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On May 8, 2018, my close friend passed away after an 18-month battle with cancer.
During those 18 months, she taught me more about life and what it means to live and be alive than I’ve learned in 39 years.
And so, dear sweet P, this one is for you.
It has been one year since my sweet friend’s passing. One full year has gone by and the pain of her being gone has not diminished. Someone told me once that grief is like a wave—it comes and goes, ebbs and flows, and that is, perhaps, the best way I’ve heard it described.
Some days, it is overwhelming while other days, I smile remembering how lucky I was to have known her.
I often think about what lessons come from death, and about what lessons came from her death in particular—this is what I learned:
Things are (really) just things.
We spend so much time and money trying to keep up with trends and we work harder just to buy more “things.” We have a desire to buy the latest coveted designer shoes and/or bags because society tells us that they will make us feel important.
We spend our hard-earned money to purchase items that will only serve as a status symbol because somewhere inside of us, a voice tells us that we have “made it” and we are important if we can afford the expensive items.
P’s passing taught me that the best things in life aren’t things at all.
Like many of us, P loved to shop, and she had expensive taste—a trait her mother will tell you she inherited from her. She loved to buy designer bags and shoes. She was always one of the first to buy the newest trends in technology, fashion, even household appliances, and if she liked something, she bought three of them.
When she passed away, all of these designer bags and shoes and all of her gadgets really were just “things”—items that needed to be sorted into bags and assigned an action (donate/toss). No one talked about how nice her shoes or bags or clothes were, the only discussion was what to do with them.
She was not remembered for the items in her closet or how many Apple TVs she had—rather, she was remembered for the way she made people feel. At her funeral, friends recounted all of their favorite memories with her and not once did anyone mention any of her material items.
Memories will always be more valuable.
Love your body, but eat the cheeseburger.
As a society, we spend an absurd amount of time discussing and obsessing over our bodies. Millions of dollars are spent every day convincing us to try another fad diet or workout plan.
Sadly, I don’t know many people who love their body the way it is. We look in the mirror and we wish in vain that we were thinner, more toned, bigger here or smaller there, but in the end, none of that matters. Our bodies are just a vessel to carry us through life. The way they look should be far less significant to us. The way we criticize them, should be far less cruel.
We punish ourselves for eating poorly and we look at exercise as a punishment rather than a gift. We only get one body, we only get one life in that body. Eat the cheeseburger and thank your body for being strong enough to support you. In the end, it won’t matter if you had a six-pack or six belly rolls.
P was one of the healthiest, most fit people I have ever met. She trained harder than anyone I know and she watched what she put in her mouth. She ate “clean” and worked out every chance she got. Once she got sick, her body slowly deteriorated until she was literally skin and bones. She was desperate to have a normal appetite again; she was desperate to gain weight.
I remember visiting her at the hospital once and she was in so much pain from her bones protruding out of her tiny frame that she found it excruciating to sit or lay down. She would often lay on foam padding to ease the pain and when her appetite allowed, we ate cheeseburgers, hoping they would help her gain weight. She wished in vain that she could gain weight.
She would have given anything to have belly rolls. Eating cheeseburgers with her became one of my favorite memories and instead of obsessing over how many calories were in every bite, I choose to be grateful for my appetite, my health, and even my belly rolls.
Listen more than you talk.
I often wonder what I would do differently if I knew my days were numbered. I like to think of myself as a good listener, but I sometimes ask myself when was the last time that I asked someone how their day was and listened intently to their answer, instead of thinking about what I was going to say next.
What if I knew it was the last conversation I would have with that person? Would I listen more intently? We are often so busy having our own conversations in our head that we miss out on the present and precious moments right in front of us.
If you gathered all of P’s closest friends in a room, they would tell you that she listened, with intent. She truly cared about what was happening in your life. That didn’t change when she got sick. Despite the awful hand that she was given, she never stopped asking about your day and truly listening to your answer.
Even on her worst days, she wanted to know how you were before she told you anything about herself. She remembered even the smallest details, months later. She knew how to make everyone feel like they mattered.
She would have given anything to have just one more conversation.
When I think about how I want to be remembered, I think of P. I want to be remembered for someone who asked about your day and truly cared about your response. I want to be someone who listens more than I talk.
Laughter really is the best medicine.
There are many days when I want to scream, throw a tantrum, or just complain about how bad my day was. Some days, I allow myself to do just that. But when I think about P and how awful and unfair her battle was, I remember how positive she was.
I remember all the times we laughed. I remember wheeling her down the hallway in the hospital pretending to be a train and making train noises, I remember her making jokes even on her worst days and I remember laughing about the smallest, most insignificant things. I remember how special those moments were and I remember them more often than I remember the bad days.
My very last memory of P, and the way I will always remember her, is of her laughing. I didn’t know then that it would be the last time that I saw her, but I thank all the higher powers that our last moments together were spent laughing. She passed away the next day and I often think about how much pain she must have been in that night and despite it all, she still found reasons to smile.
I think of those last moments together often and although my bad days are pale in comparison to what she endured, I remember P and I try to find something to laugh about.
Perspective is a gift.
Death is a tragic wake-up call. It reminds us that nothing is permanent. All that we are promised is this very moment. If we are wise, we will not squander it away by worrying about all that we do not have, instead of embracing all that we do have.
Perspective is something we often gain too late in life, and sadly it sometimes takes something as tragic as death, to remind us about what is important. I am grateful for all of the lessons that P taught me and for the invaluable gift of perspective.
I miss my friend desperately, but I smile knowing that she had an incredible impact on everyone who was lucky enough to cross paths with her.
I smile knowing that we are all better for having known her.
“It is so easy to forget how precious it is to be alive.” ~ author unknown