Monday, June 4, 2007


My dad's aunt, Fortuna Calvo, died last week. She would have been 99 years old this month and has a place in Washington State history as being the first Sephardic Jew born in Seattle.

I have many memories of Auntie Fortuna - she was the greatest baker I've ever known and introduced me to all the Sephardic yummies, recipes usually containing a lot of spinach and cheese, that are now my favorite foods.

She was a tough woman but had so much love for her family. She called all of us Preciado, the Ladino word for Precious, and I can only remember her house literally filled with members of my extended family - her kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews -and of course, incredible smells coming from the kitchen.

In her obituary she was called "A Warrior" and for so many reasons that statement is true. But sadly, sometime in the 90's she was diagnosed with Alzheimers. While we could still touch her and sit with her, she was mentally lost to us. So when the Kline Gallond Home, Auntie Fortuna's home for the past 12 and a half years, called last week to say Auntie Fortuna's body was finally giving in, it wasn't a shock. But then again, as it happens in life and death, it was. We'd been saying goodbye for so many years, but now it was time to really say goodbye.

So last Monday, Memorial Day, I took my grandma to see Auntie Fortuna, her eldest sister. Aunie Fortuna looked beautiful - her hair, recently combed by a nurse, was thick and soft, her skin had barely a wrinkle. But the visit didn't do much to satiate our hearts and in fact, left us feeling a little empty. My grandma tried her hardest to will Auntie Fortuna to open her eyes, to say a word or to show some sort of final recognition. All the history between them and it boiled down to an 85 year old baby sister stroking her 98 year old big sister's arm while the elder lay in a fetal position, breathing deeply but steadily, about to die.

The funeral was emotional, but it actually had a wonderful spirit to it. After the service, which included touching, loving and often hilarious stories about Auntie Fortuna, we walked out to the gravesite she now shares with her husband, Shaya, and we each had an opportunity to shovel some dirt over her casket. Then the immediately family reconvened in the chapel. While the Rabbi fed us a lite lunch I looked around the room at my beautiful family. We always like a good laugh and it pleased me to catch bits and pieces of the humor being exchanged and to see all the gorgeous faces light up in laughter.

So now what? We've gotta go back to our lives, even though one of us is gone and we are forever different and changed. But jumping right back in isn't always easy. I feel funky and numb, but wonder if I'm supposed to as she was "just" a great-aunt and she's been gone for such a long time. Am I partly mourning for other things lost in my life that I never fully got over? The death of a friend when I was 12, the death of my beloved grandparents, the end of my marriage, even the choice to give my cats to a better home a few weeks ago.

So what does Sugar & Swank suggest to the Good Woman and Good Man in mourning? Try to live your life in a way that will honor the loved one who has passed. For example, Auntie Fortuna always prioritized her family which is the basic principle behind Sugar & Swank. Running my own business isn't always easy and there are times when I wonder if I should go back to working for someone else and getting a steady paycheck. But I founded Sugar & Swank so that I could put my family first while still having a career about which I'm passionate. Being reminded of Auntie Fortuna's prioritization of family gives me the courage and kick in the pants to continue. At the end of the day the quality of my relationships are what matter to me most and I believe that Auntie Fortuna would have been proud of me for working hard to make a living on my own but making sure my family is still at the top of my list.

So make an appointment today so I can continue to honor Auntie Fortuna!

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