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Ester Marsh column: Losing your loved ones and dealing with the grief

One of my best friends, Melissa, died one week ago after losing the battle against glioblastoma — brain cancer. It seems every time I open the paper, the obituary pages are getting longer and longer. And the people dying seem to get younger and younger. We are living in crazy times with COVID-19 taking so many lives but our “usual” deaths are still there too. I have been so lucky that Melissa came into my life, as we both love horses so we had an instant connection. Then to top it off, we were excellent travel friends and she was an amazing group exercise instructor at the Hurley YMCA. Whether it was teaching her own class to subbing a class, she always left a positive feeling with anyone she came in contact with. She was living life to the fullest and truly giving her life to God, even spreading the word more so after the diagnosis. Enjoy life to the fullest because we do not know what the future brings.

One moment we are moving her in a new place and on July 31, 2020, we move her last horse (she had two left at that time). On Saturday, Aug. 1, the family called me that she was in the hospital with a suspected stroke. By Monday, Aug. 3, it was a tumor and short after that the diagnosis was glioblastoma. When you Google it, it will tell you this: Glioblastoma is an aggressive type of cancer that can occur in the brain or spinal cord. Glioblastoma forms from cells called astrocytes that support nerve cells. Glioblastoma can occur at any age, but tends to occur more often in older adults. It can cause worsening headaches, nausea, vomiting and seizures. The five-year survival rate for this cancer is 5-10%. Needless to say, not good.

But then there is Melissa — she grabs the bull by the horns! What an honor to be part of such strength, faith and inspiration. I was so lucky to be part of my mom’s last phase of her life and seeing her strength, positivity and kindred spirit more than three years ago and now my best friend. A lot younger and way too soon, but anyone who knows her can tell you how inspirational she was, how she loved God so much and shared all that she could with anyone. Besides God, her family was everything to her. And being one of her many wonderful friends, we can all attest she would literally give you her clothes off her back.

Living your “dash” is what’s it’s all about, isn’t it? The dash the part between your birth and the day you die. Even during the pandemic and fighting cancer, Melissa knew how to live her life to the fullest.

I am leaving you with a poem by Linda Ellis

The Dash

I read of a man who stood to speak at a funeral of a friend. He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning… to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own, the cars… the house… the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change? For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.

To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile… remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?

Ester H. Marsh is health and fitness director of the JF Hurley Family YMCA.

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