When you lose a loved one, it can be tough to think of them as anything other than last forever. Their absence weighs heavily in every room, the sound of their voice still rings in your ears. But one English family found out that gone doesn’t have to mean forgotten.
When a brilliant 13-year-old girl from Leicester, England, suffered a medical catastrophe during the holiday season, her parents lost all hope of being happy again. After inspecting one of her bedroom decorations, however, they couldn’t help but feel an impossible connection to their daughter…
In 2013, just before Christmas, 13-year-old Athena Orchard was abuzz with holiday spirit in Leicester, England. Then, without warning, she collapsed on the kitchen floor.
At the hospital, the young adult received bad news from doctors: she had a bone cancer known as osteosarcoma. She needed emergency surgery.
Even with this news, Athena never lost her positive attitude. As her mother Caroline, left, said, “She was always positive, even when she was in the hospital she would be looking after me, making sure I ate and telling me not to cry.”
Doctors ushered her to the operating table and spent the next seven-and-a-half hours removing tumors from her spine, shoulders, and head. Soon, she was back at home, determined to beat the life-threatening disease.
Athena lost her hair and nearly all her strength to the chemotherapy that followed her operation. To pass the time she penned songs, channeling her emotions into writing.
“She was a very spiritual person,” her father Dean Orchard said. “She’d go on about stuff that I could never understand–she was so clever.” And soon, after Athena’s health declined further, they found out just how clever she was.
On May 28, Athena passed away surrounded by her parents, six sisters, and three brothers. Devastated, the family mourned the loss of a promising life. But shortly after, Dean made an amazing discovery…
While poking through his daughter’s belongings, he moved a mirror that was leaning up against her bedroom wall. Three thousand handwritten words had been scrawled along the backside of it.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Dean said. “I saw all this writing…It’s so touching. When I first saw it, it just blew me away.” Athena had written the note in the height of her battle with cancer, and her raw emotion showed.
The note captured perfectly the tumultuous thoughts of a “very spiritual person” and a positive mind. Parts of it read: “Happiness depends upon ourselves. Maybe it’s not about the happy ending, maybe it’s about the story.” It continued…
“The purpose of life is a life of purpose,” she wrote. “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra. Happiness is a direction, not a destination…
“Thank you for existing. Be happy, be free, believe, forever young. You know my name, not my story. You have heard what I’ve done, but not what I’ve been through. Love is like glass, looks so lovely but it’s easy to shatter…
“Love is rare, life is strange, nothing lasts and people change. Every day is special, so make the most of it, you could get a life-ending illness tomorrow so make the most of every day. Life is only bad if you make it bad…
“If someone loves you, then they wouldn’t let you slip away no matter how hard the situation is. Remember that life is full of ups and downs. Never give up on something you can’t go a day without thinking about…”
The letter went on with more ruminations on love before ending with the line, “People gonna hate you, rate you, break you, but how strong you stand, that’s what makes you… you!. There’s no need to cry because I know you’ll be by my side.”
Naturally, the family was stunned and touched by Athena’s lyrical interpretation of life and happiness. In fact, Dean tried reading the message, but couldn’t get through it without breaking down into tears.
“It’s so touching,” he said. “She never mentioned it, but it’s the kind of thing she’d do.” Caroline added, “Just reading her words felt like she was still here with us; she had such an incredible spirit.”
As for the fate of the mirror? “We’re keeping the mirror forever,” Caroline said. That, no doubt, will be a prized possession in the family for a long time, especially since Athena touched so many lives…
After her passing, friends and other family stopped by the Orchard family home in Leicester. There, they scribbled their own messages of positivity on the windows.
Though Athena Orchard’s life was cut short, her memory lives on in the hearts of those who knew her and the words she wrote on her bedroom mirror.
What a wise young girl Athena was. To think of how brave she remained in the face of her illness is truly inspiring.
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