Corina Orsini Bustoz | March 23, 1969 – February 12, 2016
Never in a million years could I ever have imagined I’d be writing this. Even back on Christmas Eve 2014, when my sister called to cancel plans with my husband’s family. Her voice was strained, so I asked, “Is everything OK?”
“I think so,” was her answer. Then she told me she’d just been informed that she had cervical cancer. Happy fucking Christmas.
She was philosophical about it always. “You know, I’m a little frustrated that I have to choose. I have to decide whether I want to stay here or go.” Ultimately, although we all wanted her to stay, she wound up leaving us at just 46. She was too young. It is too painful. It is so wrong. And it is what happened anyway.
A native Arizonan, Corina was just 1 year and 10 months younger than I. We weren’t twins, but we had a soul connection that ran deep. On more than one occasion, we had identical dreams. We developed a psychic link – we referred to it as “vibing.” I’d go to the store and for no reason I knew of I’d buy bread or potatoes or a bag of ice. When I’d get home, she’d nod and say, “I vibed you about that.” We could never play on the same Pictionary team, because it just wasn’t fair to our opponents. She’d draw a circle and I’d say, “Frisbee!” I’d draw a line and she’d say “Bicycle!” “That’s a line – not a bicycle,” someone from the other team would point out. “How the hell did you get bicycle out of that!?” We just knew.
Forever, we were Laura and Corina. Or Cori and Laura. We had a nun at St. Agnes Elementary School – Sister Cecily – who could never get our names straight. She would call us, interchangeably, Laurina and Cora. As adults, we started a business together that we called Laurina – and it eventually morphed into my present consulting company.
Raised side-by-side in the same house, Corina and I were as different as night and day. It bugged her when I told people that I had a formula for buying gifts for her: if they were beautiful, but I’d never wear/buy/own them, it was a pretty good bet they’d work for her. In spite of her protestations, I used this throughout the years for everything from jewelry to clothing to shoes to household accessories. Always she preferred functional gifts to purely decorative ones.
One of the hardest things about losing her now is the unbelievable unfulfilled potential. Though she never graduated from college, Corina was smarter and more accomplished than almost anyone I knew. For many years, she was the admin to Satwant Singh Khalsa, then director of Khalsa Montessori School. Then she worked her way up from an entry-level position at Triple R Behavioral Health to Director of Operations for Lifewell Behavioral Wellness (the company created in 2011 out of the merger between Triple R and New Arizona Family, Inc.). She had a gift for arranging organization out of chaos and was a skilled negotiator. While her staff would probably have described her as stern, she was also fair and never expected more from them than she did from herself.
Throughout this past year, we talked about what her next steps would be. All her thoughts were about improving the world. She wanted to make affordable healthy, natural foods and juices available to people recovering from cancer and other chronic illness. She wanted to start an organic vegetarian fast-food restaurant – an alternative to the junk out there and the expense of the Whole Foods salad bar. She wanted to make a difference for people coming out of incarceration – to help them transition back into a world that is often so different from the one they knew when they went to jail or prison. And she wanted to help me boost my business to the next level – to help me live up to my potential. On at least two occasions she told me how proud she was of what I was doing and what I’d achieved. I never realized before then how much her approval meant to me.
What I wish more people could have seen was her silly, goofy, funny side. Because she was so private – the consummate professional in the workplace – many people who knew her never got to see that amazing side of her. She loved classical music and was neat and immensely organized – but there was also a side of her that loved classic rock, comedy specials, and running through a random sprinkler fully clothed.
One of her all-time passions was fast-pitch softball. Our parents started us in elementary school, and while I soon tired of it, Corina played throughout her life. She played infield, often third base, and had an incredible arm. You could see the exhilaration and sheer joy on her face when she successfully stole a base. She was on an adult league through the City of Phoenix until a few years ago and continually talked about getting back to it one day soon.
She was an amazing mother to her daughter, Samantha, teaching Sam to stand on her own two feet far earlier than either she or I figured that out for ourselves. She taught Sam to ask questions, to be accountable, and that being an adult didn’t automatically make a person right. For the longest time, the two of them reserved Tuesday as Sammie-Mommy night, when they’d go out to dinner, to the movies, or to get their nails done.
Corina shocked everyone who knew her when she made room for David, her ex-husband and Samantha’s father, in her life. It just wasn’t typical for ex-spouses to be good friends. But nothing Corina ever did was typical. She was also our mom’s primary caregiver until her passing in August 2011.
Although she felt things deeply, Corina wasn’t terribly demonstrative. It wasn’t until my wedding shower that I ever heard her say publicly that she loved me. The memory of that night is seared in my mind. I was so blessed to know how happy she was for me that John and I had found each other. They’re quite similar, my sister and my husband, so it took them some time to let their guards down and get to know each other – but in the end, I think there was mutual admiration and true affection. He is as devastated by her loss as anyone in my family.
And then there was the wedding itself, when she got to meet my son, Eric, for the first time. When I was pregnant with him back in 1994 and planning to place him for adoption, Corina was my confidant. Though she went through an adjustment period in terms of accepting my decision not to parent, she stood by me and supported me at times when it felt no one else did. I am so grateful that she and Eric’s adoptive mom, Kathy, were able to bond and make a wonderful connection at the wedding dinner.
When I put up the post on Facebook telling of her passing, I included a few of my favorite pictures of my sister. It’s no accident that three of them had animals in them. When we were in grade school, our father had very definite ideas about our future career paths: Corina would become a veterinarian and I would become an attorney. Neither of his predictions – preferences, really – came to pass. It was only recently that Corina told me she was close to 20 before she could see a dead animal (dog, cat, bird, lizard – any animal) and not feel overwhelming sadness for the entire rest of the day. So veterinary work was not her calling. John and I are doing the best we can by her two dogs, Sugar and Molly, and David’s dog, Lucy, whom she inherited when he passed away a few years ago.
Corina was deeply spiritual, and though she left the Catholicism of our childhood long before I did, she reminded me of our father, with the depths of her belief and connection to God. A longtime devotee of Yogananda, she carved her own path. A few days ago, I found among her things a beat-up, dog-eared, coffee-stained copy of Yogananda’s Metaphysical Meditations with a cloth cover I made for it nearly 20 years ago. Neither one of us was ever really attached to things, but this is a book I will always treasure.
Each of us is coping with the gaping hole Corina’s passing has left in our hearts in our own way. Up until about a month ago, we all really thought she was going to make it. Our plan was to co-write a book about her process and recovery via holistic and natural treatments – and people have suggested that even though the ending was far different than the one we hoped for, I should still write it. It’s far too soon to say whether that will happen or not. In the meantime, I’m spending as much time as I can supporting Corina’s husband, Matt, whose grief seems inextinguishable.
I am asking anyone who has an interest to consider a donation to the Phoenix Children’s Chorus in her name: Corina Orsini Bustoz. Samantha was a member and traveled extensively with the Chorus about 10 years ago – and listening to/watching children sing was one of Corina’s favorite things in the world.
Since she didn’t want a service or a memorial, there will be none of that. Instead, I have decided – with Matt’s OK – to throw a big celebration of life party in her honor on March 26th (three days after her 47th birthday). Matt was quick to point out how different a party is from a memorial. It will be at our house, here in Phoenix. If you want details, please email me and I’ll be happy to send you the information.
It’s difficult to know how to close this post – but nowhere nearly as difficult as facing the prospect of life without Corina in it. I’m grateful she’s no longer in pain. Happy that she had a full welcoming committee awaiting her arrival: David; our parents – Betty and Jerry; my father-in-law, John Kelemen; our cousin, Emil Orsini; a multitude of aunts, uncles, and other cousins; and all the many, many pets who crossed her path. I know she’s happy now. She’s safe. And she will never really leave me. I just wish there were one more day to hang out, hike, dance, laugh, hug her, tell her how very much I love her.
Laura Orsini, Carol Pachek, Loretta Gore, Corina Orsini – circa 1977
Picture by Ann Rendon, our older sister