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How I Think My Friend Who Died Would Want Me to Live

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“Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” ~Norman Cousins

Have you ever been there?

When someone you love suddenly disappears. When life, within a few seconds, turns upside down. When your biggest problems suddenly seem like nothing but drops in the ocean.

I know I have.

It was December 15, 2013. That was the day when everything changed, when her life came to an end, and many other lives were changed forever.

When they first told me she was gone, I couldn’t fully grasp reality. For a second I wondered who this person was they were talking about—this person who apparently had the same name as my friend.

Then, the reality sank in. My heart broke into a thousand pieces.

Being one of the first to find out, I knew I had to be the carrier of the awful news. I had to tell people that someone they loved was gone. She had a lot of friends all over the world, so I made calls to Brazil, the United States, Venezuela, France, and the Netherlands.

Some couldn’t say anything; others cried hysterically. After each call, my heart broke a little more. Hearing the pain and sorrow in others was almost more than I could take. Everything seemed so unreal. One day she was there and the next she was gone.

Over two years have passed since that day. Now she smiles at me from the picture on my desk. Sometimes I imagine her being here with me. If she were, what would she tell me? How would she want me to live my life? I think she would tell me something like this:

1. Be open to new friends.

The first time we met was in a bar in Saint-Denis, Paris. I was new to the city and barely knew anyone there. Even though she already had her life established, she never hesitated to become friends. She initiated our friendship; she made the first phone call and asked to meet again. For that, I’m very grateful to her.

As we grow older, we tend to stop making new friends. But, that also means that we deprive ourselves of new, unexpected, and incredible experiences. So, choose to stay open and curious about new people. They might just change your life.

2. Laugh often.

She was a happy person. She could light up a room with her warm smile and infectious laughter. When I met her parents, I knew exactly where she had gotten that from. Even at her funeral, her father opened up by saying, “I can’t believe I’m standing at my daughter’s funeral with a smile on my face. Seeing that so many people cared for my daughter brings warmth to my heart.”

Joy is contagious, so smile more, and laugh often. You won’t just feel better, but you’ll also touch the heart of others while you’re at it.

3. Stop doubting yourself.

We once had a conversation in which she questioned whether she was lovable as a person. She had no reason to doubt herself, believe me. But, unfortunately, many of us do. We question if we’re good enough, smart enough, or good looking enough.

She was at her best when she was herself fully and completely—including the flaws, quirks, and imperfections. We should trust that the same applies to us all. Trust that there were no mistakes when we were created. Trust that our differences are what make us unique and irreplaceable.

4. Choose to see the positive.

When we were going through uncertain times at work, and nobody knew if they would keep their job, she was the only one who laughed and joked about it. When someone would ask, “So, any news?” she’d always say with a smile, “Still here!” Even though circumstances were difficult, she chose to see the positive. And her positive attitude grew into a positive result, as she was among the group of people who would keep their jobs.

Being positive when things aren’t going our way isn’t easy—it’s easier to complain and be negative. But, what we focus on tends to grow. So, instead of fighting what isn’t working, focus on what is working and on that which we want to grow. Simply put, give power to faith instead of fear.

5. Don’t judge.

She wasn’t someone who judged. Instead, she chose to accept everyone for who they were. She never allowed looks, clothes, or opinions to stand in the way of connecting to someone. Instead, she knew she had something to learn from everyone. So, rather than being critical to differences, she chose to be curious about them.

We never know what someone has gone through or is going through; therefore, we’re not in a position to judge. Judgment creates separation between people, while curiosity builds bridges. Choose to stay curious.

6. Love fully.

She knew the power of love. She knew how it could build someone up or destroy them completely. No matter if it was a love partner or friend, she always chose to love fully. She did so by giving her undivided attention, sincerely wanting the best for everyone, and by being generous with compliments, time, and support.

When I think of her, I think about the love she gave me and the love I have for her. Because, in the end, all that matters is the love we hold and share.

7. Don’t waste time.

Before her death, I used to live as if I would live forever. I talked about dreams, but I never acted on them. I always found excuses as to why it wasn’t the right time, or fretted about how things wouldn’t work out. But then her life ended at twenty-six.

And if she were here today, I think she would tell me the following:

“Don’t wait and prepare yourself for the life you truly desire. Start living it right now. Make the most of life while you still can. Make sure every minute of your time here counts.”

Because it does count.

About Maria Stenvinkel

Maria Stenvinkel is on a mission to help people get a career they truly love. Download her free worksheet Get a Clue to Your Calling With These 10 Powerful Questions.

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  • Mark Tong

    Hi Maria
    such a heartfelt post – I can feel you went through a lot writing it. They are all such valuable things to remember especially ‘Don’t waste time’. I think the greatest consolation is that it doesn’t sound as if you wasted any time being friends with her – it sounds as if you had a lot of great times together.

  • Thank you so much Mark! And yes, you’re very right 🙂 Have an amazing weekend!

  • Wonderful/heartbreaking post, Maria! I feel like there are 2 things you realize when something traumatic happens: #1 As you point out, you realize that our time is limited. #2: You realize the things you mentioned in #1-6. One of the best quotes out there is the one by Steve Jobs from the Stanford commencement speech in which he addresses just that (“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life….”).

  • Peace Within

    Your friend sounds amazing! Thank you for sharing. <3

  • Ann Davis

    RIP-Maria’s friend!

    I have been a victim of #7 living like I’ll live forever…thanks for the reminder that death can happen any time and now is the time to pursue what we keep on pushing away.

  • David G Stone

    “Give power to faith instead of fear” SO POWERFUL!!!! I’ve always understood the concept but it never resonated as well as it did until reading this. Guess it was just the right time. Thank you for sharing this 🙂

  • What powerful lessons and a great tribute to your friend. May we all be inspired by her example. Thank you, Maria.

  • Amanda G

    Maria,
    Yes, I have been there and you describe perfectly so many of the feelings around it. Thanks for the good cry but also the feeling that maybe somehow this was also a little reminder from her. Although I would never wish this for anyone it is comforting to read things like this and connect with others who can relate to the experience. Thank you for being open enough and vulnerable enough to write this.

  • Ooooh yes I love that quote! Thank you for sharing and commenting Camilla 🙂

  • Thank you so much! <3

  • Oh, I’m so glad to hear that! Thank you for sharing. It is indeed SO powerful 🙂

  • Thank you so much Cylon!

  • Your words really warmed my heart. Thank you so much for your comment. Sending you lots of love!

  • Thank you so much Ann!

  • Krithika Rangarajan

    Oh sweetie #HUGSSSSSSS

    Your friend is smiling from above – hella proud that you are (yes, ‘still’ are) HER friend…. <3

    LOVELY

    Thanks Maria
    Kitto

  • Oh Maria, you’ve written totally from your heart which is clearly bursting with love for your friend and all that you shared. What an incredible tribute to her that you shared such powerful thoughts of what she taught you to help us all live to the max. Thank you. xx

  • Aw, thank you so much Kitto! Lots of love to you!

  • Thank you so much Laura! You just put a big smile on my face 🙂 xoxo

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  • Ant P

    Wow, it’s like you have just written my exact feelings down. My bff passed away 2 years ago also. She was more than my best friend, she was my soulmate. She had a husband and children, i had a significant other, but we completed each other like no one else could. She was the most genuine, loving, honesty person I ever knew. I’ve read this article 4 times now since yesterday and cry each time. I know and share your pain. I don’t feel so alone anymore. Thank you for writing this.

  • LaTrice Dowe

    Reading this article has brought tears to my eyes. My best friend passed away eight years ago. We went to Walt Disney World for three days, and I don’t regret spending time with her. I will always cherish the memories of my friendship with her.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story, Maria. It feels good to know that I’m NOT alone.

  • Lizzie

    Love….my best friend died very suddenly June 4, 2014. Two days after his death, I could hear him saying that he wants me to be happy. Nothing takes away the pain and loss, but knowing in my heart he always wants happiness for me has helped in my new life without his presence. Your wonderful article is perfect for me today as I celebrate my friend’s birthday and passing . Love

  • Thank you so much for your comment! I’m so thankful that it made you feel less alone. Please know that you are never alone, ever. And I’m sure your friend is with you (just like I can feel that mine is with me). I’m sending you so much love!

  • Oh, you are NOT alone LaTrice! Thank you so much for your comment. I’m sending you all my love.

  • Oh, what a coincidence! And what a great message! So now you know what to do: be happy 🙂 Lots of love to you!

  • amber

    my father passed away when i was 7 and now i am 19. i always say i want to be alone b/c people are cruel but then i say i feel unloved and lonely. i just think i need time alone i dont necessarily want to spend time with people. i want time to give myself love first and figure things out for me. btw i like what you said about being curious and how they bring people together. judgment separates. trueeeee. lol.

  • Hi Amber, I’m so sorry to hear about your father. I think you’re doing the right thing by loving yourself first and giving yourself time for that. Just a little piece of advice that might help; allow people to be there for you, allow them to help you. For them to do that, we need to first let them. They might not understand what you’ve gone through, but they will most likely try to help as much as they can. You’re not alone and getting help and support from others will make the journey easier and more enjoyable. Lots of love to you!

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  • So sorry for your loss Maria, and thank you for sharing your reflections in this beautiful piece. x

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  • Thank you so much Ellen! xoxo

  • Zariah

    I’m brought to tears every time I read this post because of your portrayal of your friend. This post reminds me to act on life rather than accepting what is and really helped me through a tough time. Thank you so much for posting this!

  • Danielle

    This is such a beautiful post. I’m feeling really down on myself today, but I’m not going to waste time because life is too short for that nonsense. Thank you for posting this. I know your friend was an absolutely beautiful soul if she inspired you in this way.