A couple of years ago a woman sent me an email out of the blue. We scheduled an appointment to meet, and a week or so later Heather McManamy came to my office. We spent hours together that first day, like kindred spirits. Heather came into my world in such a random and wonderful way, and left an indelible impression on my life that I am so grateful for.
A woman whose personality was so enchanting and magnetic that it was impossible for me not to be drawn like a moth to a flame. A mother whose love for her daughter is so exemplary that I hope to emulate it with my own children.
Heather is the mother who became famous for writing cards for her daughter to read at poignant times in her life – from birthdays, to the death of a pet, and her first hangover. She spent hours upon hours trying to write down the things she would have said to Brianna if she could have been there.
On December 15 at the age of 36, Heather passed away. So many people have been able to learn so much from Heather. I want to share with you some of the key points that Heather’s legacy has left with me.
- Tell people how you feel. Love deeply, and let the ones you love know it! In her beautifully penned note announcing her passing, Heather asked “Please tell Brianna stories, so she knows how much I love her and how proud of her I will always be (and make me sound waaay cooler than I am). Because I love nothing more than being her mommy. Nothing. Every moment with her was a happiness I couldn’t even imagine until she came crashing into our world.” As mothers, we all know the happiness Heather is talking about, but I don’t know that many of us would have been able to put it so eloquently. Hold your babies close; read them the fourth, or fifth, or sixth book; sing the twenty-seventh verse of Old McDonald even though you can’t think of any more animals… at the end of the day these are the moments that are making memories, and they are precious and finite. Love. Really, really love.
- Trust people, go with your gut, and believe in inherent goodness. There is so much cynicism in the world. While it is healthy to remain a little skeptic, sometimes the best things happen to you from the most unexpected places or people. One example is that in the last 6 weeks of her life, Heather decided to trust a guy who emailed her asking her to write a book with him. She was certainly cynical, and had reason to be. But something told her and her husband that this guy was the real-deal. In typical Heather style, she gave the book her all, and in record time wrote “Cards for Brianna: A Lifetime of Lessons and Love from a Dying Mother to Her Daughter” with William Croyle. So good that before it has even been released, it has become a #1 bestseller.
- Every day, do things that are outside of your comfort zone. Not because you have to, and not to prove any kind of point. Just do them because you can. Because you have innate ability within yourself to tackle the most difficult challenge, and face the toughest hurdles. Because, even though you feel small in the universe you actually have amazing power. Heather was, first and foremost, a mother. And my goodness was she an amazing one. Writing cards to her daughter wasn’t how she wanted to provide support through the years – of course not, what she wanted was to physically be present at the most crucial times in her daughter’s life, when the maternal bond is the best thing in the world. Knowing she wouldn’t be there, Heather visited all those events in her mind and wrote notes to Brianna from her heart. The things that she wishes she could have said with a huge hug. This lifetime of love-letters made the news, yes, but what really hit home was the love. Make the magic, step outside the lines, do the thing you think you cannot do!
- Remember that “Every Day Matters”. It was how Heather lived, right up until the end. Back in the summer of 2015 we spent an afternoon with some of the Badgers football team and one of their coaches, Taylor Mehlhaff. Despite having had a really terrible few days, Heather’s smile was as big as it had ever been. And she along with her little family was having a fantastic day in the sun. We toured the facilities, and as we walked through the locker room there was a huge wall sign with that slogan emblazoned on it in enormous letters. Every. Day. Matters. It was like a moment of epiphany. We all knew Heather and her family needed a photo with that sign. They are the embodiment of the understanding of those words. Heather asked us all to “Please do me a favor and take a few minutes each day to acknowledge the fragile adventure that is this crazy life. Don’t ever forget: every day matters.”
- Death is not the saddest of things. A wasted life is the saddest of things. A friend on her facebook wall, and another at her memorial service, hit home when they said that Heather’s was the antithesis of a wasted life. And that couldn’t be more true. In her own words, Heather said that “I am lucky to honestly say that I have zero regrets and I spent every ounce of energy I had living life to the fullest. I love you all and thank you for this awesome life.” Live your life to the fullest, accept the challenge, strive to wholeness, and find happiness even in the darkest times. Go to the places deepest in your soul, tackle the emotions that scare you, and move forward in the knowledge that you are wonderful and unique. Your life is irreplaceable. You are amazing. You are loved.