You just have to get on with it.

It’s a phrase or some variation of it, that I whisper to myself often. A phrase introduced to me by my dear, dear cousin Joya. A phrase that has kept me moving forward for years. 

Joya was born and raised in the U.K. Despite being separated by an ocean we were very close. I was a bridesmaid in her wedding. I’m her daughter’s godmother. The only child to her mother, my brother and I was like her siblings. We joked. We laughed. We got on each other’s nerves. I have countless memories of going to visit her and her mom (mum) in Leeds. A sleepy town, it became my favorite place on earth because of the memories I’ve made there. The warmth, simplicity, and peace was a stark contrast to my experience at home in America. 

Joya owned every room she walked into. Maybe it was her boisterous laugh and the sudden flash of the unforgettable gap in her teeth. Maybe it was her statuesque frame that measured at least six feet tall or her deep mahogany skin. Joya was the life of the party. I admired how easily she made friends. While I was more reserved, she was an effortless magnet of affection. I wanted to be just like her.

Joya was just in her 40s when she was first diagnosed with cancer. I made an emergency trip to Leeds to visit her in the hospital. Her cancer had returned and there were complications during her stem cell treatment. Despite all the tubes and not having a voice, there were glimmers of her personality that shined through. She stuck out her tongue the day she woke up and recognized me. The wink she would give me when I walked into her hospital room. The scowl she would give the doctors and nurses as she struggled to forcefully question them about her care. She’s always been feisty! What I’ll never forget is the squeezing of my hand, the thank you’s and I love you’s that ended my visit one afternoon when I had to say goodbye before returning to the States…not knowing the distance would sadly last forever.

I was back a few weeks later for her funeral. Her husband, who she met during her first days in college, wanted photo collages placed at the repast. We went through hundreds of pictures. One crazy college party after another. Adventure, after adventure from a wedding in India to them dancing the night away in the Caribbean. Who can forget their wedding in The Gambia, West Africa. One of the best vacations of my life! The trips with the kids to Ireland and France. In each picture, her smile was always the biggest. You could almost hear her laugh! It gave me a sense that her 46 years, while short, were not wasted.

I finally understood what she had been telling me all these years, even while battling her lengthy health issues. “You just have to get on with it,” she would say in her British accent. When I asked about the cancer, when I asked about the dialysis, every answer would end with “you just have to get on with it.” It was the precursor to The Next Best Thing. It doesn’t minimize the hardship, grief or difficulty. It doesn’t lessen the ‘ism you may be enduring. But in each moment we do have agency to choose how we will deal with what’s before us. It’s the way we keep our power and use it to confront the circumstance head on, and more importantly, ultimately thrive!

What an honor for us to be on this journey together. Let’s continue reminding each other who we are as we weather the storms and celebrate as we make our dreams come true! It’s the only way Joya would have it!

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