In 2014 I lost my best friend and cousin Cathy Chiu to stage 4 cancer. We were shocked. Not only did we think she was improving, but we actually saw dozens of photos on Facebook of her enjoying life with her family in Singapore and Hawaii three weeks before her death.
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In 2010 I spent two years overseas with my cousin, so I know her like a second sister. She might be in tremendous physical pain but she forced herself to look happy for the sake of others: her mom, our grandmother, her kids, her customers, etc.
One instance that exemplifies this behavior was when she received a health department notice about her restaurant kitchen. She was being fined hundreds of dollars, to which probably to you and me, would make us tear our hair out and worry. But I remember her clearly that day. She took the notice and shoved it in her purse, saying, "It's only money. There are bigger things to think about."
We thought she meant other management issues.
Little did we realize that she was planning for her pending death, secretly arranging the sale of properties for her mom and children's benefit, meanwhile going through multiple anticancer treatments.
She was the type of person you always looked up to, and felt was your best friend. Even if you've only eaten at her restaurant once. She smiled and joked, and entertained so many, despite the physical and financial burdens that must've weighed on her mind, that you would never know how much she suffered inside.
It has been three years she has been gone. Today is her birthday, and she would've been 52 years old; and on this occasion, where I've had my first vacation in three years, I reminisce about how grateful I was to have spent time with her.
I reminisce about buying her these expensive but fun waterproof sandals that looked like duck feet. I reminisce about all the car trips we took to Yangming-san, a mountainous retreat, to look at the city from above, and all the times she treated me to buffets on her special hotel club card.
When I was in Taiwan I never felt lonely because there was always her, along with students, classmates and roommates, to cook interesting dishes for. I remember her telling me how happy she was, to be served instead of doing the food serving.
During that time, I enjoyed the lavish things we did, even as I couldn't afford them. Looking back, that may have been foolish. But being able to be equal and give something back to her was important; and it made her feel less of a caretaker.
My cousin was my rock. Through my own health crises, panic attacks, money worries, family problems, she was this immense "Buddha-like" sponge that could absorb it all, and reflect to you: "It'll pass; I've been there." (And yet her experience would be 1000x worse.)
Sometimes strong people are their worst enemies. They don't allow people to see their vulnerabilities and let them shoulder the pain. When she passed, I knew she had been lying and hiding it from the rest of the family to prevent them from worrying.
This is what I learned from her. She was a student of positive manifestation, and was a creative entrepreneur, having read books on abundance and successful living. I will post shots of her creative vision, Gusto Restaurant, in Taipei, Taiwan, to give you an idea of how brilliant she was.
She always lectured her mom and me about the importance of eating, drinking, sleeping, dressing and living well. "This is how you tell yourself you're worthy of the money that has yet to become attracted to you," she said.
Indeed, she was right.
This is coming from not a profligate spender, but from someone who was prudent enough to manage her mom's business out of bankruptcy at age 23, and who ran successful businesses for 20 years. In addition being a good manager, she was a good mom and beautiful person.
The only thing she couldn't do through manifestation work, though, was undo the damage done by her husband's sexual infidelity. They were high school sweethearts and married not shortly after graduation. Both hardworking, my cousin in law came from worse means, but he rose to the occasion by becoming a successful manager in China's largest shipping conglomerate. That said, he often traveled alone to do his work, and eventually fell in love with a prostitute and got her pregnant. This news alone was a complete affront to my cousin, who turned into a self-sacrificing and dutiful housewife after marriage.
She eventually forgave him, even after he left the woman. But she refused any attempts at reconciliation. Even after the divorce, she didn't accept alimony. She only wanted to end things peacefully for the sake of the children. Yet, I know, from having spent time with her and her children, that there were many years of sleeping in the cellar of her kitchen as a temporary home, before she would even ask for assistance from anyone. She raised her own money to start her restaurant, and schmoozed her way to becoming one of Taipei's best known Spanish restaturants, overcoming the obstacle of being tucked away in an alleyway no one normally go to, in one of the city's swankiest districts.
"Before the divorce I didn't think I had it within me," I recall her saying.
"But afterwards, I saw it was a good thing, because it saved me from myself, from being just a mom. Women should be independent. Never to sacrifice everything for the family like I did, because look at what happened.
"When you don't value yourself, your husband will leave you for someone that does."
That realization hit me hard. No one would think my cousin (this successful entrepreneur) would have been just a dumpy old housewife. Ever. She dressed well; she was always cheerful, and she was so glamorous, men always hit on her when she took excursions to China to see her ex-husband and daughter.
It was unfathomable. On the outside she lived the perfect life. On the inside, she hid so many truths.
I always wondered why she got into the cosmetic surgery business in mainland China and Taiwan, even though she already had a successful restaurant. Then I realized in listening to her stories, these women (like her) all believe something about them is still not good enough. Many of them are actresses, prostitutes, women who rely solely on their external appearance to survive. She told me how she found solace in helping these women. It wasn't a love of the products or procedures; or the desire to be beautiful herself, although, that was part of it in the beginning. It ended up helping her develop empathy for the other side: the woman her husband left her for. Somehow she needed to see firsthand, the cruelty of being beautiful to make a living, in order to come to peace with what had been done to her marriage.
Unfortunately, that forgiveness came too late. The cancer ran its course, while she was on a three week break from radiation therapy. She came down with something, and within days, she was dead.
How to heal the water (or sacral) chakra
She died when I was back in the States, and on my sophomore year of running my own business. Living with her for two years was the best preparation for running it, because I got used to the cycle of going to work in the late morning and weekends, being free for 60% of your time, and making my life about life entertainment. I was prepared for the rigors of entrepreneurship from listening to her complain.
If there was anything that I could've done differently, it would've been to have indulged her in taking a vacation to Italy. At the time I had a timeshare but I didn't have the means financially to buy the airplane ticket or spend the time off from work. Several times we tried to book it, but, like some other moneymaking schemes undertaken by my cousin, better opportunities in Asia always turned up, and she scurried away to make money, first.
I really regret that, because taking my family on vacation was the whole point of my buying (and paying off the mortgage on the timeshare for 15 years). Now every time someone passes away, even my dad, who is a scrupulous saver, would say, "Let's take a trip. Or let's spend some money or eat that. How many more days can you enjoy life?" The money that was so important and that we all worked to accumulate, isn't going with you.
I know that's a whole different mindset for some of you, but maybe one worth taking into consideration.
To heal the water chakra, look at what you blame yourself for. When events happen in your life, whether as a result of your doing or not, accept the reality that things happen and forgive yourself. By letting go of the emotional baggage, we can release guilt and other issues, blocking us from the true enjoyment of life.
In my cousin's case, she tried but never got over the failure of her marriage. Having gone to Catholic school, she had concepts about her sexuality that prevented her from getting over failed attempts at relationships with new partners, that turned her mind off to new opportunities, despite how beautiful she was; and in general, hampered a search for a new husband. She also put herself in a role that required so much responsibility that she couldn't take time off to heal that wounded aspects of her identity.
Other ways to balance this chakra include:
- Learning to open the hip area, doing yoga or other calisthenics;
- Engaging in free movement or dance;
- Visualizing orange — eating, absorbing, wearing and infusing yourself, in this color;
- Keeping the other chakras balanced; and
- Letting go of any unnecessary baggage, emotional or physical, that cloud or poison your environment, thoughts and, ultimately, your body.
Despite all the trials and tribulations in our lives, the gift of a physical body is more than what hundreds of thousands of disembodied spirits have. All of them wish, if they could do it again, to have lived differently, knowing what they know now after death. Had they known about the possible toxicity of their thoughts and inclinations, perhaps they wouldn't let themselves harbor them. So learn from this story and resolve to take your pleasure seriously. We never know when it'll be someone's or out last breath on Earth.
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