Photo: John Shearer/WireImage.com
A beloved aunt's untimely death taught the singer and actor a vital lesson about enjoying life to the fullest—and never compromising on the search for love.
My aunt was married for more than 25 years. I have some fond memories of my uncle, but over time he became emotionally abusive. Harsh words would fly out of his mouth for no reason. My aunt and I would be laughing, playing around, loving each other up, and then he'd walk in and the room wouldn't feel so nice anymore. He was oblivious to our happiness. I don't know why he became that way. All I knew was that my aunt was unhappy.
When I got older, I'd ask her why she stayed with my uncle, and she'd always say the same thing: "What God has brought together, let no man put asunder." Even as their relationship got worse, she stuck to her belief that if you get married, you stay married. I'd often tell her, "If I ever make any money, I'm going to get you out, and I hope you go."
When my music career took off, I bought my aunt a house, and I couldn't believe it when she started packing. Maybe she just sensed it was now or never. But within a year, she was diagnosed with cancer. It wreaked havoc all over her body: brain, lungs, stomach, spine. I think she'd held on to so much sadness for so long that when she finally let go, it attacked her. She went through chemo and radiation, but she didn't last long. She was only 56.
Her passing shook me—and freed me. I finally faced the fact that I was unhappy in my own marriage. At first I had thought the way my aunt did: If you're married, you stay, you struggle, you hang on. I felt a lot of pressure to remain with my husband; I'd written songs about our love, and people would tell me the lyrics inspired them to get married themselves. But as fame came, love left. When one person is not doing his or her part, you can't grow, live, or love for two people.
At my aunt's funeral, I promised myself that I wouldn't be bound by the belief that I'm supposed to stay in anything—whether it's a relationship, a job, a house, or a circumstance—if it makes me miserable. She gave me the courage to find my own happiness. So I moved out, got my own place, and spent some quality time alone. I found peace and stillness in myself. I wrote in my journal, cooked, and rode my bike. Now I'm flourishing, growing, and loving myself. And I've found my guy, a musician named John Roberts.
I was conceived after doctors told my mother she'd never have children. I'm a miracle—we all are. Our lives are amazing; why waste them not wanting to turn the knob at your own front door? My aunt's experience taught me that life without enjoyment and peace of mind is not living. You owe it to yourself to live beautifully. And I am.
— As told to Suzan Colón
Jill Scott stars in the HBO miniseries The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency .
From the March 2009 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine