In the wake of tragedy, I learned an important lesson.
I had to go back. After getting off the phone with my mom, I knew my family needed me to deal with the aftermath of a church shooting that killed several of my family members, including my mom's sister.
I packed up the life I'd spent the last year building in Philadelphia, left my corporate job, and hopped on a plane back home. When I walked through the door, it was as if a shadow descended, there was so much grief hanging in the air. We had a lot of healing to do and I figured if we were going to make it through to the other side of this, we needed to do it together.
When I was 18 years old and my sister 16, we moved into a loft apartment to raise her daughter, Alyssa. It wasn't something either of us had planned on but after I rushed through five hours of traffic once she was in labor and arrived to see that little face, her hair tied up in a pink bow, I knew this was it. This was family. I'd never felt such love in my life before. We enrolled in the same adult high school together, I got a day job, and we raised Alyssa together, scrimping and saving to get by. It was tough waking up in the middle of the night to cries (or never falling asleep in the first place) with another long day of work and night school ahead of me. But I love my family and wouldn't have had it any other way.
Our family has been through a lot of changes and in 2006, my brother-in-law, a Navy SEAL, died while my sister was in the middle of a high-risk pregnancy with two small children already in tow. Again, we moved in together while she picked up the pieces and put her life back together and found stability for herself and her kids.
As a kid, my great grandparents taught me the two things you do in life is work and take care of your family. They were from another time, hardened sharecroppers born in the early 1900's. They'd survived the Great Depression, segregation, an entire world I never experienced. Every morning we got up, put on our field clothes and picked food. The two of them had a large farm that produced all the food we ate; there was no such thing as cornflakes in that house and forget about pancakes. We'd go out into the fields and I most remember picking the strawberries, their bright red spheres glowing in the bushes. Through their stories and living with them on the farm, I came to know our family history, my heritage, and the meaning of the word "family."
For me, there was never any question about who would step up when someone needed a place to lean. It came naturally to me. From that first apartment at 18, my family has driven me. I always welcomed them into my home, and I was always there doing what I could when they needed help, to the extent that I was able. I knew on that trip home from Philadelphia that they needed me then.
In my heart of hearts, I knew that this was a one-way trip even if I never said as much out loud. What I realized after hearing the news was that you never know how much time you have left with someone; I knew I wanted to spend every second with my family that I could from that moment forward. With them, I was home.
Now I have a home with plenty of room for all the aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and mom. I love being a licensed REALTOR® in Texas because we're really all a big family here. The people are the best part and it's my favorite thing to spend my days helping my clients reach their dreams through real estate to make time for what's important in their lives.