Sometimes, my friends, reality doesn't just visit, it punches you right in the face. Such was the case today as I prepared to write my last blog of 2015 and received some devastating news.
Growing up in our small community, my very best friend was Elene. Elene had a younger sister, Diana. I was around Diana as Elene and I hung out all the time, but she was just the annoying little sister of my best friend and I viewed her much like I viewed my own younger brother.
I remember Diana as being a kid who was smart and athletic and very independent - she did her own thing and hung out with whoever she wanted - not concerned about what other people thought. As someone who was always very insecure and very concerned about popularity and wearing the right clothes and hanging out with the "right" crowd, this puzzled me.
Elene and I lost touch in college and when we reconnected years later I also got back in touch with Diana. Turns out she wasn't smart - she was brilliant! She was a top scientist who had traveled the world and conducted ground breaking studies and taught at colleges.
I saw pictures of her and her travels and no matter what she was doing - from hanging out with friends to doing a side plank at the North Pole to cuddling with her daughter and pitbull - she had this huge goofy smile on her face. And unlike most of us who reflexively paste a fake smile on our faces when a camera comes out, every one of her beautiful smiles radiated joy and sincerity.
As we reconnected primarily on Facebook I began to see the sheer number of people whose lives she had touched in a positive way - this extraordinary woman who was so admired. My experience with super brilliant people is that they are so smart they can't socially connect to us mere mortals or they alienate people because they are so full of themselves in their intelligence.
Not Diana - she was the first person to jump in and offer support and love to everyone. She was unfailingly down to earth and humble.
And when her beautiful young daughter got sick, she and her equally brilliant husband went right to work - putting those great minds to work on how to get her better - without an ounce of self-pity.
In the midst of this crisis Diana had to inform her friends that she had been diagnosed with a rare cancer. While this would have brought most people to their knees, Diana instead began fighting and underwent an experimental treatment - that the scientist part of her actually found fascinating. And in her recovery? Picture after picture of her bright smile!
Shortly after incredibly invasive surgery Diana ran a 5K and WON her age group. I was amazed at this incredible accomplishment - Diana in her typical way passed it off as no big deal.
And she had beaten cancer - of course she had! Cancer was no match against someone as rare and precious as Diana! Something that evil can't snuff out a light that wonderful, right??!!
Then, on Thanksgiving I saw Elene at the Turkey Trot. When I asked about Diana, Elene said things were not good. I was shocked - in true Diana fashion she had kept it pretty quiet so no one would worry about her.
Just a couple short weeks ago we learned that Diana had chosen to stop the treatment that wasn't working and to face the end of her life with the same incredible strength, dignity, and class that had marked her entire life.
The outpouring of love that streamed out from all corners of the world - words of support and sincere admiration - that is extraordinarily rare and proof of what a unique and wonderful woman this planet was graced with.
Today, Diana lost her battle. She leaves behind a beautiful daughter, family that loves her, and a legacy... Her family says that Diana would not want us to be sad at her passing - she would instead want us to live our lives to the fullest and suck every bit of joy out we can.
I can't promise to be as good at this as you were Diana, but I will try. The world has lost a wonderful soul today...