What would you do today if you knew your days were numbered?

I was never sure how to relate to such a statement, until I met Ditta, and truly understood her journey in life.  Ditta and I went to the same college in Indonesia.  Our friendship started years after we graduated college when she became my client.  It continued after I moved to the US.

The first day I reconnected with her, after college, was at a meeting.  She just returned from New York City for her third major heart surgery.  Ditta was born with a genetic disorder that affects the body’s connective tissue, called Marfan Syndrome. Her mother died of it at the age of 33 when Ditta was only three years old.  Three out four people with Marfan Syndrome get the genetic mutation from a parent who has it, and it usually goes to the first child in the family.  Ditta was the first born.

The first time she found out about it was when she was working in New York City.  She collapsed in her apartment but managed to call 911.  She was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital and cared for by a group of excellent doctors.  Because this was still considered a rare case then, the doctors included her as part of a case study and laid out a thorough action plan – they would totally reconstruct her aorta which would need a total of five surgeries.  She did them all in a course of 16 years.

Ditta altered her life by altering her attitude.  She lived her life as if each day was her last.  She took her health, relationships, and activities very seriously, and she did all with fun.  She embraced opportunities with open arms and always wanted to learn something new; she traveled the world quite extensively, both for work and pleasure.  She was into ultra-light flying, swimming, snorkeling, boating, tango dancing, hiking, movies, music.  You name it, she did it, at least once, except for diving – that’s the only activity her doctors didn’t allow her to do.

Ditta taught me to say YES to life. She stopped to smell the roses and take in its beauty.  She lived, loved, and laughed wholeheartedly.  How did she do it? Was it because she knew that life was so precious and she might not get the most of it? Why can’t we all live like Ditta?

In October 2011, Ditta called me from Indonesia and told me that she would be in NYC within a week for medical checkup.  She told me that she might need another surgery.  I was shocked.  I flew out to NYC and spent a week with her – we had the most lovely time re-bonding and reminiscing about old times.  We dined, we shopped, we walked through Central Park, went to Ground Zero, we talked until past midnight, and we laughed until we almost peed our pants. Six months later I returned to NYC for her surgery, and shortly after that for her funeral.

She left behind a tremendous lesson for me, to look at life from a different point of view, to not delay doing something important especially when it can expand me as person and bring joy to someone else.  Ditta honored life with few excuses.

At her wake, I saw almost a 100 people; her friends in New York, the doctors and nurses from Mount Sinai, the Indonesian community in the Big Apple.  I was amazed at the many friends she had, so far from home.  I met four new friends at the wake whom I remain friends with.  I became friend with her American sister from Michigan, where she lived for a year as an exchange student during her senior year in high school.  Ditta left behind a treasure beyond measure — friendships that stay connected, which I intend to keep as long as I live.

What would you do today on this beautiful Earth, regardless?

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