True friends are people who know everything about you and love you anyway….



What started as a small lump on her left breast eventually riddled her organs with tumors. When the doctors said there was no more treatment available, I did not want to give up. I wanted her to try Chinese medicine and holistic remedies. But she was done fighting.

Ironically, she had the healthiest habits of anyone I knew. She was not huge on sugar, did not over-imbibe anything, ate lots of fruit and vegetables, exercised regularly, walked most places and got appropriate amounts of sleep. Other than her illness, her life was less stressful than most. She read a great deal and enjoyed making crafts. She had a close family and good friends. Maybe Billy Joel was right: “Only the good die young.”

I do not know a single person who disliked her. She was kind to all. She thoughtfully sent my children Valentine’s Day cards and treats, knitted blankets for disadvantaged children and fostered an at-risk young woman. She was a strong community and school volunteer and was sought out for her wise counsel.

She and I married brothers. There were no other people on the planet who were uniquely qualified to understand the family dynamics. For decades, we helped each other navigate marriage and other relationships. We raised out children together. We commiserated.

She was braver than I. She had clear moral lines and stood up for me when I could not do so myself. I learned how to be a better partner, parent and friend by her example.

She was the least vain person I have ever known. When her hair fell out as the result of chemotherapy treatments, she felt no need to wear a wig. She covered her head with knit caps so that people would feel sorry for her or treat her differently because of her cancer. She rarely complained and never wore makeup. She bought most of her clothing second-hand, and chose comfort over style.

I was puzzled at her lack of a belief in God or a Higher Power. She had little exposure to organized religion. Her religion was love and kindness. She demonstrated a different kind of spirituality to me and was amused by my woo-woo attempts to connect with a Higher Power.

Because prayer and a belief in life after death, I was saddened by her belief that we simply returned to the earth when we died. I want to believe that our spirits never expire. Of course, memories of her and impact she had will continue to be felt.

She once told me I was more than her sister; I was her best friend, without the sibling baggage. We knew almost everything about each other, but loved each other unconditionally.

The holidays seem a bit hollow this year without her. There is a hole in my heart that she alone could fill. I keep looking for signs that she is still in the universe. I asked her to send me a sign, if at all possible. I will keep looking.

She accepted her diagnosis and impending death with such grace, to the end. She died in her sleep after saying goodbye to those closest to her. She was at peace with her life. Maybe that is the gift: She showed us how to live a life without regret, at peace with how we lived and loved.


  • Maria Leonard Olsen

    Maria Leonard Olsen is a Washington, D.C.-based attorney and author of “50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life” (Rowman & Littlefield, June 2018).

    Maria Leonard Olsen graduated from Boston College and the University of Virginia School of Law. She is an attorney, radio talk show host of the Washington, D.C. show “Inside Out,” writing and women's empowerment retreat instructor, editor, and public speaker on diversity issues and living a life authentic to one's values. Her work has been published by The Washington Post, Washingtonian Magazine, Bethesda Magazine, among others. She also served in the Clinton Justice Department prior to having children, and recently returned to practicing law now that she is an empty-nester. Olsen is the author of four books, including the children’s books Mommy, Why's Your Skin So Brown? and Healing for Hallie, and the non-fiction titles Not the Cleaver Family--The New Normal in Modern American Families and her newest book, 50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life.