December is my stress month. I try not to make it that way, but every year, without fail, December catches up to me. Our family celebrates Christmas and I love this season dearly, but so help me December is a bear. A polar bear, of course. Actually, a pack of polar bears (is that even what you call a group of bears?) that wants to take me out, as slowly and painfully as possible.
Okay, I’m exaggerating. (Kind of.)
This year, in the midst of all the craziness, a badass woman I know passed away. Her name was Liz Laats. Liz was one of those people who made everyone she met feel like a close friend. Liz was one of those people who lived life with gusto. Liz was one of those people who was eloquent all of the time. Liz was one of those people who appreciated good cheese (she taught me how to taste cheese properly) and a good margarita (now known fondly as the Lizzie-rita). Liz was one of those people who was forced to battle cancer. Liz fought the beast that is ovarian cancer for 6 1/2 years with a humility and grace that was equally inspiring and heartbreaking.
Liz passed away nearly two weeks ago, leaving behind an incredible husband and three children, as well as an entire universe of people with richer lives because Liz was a part of them.
As I’ve worked my way through this month, balancing career with family with the holidays and everything else, Liz has been constantly on my mind. Over the last 6 1/2 years, Liz kept friends and family updated on her “cancer stuff” with email updates that were equal parts funny, heartwarming, sad and beautiful. I’ve been re-reading her messages this month, trying to keep them on my mind and in my heart at all times. There are recurring themes in Liz’s updates that are each enlightening, but there is an overarching sense of gratitude and a need to embrace life that is palpable in all her words, no matter what the latest news was. Liz’s friend Petrea Marchand shared the following email exchange she had with Liz that I think sums Liz up beautifully:
Petrea: Finally, I leave you with an unanswerable philosophical question. Why is life – such a gift, such a pleasure – so damn hard?
Liz: I have no idea why life is hard, my friend, but I do know life is precious and short. We can live the full catastrophe with open arms and soft heart, or we can try to try to fight it. I recommend living the full catastrophe. To be clear, the full catastrophe is the full life – with family, husband, kids, jobs — all the things that we seek but then make us crazy. This is the life we wanted – rich with good people, bound by love to each other. Rise up to it, my friend. Grab it. Hug it! Work at it. Just don’t forget to breathe as you go through it.
Let’s live the full catastrophe, shall we? For Liz. For our loved ones. For ourselves.