Dedicated to a Warrior of Fun

By Karen Collazo          

Losing my faith happened slowly. It started when I was five years old and I couldn’t find an adult to give me a straight answer when I asked: “What happens when we die?” I was told there was this ethereal place where we are reunited with our family, under the love and light of God. My innocent mind couldn’t wrap itself around the idea of such a place, especially because during this time we had very little family in the states. We were a small family—just four of us living in Miami. My extended family lived in Cuba and New Jersey. Who were these people that we would join in heaven? How will I know who they are?

As a teenager, I was exposed to the cruel practices and unethical treatment of animals around the world, for the purposes of: testing beauty products, creating coveted and expensive articles of clothing, entertaining and feeding the population and selling prized items like ivory on the black market. I questioned God, wondering why a power so great could let such horrible things happen at the hands of children made in his own image. And what was the point of all this meanness?

As I got older, I studied other religions in hopes that I would find the one that spoke to me. Having grown up in a house with a Jewish father and a spiritual mother, we had zero traditions we practiced. We only celebrated the National holidays. If the banks were closed, we were eating lechon from a caja china, around a table made up of random friends and one-off 3rd and 4th cousins. I was never baptized and I was spared the dreadful tiny wedding dress and church procession that most of my Catholic and Christian friends were subjected to for communion. I was desperate to identify with something and was drawn to eastern religions like Taoism, Hinduism and Buddhism. But growing up in a predominantly Hispanic city, with limited resources, there was little in the way of being able to practice anything but the common religions available in the West.

I even tried my hand at Wiccan and Pagan paths. I remember being so moved by the concept that mother earth was the center of all spiritual energy. The moon and the sun were Gods. Your successes and happiness rested in the hands of your relationship with nature. One day, I was so upset after a heated argument with my mother—about getting a tattoo behind her back (with a fake id) that I picked up a Wiccan practice and spells book. I read that one way to get rid of negative energy was to sweep the floor and push the pain and hurt out onto the street. There I was, all of sixteen years old, sweeping around the house, while muttering under my breath all my arguments for why I had the right to do what I wanted to my own body. My mother was pleased, thinking that I was making up for “hurting her” by getting my Sun tattoo on my right shoulder. But I was in fact trying to clean our house of the tension.

The incident that pushed me over the edge and led me to completing turning my back on spirituality and faith was, of course, the death of my mother. Not only could I not understand why this would happen to her and to us, but the advice I received during her battle and afterwards, just did not sit well with me. As a spiritual person, my mother depended heavily on mediums, santos and advice from “the other side.” When she was frail, hallowed and sinking into the hospital bed we setup in her bedroom, the spiritual guides in our family assured us that everything was going to be okay. But it wasn’t. After eight months, several rounds of chemo and radiation and a gastric bypass, my mother let out her last breath at the hospice wing of Mercy Hospital. I felt duped. If in fact one knew the outcome, why not provide the facts as they are to better prepare those seeking comfort? Was this a question of free will versus determination?

My mother was a country girl, from Las Tunas, Cuba. She grew up dirt poor, wore shoes two sizes too small and fell in love with a man that had very big ambitions. In the end, she succeeded in getting a college degree (the first in her family), leaving a communist country, raising two healthy daughters, owned her home and travelled the world. She battled major depression her whole life by keeping busy. But when she was on a high note, she enjoyed living to the fullest. Always the life of the party, her infectious laugh could paint a smile on anyone’s face. She had just started a new diet and had lost some weight, giving her a new sense of confidence. My father had quit the business and was making an honest living, and had even quit smoking cigarettes after 45 years of going through one pack of Marlboro Reds a day. Both daughters were in college… By all accounts, life was good. So, why?

There were a lot of comforting words handed out by friends and family like business cards at a networking event. “She’s resting now.” “She’s in a better place.” “She’s watching over you.” “She’s reunited with her father.” But, I truly believed there was no such place or cause. I felt empty. Life had no purpose, but to make the most of what you had because you never know… This catapulted me into a drug-fueled lifestyle that I would later pay dearly to walk away from.

When five years later, my father died of the same type of rare stomach cancer that was not traceable to anyone in our family’s lineage, I completely and utterly let go of the sliver of belief that sat way down deep at the bottom of my heart. With my hands in the air, I surrendered to the spiritual void that I would live with, until recently. Sure he smoked cigarettes and ate mostly red meat, but there were cases of healthy, holistic individuals dying of the same disease. What had my sister and I done to deserve being orphaned in our late teens/early twenties? With no answers, I turned to drugs with more fervor than before.

A year ago, my best friend’s 32 year-old sister was diagnosed with colon cancer. This week, she passed away at home, surrounded by friends and family. She was a bright light—a free spirit who sucked the juice out of life like no one I have ever known. Right after college she moved to San Francisco and made a living by managing startups. She traveled the world, became engrossed in spiritual retreats like Burning Man and, as expected, bought into the whole organic/farm-to-table movement. She was curious, spontaneous and beautiful. This loss has affected me in ways I could have never imagined. Immediately, I was overwhelmed with grief and sadness for the loss of a friend, a little sister and the last bit of hope that God would never do this to me, and take my one last surviving family member away from me: my own little sister.

But something much more beautiful has emerged through all the pain: a tiny bud has sprung. It seems to me that our souls are all traveling through space, collecting love and light, evolving—to keep this world turning on its axis. Each life we live is a test. When our energy is first released, we may find ourselves lost. We perhaps fall prey to the seven deadly pecados. Through experience and acceptance we unlearn how to live without transgression. Once we achieve this, as soon as we learn life's purpose, we graduate.

Kristy knew that it was her time to live wild and free. Her purpose on this earth, this time around, was to enjoy what she had earned from past lives. We were so lucky to have been a part of her journey. She knew the answers to the questions that have plagued me all my life. And her parting gift was showing me the path back to faith.