Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, Heather McManamy passed away at the age of 36.
Jeff, her husband, shared a letter written by Heather. Written to her daughter Brianna, her husband, her family and friends, this letter brought me both to tears and to laughter.
It surprised me that someone who had only a few days to live was so blessed with humor, kindness, love and faith in how she eloquently expressed herself.
It is in our nature to be afraid of death. We fear the annihilation of our ego, body and self. But Heather showed the world through her letter how she maintained her strength, despite the fact that she knew she was leaving her body. She didn’t ask for 100 years to live. In fact, she appreciated the 36 years that she had spent next to her family, friends and soul mate.
A one of a kind woman, Heather demonstrates courage and inspiration that is of benefit to each one of us. We can learn a lot from this woman—I personally did.
The most remarkable lesson that Heather teaches us is that someone who has loved and has been loved is someone who has lived a beautiful life. It doesn’t matter how long you live, what matters is how you live.
She speaks to her daughter with words that are rather spiritual and touching. She insists on not confusing her over the statement that she is in heaven because she is not; she is staying with her. Heather adds that she is not religious, although she respects every person’s religion. Throughout the letter, Heather indirectly shows us that the one and only religion that unquestionably exists is the religion of love, happiness and gratitude.
Additionally, she assures the world that through her relationship with Jeff, she ascertained that soul mates do exist. She indirectly explains to us the beauty of finding ineffable love. She is grateful for Jeff’s presence in her life and expresses how sad she is that she has to say goodbye.
Heather tells us that love is gratitude. Love means staying next to the person we love through all conditions. It is wishing him or her happiness and comfort even after we are gone. It is selfless.
Perhaps the most beautiful part is that Heather refuses to be sad that she lost a battle to cancer.
She calls it a victory as it never took her love or her joy away. One beautiful thing that caught my attention, is how she affirmed “I’m here. But no longer in the crappy body that turned against me.” This is one h*ll of a statement of how Heather didn’t identify herself with her body. It turned against her. It was crappy. Instead, she paints a portrait of herself as the energy and the love that will remain with her husband and daughter. This is who she is. She is not flesh and bones. She is not cancer. She is love.
She asks her friends and family to have a kick*ss dance party because that’s what she wants. With a keg on her coffin, she assures her loved ones that in a way or another, in a weird way, she will be there.
So…I have some good news and some bad news. The bad news is, apparently, I’m dead. The good news, if you’re reading this, is that you are most definitely not (unless they have wifi in the afterlife). Yes, this sucks. It sucks beyond words, but I’m just so damn glad I lived a life so full of love, joy and amazing friends. I am lucky to honestly say that I have zero regrets and I spent every ounce of energy I had living life to the fullest. I love you all and thank you for this awesome life.
Whatever religion brings you comfort, I am happy that you have that. However, respect that we are not religious. Please, please, please do not tell Brianna that I am in heaven. In her mind, that means that I chose to be somewhere else and left her. In reality, I did everything I could to be here with her, as there is nowhere, NOWHERE, I would rather be than with her and Jeff. Please don’t confuse her and let her think for one second that is not true. Because, I am not in heaven. I’m here. But no longer in the crappy body that turned against me. My energy, my love, my laughter, those incredible memories, it’s all here with you. Please don’t think of me with pity or sadness. Smile, knowing that we had a blast together and that time was AMAZING. I fucking hate making people sad. More than anything, I love making people laugh and smile, so please, rather than dwelling on the tragic Terms of Endearment end of my story, laugh at the memories we made and the fun we had. Please tell Brianna stories, so she knows how much I love her and how proud of her I will always be (and make me sound waaay cooler than I am). Because I love nothing more than being her mommy. Nothing. Every moment with her was a happiness I couldn’t even imagine until she came crashing into our world.
And don’t say I lost to cancer. Because cancer may have taken almost everything from me, but it never took my love or my hope or my joy. It wasn’t a “battle” it was just life, which is often brutally random and unfair, and that’s simply how it goes sometimes. I didn’t lose, dammit. The way I lived for years with cancer is something I consider a pretty big victory. Please remember that.
Most importantly, I was unbelievably lucky to spend over a decade with the love of my life and my best friend, Jeff. True love and soulmates do exist. Every day was full of hilarity and love with Jeff by my side. He is genuinely the best husband in the universe. Through all my cancer crap, he never wavered when so many people would want to run. Even on the worst days you could imagine, we found a way to laugh together. I love him more than life itself and I truly believe that a love like that is so special it will live forever. Time is the most precious thing in this world and to have shared my life for so long with Jeff is something I am incredibly grateful for. I love you, Jeff. I believe that the awesomeness that is Brianna is our love brought to life, which is pretty beautiful. It absolutely breaks my heart to have to say goodbye. If it’s half as sad for you as it is for me, it breaks my heart over again because the last thing I ever want to do is make you sad. I hope that with time, you can think of me and smile and laugh, because, holy shit did we have a breathtaking life. Go google Physicist’s Eulogy and know that it is a scientific fact I will always be with you both in some way. I know that if you just stop and look hard enough, I’ll be with there (in as non-creepy a way possible). You’re my world and I loved every second we had together more than words.
Friends, I love you all and thank you for the most wonderfully awe-inspiring life. And thank you to all of my amazing doctors and nurses who have taken such incredible care of me. I don’t doubt that my team gave me every possible good day that they could. From the bottom of my heart, I wish all my friends long, healthy lives and I hope you can experience the same appreciation for the gift of each day that I did. If you go to my funeral, please run up a bar tab that would make me proud. Heck, blast “Keg on My Coffin” and dance on the bar for me (because there had better be a dance party at some point). Celebrate the beauty of life with a kickass party because you know that’s what I want and I believe that in a weird way, I will find a way to be there too (you know how much I hate missing out on fun). I look forward to haunting each one of you, so this isn’t so much a goodbye as it is see you later Please do me a favor and take a few minutes each day to acknowledge the fragile adventure that is this crazy life. Don’t ever forget: every day matters.”
When I first read this letter, I was left speechless for hours. For me, I think the wisest words that we can hear, come from the people who are aware of their death. Heather’s story reminded me of Morrie Schwartz who was dying from ALS. Mitch Albom, one of his former students, recorded the conversations he had with Morrie before he passed away. Their conversations are a shocking series about love, forgiveness, friends, marriage, family, life, money and so on. Every time I read Morrie’s words, I get mad at myself because it is sad how much we take this life for granted.
Same goes for the story of Heather. The most beautiful thing that Heather says in her letter is, “don’t ever forget: every day matters.”
But, how often do we acknowledge this? Are we sure that we aren’t underestimating our existence? Do we need a terminal illness to have us appreciate what we have?
I think another great lesson we can learn from Heather, is that life matters. We shouldn’t take it for granted. Suppose this is our last day on earth, what would we do? How would we behave? I bet we would become more loving, more forgiving, more grateful for everything and everyone.
Let’s make every single day meaningful.
Most importantly, let’s not lose our sense of faith—and humor—even in the worst of conditions.
Our thoughts are with Jeff’s family.
Author: Elyane Youssef
Editor: Caitlin Oriel