already forgiven you a million times, and she had already tried her best to like you because she was that type of person.

Her gut, her instincts and her awareness of people’s energy were always intact. People with malice and ill intentions never sat well with her.

For a long time during my childhood, she was in and out of my life, but as she got older, she needed more help and not too many of those friends and family members she had given the shirt off her back for were there to help her. I helped her on and off and have always regretted not making a better effort to stay in touch with her more.

I know that there was a point in Maria’s life where she gave up. She gave up on love, she gave up on herself, and she gave up on trying to be happy and feel whole. It came to a point for her where all the people that she had helped, and all the people that she had loved, in her mind-body-soul, had hurt her deeply and had pushed her away; and then there was that one big love she tried to hold on to, that abandoned her when she needed him the most.

Her heart was so broken, she just gave up. She let go of herself, and by doing so, she let go of everything. Her health, her happiness, her SELF. She gave into the guilt of her mistakes, the stories, and the pain of her past. Trying to make up for it every day by living for other people no longer filled the void.

Maria spent the last almost 30 years of her life giving everything she had left in her trying to find a way to re-write the stories in her heart in mind and trying to ease the pain she felt from them. Many times, she gave up on life. She asked God to take her almost daily as her health deteriorated.

Don’t get me wrong, she lived a long beautiful and crazy life, had four children, a bunch of grandchildren and got to meet almost all her great-grandchildren. But inside, the Maria causing her to go into a downward spiral was already dying for a while.

Maria believed so deeply for the past 30 years something that affected her emotionally, mentally and physically. She believed she wasn’t loved. She believed she had to do or be something more than just herself to simply by LOVED.

She believed she wasn’t enough to be loved just as she was. She believed that she was a burden. And she spent her entire life feeling not enough to be loved and giving more than she could of herself.

And even though she was exactly one month away from her 74th birthday, I know in my heart that it is that belief that killed her, not the lung or heart disease.

I believe that her beliefs about love caused her to give up on herself. And when she gave up on herself, she gave up on her health, her appearance, her wellness, her LIFE. I believe that she could have had a better, happier and longer life had she not been fighting these demons inside for so long.

I believe that is the case for all of us.

If this doesn’t sound familiar, and you can’t see and/or apply it to your own life in some way, shape or form today, maybe I’m not the person you should be reading.

The daughter Maria sent away was my mother, and Maria was my beloved grandmother. The belief that she wasn’t good enough to be loved that my grandmother had, is the SAME belief that’s keeping us back today from finding happiness, love, and success!

I share this story still with sadness and gratitude of her passing. To you, she may just be another old lady that died of a heart condition, but to me, she is a reminder.

Maria is all of us.

Every one of us who has ever let the pain and decisions of our past guide the rest of your emotions and decisions of your future. Anyone who has ever fallen into their own trap of beliefs, rituals and habits that do not serve the us that heals but the us that keeps hurting.

My grandmother will forever be a reminder to me that I get to choose. Every moment, every feeling, every definition, every perception is MINE to choose.

A few people had a problem with this picture of Maria from a previous hospital visit. They didn’t think it should have been shown at her viewing. They turned their faces, talked shit and whispered as if they had the right to judge.

I put it in the slideshow and showed it at her funeral anyway because this is who she was. I wasn’t present when this picture was taken, but I was told that she had just come out of one of her many surgeries and overheard my family members talk about all the tubing she had and how she looked, and this was her reaction (see below).

She was sick and tired of being sick and tired, and even though she was hurt deeply and wanted unity for her family, she was also done taking other people’s shit and being treated like she wasn’t even a human being.

She had a great sense of humor, slick mouth and was wickedly intelligent. No matter how much she tried to pity herself or how bad she was hurting inside, she always found a way to smile and say everything was going to be alright.

She was a fighter, a lover, a nurse, a mother, a sister, a friend, a matriarch, an intuitive, a rebel but most of all she was my grandmother.

Here are the 9 biggest lessons I learned from this badass:

1) In the end, you can look at your life and see someone else’s choices, or see your own - good or bad, choose yours!

2) When you give, give with a heart full of love not expectancy of something in return.

3) Learn to love from a distance when loving up close hurts instead of heals.

4) Fight for what you believe in even if the world thinks you are crazy.

5) Look at your mistakes as blessings in disguise. The 20-year-old you may be looking out for the 74-year-old you!

6) Create and follow your own definition of love, and screw what anyone thinks of it.

7) Don’t settle for bad men, bad sex or bad money. Just. Don’t. Settle.

8) You can drink Cuban coffee and eat Cuban bread with butter every day, and still look amazing. It’s all about the balance of listening to your body.

9) Don’t fear the police or jail. If all else fails, beat that ASS! Or, a less hands-on approach is to remember that repeating words mean nothing. Stop talking and start doing.

Maria taught me a great deal - more than I ever understood completely until she was gone. Part of my mourning her now comes with some feelings of regret that I never told her that. But on some level, I think she knew. 

We were a lot alike, and I can relate to her on so many levels. I always knew we had a special bond. I cannot even find the words to describe how much I will miss her.

The daughter that Maria’s sister raised is my mother and the person who gave up her life to take care of Maria in her last days. I am honored to be the daughter of a woman who has cared enough to search, heal, forgive, and be there for the person who brought her into this world: Maria, my grandmother.

I am honored to be one of the first of my generation of Maria’s grandchildren to have known her, her love, her stories, her skeletons, and her old beautiful soul.

Last Wednesday night, I was sitting on Maria’s bed watching her sleep when she took her last breath. It is a moment that I will never forget and that I will always have immense gratitude for.

At three-quarters of the way down to see her, I had to turn around and drive back home 90 minutes because I forgot my wallet. I was crushed at the delay, but there was no way I could grow wings or teleport, so I did all I could do: I became still, and I focused my love and light on her.

On the way down, I sent her my love. I spoke to her and told her to please wait for me. I got stuck in traffic, wandered the building next to where she was completely lost, yet calm and still, with a circle of light beaming from my chest out to her that followed me as I moved. I arrived at Maria’s room just over an hour before she left us.

I got to tell her that she was free to let go now - of all of it. All the emotional baggage, all the old beliefs, all those heavy stories. I knew she could hear me. I could feel it. And I thanked her for being her, and because for the past 5–6 years I had been searching, too, more than ever before, for my purpose on this earth.

A part of me already knew but couldn’t believe that I was already on that path. Losing my grandmother helped me see the light, and showed me that like her, I still didn’t believe it was possible until now.

I am even more honored to carry her love, her memory, her story, and message into my work, helping millions of women just like me, like her - set themselves free.