This is the most difficult and the saddest blog post I have ever written.
My childhood best friend and fellow healthy lifestyle blogger, Anita from Ana y La Passion, lost her 3.5 year long battle with cancer at the weekend. The pain, the shock and the emptiness I feel are still quite raw and I get torn up inside every time I remember that I won’t be seeing and talking to her again, and all the things we planned to do together will not happen. Not in this lifetime, anyways.
I can’t imagine a better way to start this blog post but with a short tribute to my friend. Anita had many talents and managed to accomplish so much, despite the short time she was given. She studied to be an Architect and especially loved Interior Design. She spent some time working in Malaysia to gain more work experience and to broaden her horizons – one of my favourite memories is spending time with her whilst my husband and I were on honeymoon in Kuala Lumpur. She even featured on the Hungarian telly once, being interviewed for a lifestyle channel for women. In her free time, before she got so ill, she loved Salsa dancing, working with her personal trainer in the gym and the occasional run – we even did a marathon together which is another one of my favourite memories with her. She spent a lot of time travelling and exploring new places. After she was unable to continue with full-time work due to her declining health, she dedicated herself to doing things she enjoyed the most: defying her teachers’ expectations, she completed a Vinayasa yoga instructor course whilst struggling with her breathing, then went on teaching yoga later; she did a lot of freelance design work and even contributed articles for a design magazine. She also enjoyed writing her food blog and experimenting with recipes which were often featured in the Magazine of the Health Bloggers Community which we are both members of. We collaborated and wrote guest articles for each other’s blogs and I still can’t fathom how, but she managed to keep up her blogging and Instagramming until 3 weeks before she passed!
Yet, it is not her achievements and bright mind that I loved and looked up to her so much for. Being around Anita was always a breath of fresh air. I will always remember her for her contagious energy, vivaciousness, her kind and caring nature, and irresistible sassiness. But most importantly, for her positivity and confident attitude that she kept up even in the face of extreme hardship, and until her final breath on the cancer ward. She was a phenomenon no one can forget.
And forget I never will. In her mere 33 years of life, and especially during her final years of illness, she taught me many valuable life lessons. Maybe it is only when we are forced to face our own mortality do we really start living the life we were created for, knowing that each day is a precious gift, time is limited and we truly realise what is important and what is really not. Anita’s illness was definitely a catalyst for her to search for more meaning and fulfilment in life, no matter her circumstances. At times, it also meant weeding out some old habits, attitudes, and letting go of people in her life that were holding her back from being the best person she could be and the life she wanted to live. I was lucky enough to be able interview her on my blog, once she was in remission from cancer, for a brief period of time.
Anita with her Mum – Anita surprised her with a photoshoot for her 60th birthday
Here are 5 things that I have learnt from Anita about life well lived, whilst she was standing in death’s hallway. Hopefully this will inspire many others the same way it did me.
- In order to rise from its ashes, a Phoenix must first burn.
Life sometimes sucks and we are thrown curveballs when we least expect it. Life is not meant to be fair – there may be a sudden earthquake destroying your home you worked so hard to build, your beloved spouse might die in a freak accident, you might lose your job when you are a single parent. Or one day, in the prime of your life when you feel on top of the world like Anita did, your doctor may tell you that the tiny lump you discovered in your breast is a rare and not very well known type of cancer and you may only have years to live. The most unimaginable things can happen to the most ordinary and extraordinary people.
Life is not meant to be fair. Sometimes we win. Sometimes we just have to roll with the punches and learn. There will be many times when we get frustrated and tempted to wallow in self-pity, be overcome by grief, or furious trying to find the answers to the ‘why’s’ and lament on unfulfilled dreams. And that is completely normal. Just do not let these times define you. Instead, use bad events as a catalyst to better yourself and seek out meaning for your life, so that you can come back stronger and more resilient, like Anita did.
It is also true that we won’t rise without falling first. We do not grow that much when things are easy. We grow the most when we face challenges, so ride the waves and use them for your advantage.
Anita was holding onto life like she is holding onto this Dancer Yoga pose
- You can do anything but not everything.
I often compare life to a hand of cards that we have been dealt with. You do not choose the cards but you do have a choice about how you play them from your deck. Sometimes it means accepting your limitations and adapting, not worrying about what you can’t do but focussing on what you CAN do and WILL do about your situation.
Anita never succumbed to self-pity and never gave up on herself, even when the doctors could not make any promises to her and she knew that chemotherapy being the last resort was a definite gamble with her cards. In fact, it was often Anita who encouraged her friends and family to stay positive and carry on when all the odds seemed to stack up against her. Even when she was feeling really sick, she still saw value and found fulfilment in continuing with everything the best she could, often relying on her sense of humour to keep her spirits up. Even though she could no longer continue with full time work or accept a job offer from her company’s London office, she kept up her blogging, recipe development and food photography, freelance design work, yoga training and teaching, just to mention a few things.
Anita has added many flavours to her dishes, the same way she has added flavour to our lives!
- Do what you love, not what you think you’re supposed to do.
Life is too short to waste it by trying to live up to other people’s expectations and ideals.
Even though for Anita life proved to be unfairly short, she was one of those people who lived her life to the fullest, embracing each new day with gratitude and enthusiasm, always with a smile on her face, until her final day in hospital. She also chose to surround herself with people who energised her, supported her pursuits and lifted her up.
Thankfully, we don’t have to wait for death to knock on our doors to get shocked into living, and not just existing. Just start today, wherever you are. If you are not sure how to go about this, just ask yourself: what do I wish I would have done more when I am on my death bed? I bet it won’t be doing even more over time in the office or hoovering the house two more times because it’s the weekend.
- One comes into the world with a predetermined allotment of days, and whoever does not use them for whatever reason, one’s own or someone else’s, willing or unwillingly, loses them forever.
This is a quote from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s famous book called ‘Love in the time of cholera’ and was one of the last things that Anita posted onto her Facebook page before she passed. I am certain that she may have sensed that she was coming to the end of the road.
We all come into this world with a predetermined number of days ahead of us, with different circumstances and conditions. Some of us get to stay longer, whilst others’ journey is cut short. However, at the end of the day, it’s not about how long we have got, but about how we have lived and how we have used our gifts and talents.
Even though many of us are lucky not needing to worry about tomorrow, we are wrong to think that there will always be a tomorrow. Buddha said ‘The trouble is, you think you have time’. There is no time to waste: the past is gone, the future is not here yet and all we have is the present. Funnily enough, the word ‘present’ also means ‘gift’.
So treat your life as a gift from God and treat yourself as the most precious gift you can give to others. We all have something to offer to the world, no matter how small, inadequate or ordinary we may feel sometimes.
Yoga helped Anita find peace and maintain focus during the hardest of times
- Life, if well lived, is long enough.
Anita has taught me that it is not just how you live, but also how you die and what you leave behind.
She was surrounded by her family and lots of friends until the end; a lot of us loved her and were keeping our fingers crossed for her throughout her journey – some of us only remotely, through a Facebook support group that Anita had set up when she entered the final stage of her journey a few months ago. Shortly after she passed (from what I heard, peacefully, in her sleep), stories of how Anita brightened up her friends’ lives started pouring out in our Facebook support group. The many stories and countless photos that cropped up just show how much love Anita gave to so many people, in the extremely short time she had. She was such an inspiration that she got our creative juices flowing posthumously, which in a way has been helping us come to terms with our collective grief. For example, someone in the Facebook support group wrote a poem about her; another person made an artistic illustration of her, someone is writing a short story about her life, another compiling an album with photos and stories about her life. I am using my gift for writing to soothe my own pain and to share Anita’s legacy with the world. How I wish I could be remembered like this when it is my time to go!
Anita helped me realise that a life well lived should be measured in how much you gave and not what you earned.
Ultimately, life, if well lived, is long enough.
So how do you measure your life? What does a life well lived mean to you and how close are you to achieving it?
What I know now, because I knew Anita, is this: love never tears others down or destroys. Love constructs, creating from what’s best in us. Love invites forward what’s hidden within our beautiful and private nature. Love encourages us to make who we really are known. Love encourages us to seize every new day for higher purpose. It does not even matter what this purpose is!
Thank you for being part of my life and goodbye for now my sweet friend! Until I see you one day again in eternity.