I remember being in school in 8th grade and hearing about Hannah’s diagnosis. It was almost laughable that cancer had managed the audacity to try a soul as resilient, strong, and frankly badass as Hannah. It was in those coming months of 2012 that it would later become clear to me why Hannah and her family was chosen to endure the unfathomable. As some of my memories of Hannah fade, her impact and relationship with me in my life is ever evolving. Still, Hannah remains in my memory as a fiery, blonde, skateboarding, sick soccer playing (again) badass, who was unapologetically herself. When someone has the courage to be themselves like Hannah did, it allows others the permission to do the same.
At Hannah’s funeral service, Sue spoke of her journey with cancer, and confided in us that one of Hannah’s fears was being forgotten. As I write this I smile, as if that in some universe was even possible, Hannah would not let it happen! Hannah continues to offer gifts of guidance in the forms of signs that many of her friends are grateful recipients of. One I will mention is when I transferred schools to Seton Hall and was asking Hannah for a sign this was the right decision – in my orientation I was greeted by a facilitator who was assigning me a leader to take me to get my laptop, when she told the leader, “Hannah”, to take me to, “Duffy Hall” and the radio playing THREE CONSECUTIVE songs with butterflies in the lyrics on the drive home.
Hannah exists as a beacon of courage, strength, and vulnerability in my life. In times of great darkness Hannah and her family stared fate down the barrel and in an act of defiance instead exuded loving compassion. I continue to be in awe at Sue’s and her family’s courage to share their story, and I am forever grateful and honored that myself and all of Hannah’s friends were allowed to walk that journey with them. It was at the CHOP walk only 2 days after Hannah had passed that where I thought would have been great sadness there was instead connection, love, and celebration of a soul as beautiful as Hannah. My friends at the time quickly turned into family as they continue to be, and that is an attest to our commonality of being blessed to have been touched so deeply by someone as impactful as Hannah.
In pain, there is a certain affinity to beauty. I am witness to that every day, as a generation of kids who knew Hannah get ready to graduate school and become teachers, engineers, nurses, veterinarians, athletes, and so much more. As we continue to share Hannah’s story and her testament of courage, strength, compassion, and that fighting spirit in every single one of us, Hannah lives on. How beautiful that Hannah’s story will forever be kept alive and the impact she made, unmeasurable. May we all look at Hannah and her family for courage to make an impression on this earth as powerful as that.
People die, but I think your relationship with them does not. It continues and is ever-changing”. Jandy Nelson