Learning from Gabby

Gabby wearing her Blazer shirt
Gabby is one of my mom’s older sisters. She was born cognitively impaired. Her childhood was absolutely terrible.

Gabby was a huge Portland Trailblazers fan. Even though she didn’t fully understand basketball, Gabby would always wear her Blazer shirt and scream at the television. After a few beers, her cheers were really funny. Since I’m a huge sports fan who has been known to scream at the television, Gabby and I bonded over many games. Our equal love for the great food Mom almost always made us to eat with the games was another thing we shared.

One night , while I was listening to Gabby scream at the coach to “Put his a** on the bench,” I got an idea. I told Gabby that for her birthday I would take her to a game. As long as I live, I’ll never forget the long pause before she finally said, “I never thought I’d go.”

Gabby told everyone she knew she was going to her first game. She bought us all new Blazer shirts to wear. She made sure her friends in the building where she lived would be watching; maybe, she would be on television.

A couple of months later, Gabby, Mom, and I were on our way to a game between the Blazer’s and my favorite team the Boston Celtics. We were all wearing our Blazer shirts. On that night, just for Gabby, I was a Blazer fan too.

I can still hear the joy in Mom’s voice as she kept commenting about the smile on Gabby’s face.

When the game started, I leaned back and listened to Mom and Gabby scream. Mom is the loudest person I’ve ever seen at a sporting event. The antics of she and Gabby got other fans screaming too. Two different people commented about how happy Mom and Gabby were. For the first time in my life, I was glad the Celtics lost.

We lost Gabby from breast cancer on June 6, 2015. I’ll write more about that another time. Sitting here, all I want to do is replay the joy Gabby always showed when her Blazers were playing or Mom was sending leftovers home with her.

To far too many, Gabby was barely noticed. She was an old, fat lady with brain damage. To those of us lucky enough to know her Gabby had more to teach than we have been able to learn. As bad as things had been for Gabby, she had an easier time finding the joy in life than almost anyone I’ve ever met.

Some may be thinking Gabby found joy because she wasn’t smart enough to know what had happened to her and what was happening to her. I can say that, because I’m ashamed to admit I saw her that way for years. For years I thought of our relationship as a series of things I could do for Gabby. I often felt good and patted myself on the back for going out of the way for someone the world too often forgot.

Toward the end of Gabby’s life, I started realizing how wrong I had been. I was much smarter than Gabby. I had done many more things than Gabby had done.

Gabby had way more friends than I’ve ever had. Gabby’s almost constant smile put everyone at ease and helped us all feel better.

I wrote this post tonight because I’m currently facing several personal challenges that are keeping me up, making me angry, causing me to worry, and forcing me to face the fear of failure and the emptiness of loneliness.

I thought of Gabby tonight because she never worried about failure. She rarely felt alone. As misunderstood as she often was, Gabby only thought about the things and people that made her happy.

I made Gabby’s dream come true. For that, I’m so happy. At the time, I thought she was only offering me her appreciation. Now, I’m looking to channel my inner Gabby. Gabby lived her life in the moment. As often as possible, she found joy in every thing she did. Gabby has been gone for more than two years. I’m still realizing the abilities she had that make me jealous.

Thanks for all you didn’t know you were teaching, Gabby. You’ll always hold a special place in my heart. One of these days, I’m going to find the inner peace you found in a life that I think may have broken me.


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