I don’t know how my aunt got the nickname “Bootsie” but it suited her well. She was quite the character and a very important part of my world. My family lost Tammy Leigh to cancer a few years ago, and it is a loss I will feel for the rest of my life. She was one of those incredible people that deeply impacted everyone around her, but she had absolutely no idea that she had that kind of power. My life is better for having known her.
She was a passionate person, and her passion covered the entire spectrum of emotion. Sometimes she could be extremely happy, silly and fun and at other times she could be extremely annoyed, sullen and grumpy. But the thing that stood out the most about her was her love. Tammy loved me and it showed. She wasn’t much of a mushy person, she didn’t always say I love you or give unsolicited hugs. She expressed love in her own unique way. She showed her love in special gifts, time spent together and in listening to my thoughts and concerns. She was always there when I needed her. She was someone I could count on.
We had so much fun together. When I was six or seven years old I remember listening to Earth, Wind and Fire albums while learning how to do a dance, called the bus stop, on the shag carpet in our living room. I recall sitting on the trunk of the car together, riding from the lake back to Granny and Grand daddy’s cottage, so we didn’t get the upholstery wet. (remember when we could do those things and not get a ticket or a visit from CPS?) As a teenager, I would spend the night at her apartment and we would listen to music, watch movies and laugh A LOT. She had a great laugh, and when she really got going her whole body shook; and that would make me laugh until I cried. Sometimes we would get so tickled about something that we couldn’t even look at each other without busting out in laughter all over again. I really miss that.
Watching her die was almost more than my heart could handle. Cancer is a brutal, dirty thief that stole her away a little at a time. It took the light from her eyes, wasting her away to a mere shadow of her former, vibrant self. It is a cruel and slow way to leave this world. I’ve been told “At least you had time and you could come to terms with the loss before it happened.”, that’s a load of crap. Watching someone die slowly is not a benefit in the grieving process. I may have been less shocked with the loss, but I would take struggling with that shock over the slow suffering of a loved one any day. And truth be told, it’s still a shock. Nothing prepares you for the finality of death. Nothing.
When she died, it left empty space in my life that can’t be filled by anyone else. I still sometimes think to myself “I need to call Tammy and tell her about this!” or “Tammy’s going to love this story.” but I can’t and she won’t, because she’s not here anymore. She’s not here, but her legacy is. Thinking of her brings a smile to my face and tears to my eyes. I’m so thankful for the memories stored up in my heart and mind. They are like a healing salve for painful wounds.