This past week a dear friend, Diane Cantor, died unexpectedly from an aortic dissection. This is a frequently fatal acute condition where the large artery that comes out of the heart and circulates blood to the entire body basically ruptures and causes significant damage to many organs of the body.You may remember John Ritter, the actor and comedian. It's the way he died.
Diane was a beautiful woman, both inside and out. She was just 58 years old, and married to another dear friend, Neil Cantor - who represents the epitome of health, success, and happiness. He is always positive, strong, and energetic. He is 79.
Diane was (and will always be) the love of Neil's life; his "soulmate". Diane and Neil (DiaNeil as they call themselves, representing how they were so truly meant to be together) were a couple who couldn't be more in love. They were married for almost 35 years - and they felt as if their relationship was a "gift". People who spent time with "DiaNeil" were not only inspired, but fortunate.
Because of their ages, it was always expected that Neil would leave us before Diane. It obviously didn't happen that way, and for such a beautiful, sweet, healthy, fit young woman like Diane to die has left everyone in shock. Not only that, Neil and Diane have a son, "NJ", who is 22 years old - and who has now lost his mother unexpectedly and prematurely. This tragic, sad situation has made me think a lot over the past few days about death and happiness.
As I wrote in my book - BeHappy! - my father died at around the same age as Diane (he was 57). I was the same age as NJ (22). It was also an unexpected death since he was "fine" one week, then dead of pneumonia the following week. I was "devastated" and, at the time, wondered if I could ever really be happy again. Well, fortunately happiness does not seem to be related to the circumstances of life, however tragic they may be. Happiness is about perspective, and having gratitude for what you have (not what you don't have - or even lost).
But what about Neil - Diane's loving husband. He has lost his soulmate (at least for now, here on this earth). In a way, he lost a piece of himself this week. Is he supposed to still be happy in life?
Then I think about life's "stress list", as defined "by psychologists". The death of a spouse is #1 on the list and no one would argue that this is surely one of the most painful experiences anyone could ever experience, especially if it is unexpected and premature - like Diane's death.
So, what about Neil? Should he continue to be the happy, positive person he always has been after this tragedy? Well, one somewhat comforting thing for me, in the midst of all this, is the knowledge that, if anyone can do it, Neil can. He is an inspiration to many people, including me. He has taught me a lot about life, success, and relationships. He has helped me understand what life is all about. And in the days following Diane's death, I can say with certainty that one of Neil's greatest emotions is the GRATITUDE he feels for his 35 years with Diane. That doesn't mean he shouldn't grieve, because he should - maybe even for quite a while. That doesn't mean he shouldn't be very, very, very sad about it, because he certainly will be. It doesn't mean his life shouldn't be different - much different - than it has been, because it undoubtedly will be. It doesn't even mean that he shouldn't feel some degree of emptiness in his life, because he probably will. Because I know if my wife were to die, these would all be issues for me. I can't even imagine it. I remember how I felt when my father died. And, I know how sad I feel about Diane's death. I can't even believe it has happened. Yes, I am very, very sad about it. And, she wasn't my wife and soulmate (that's a picture of the four of us just about 6 months ago at our home in Tampa).
So, what can we say about something like this? It happens to many people. It happened to my mother when she lost her husband (my father) unexpectedly and prematurely almost 30 years ago. And she had 4 children to raise. We had very little money, and she had to go to work to help support us, when she had been a housewife and mother for 25 years. She eventually remarried (about 15 years after my father's death) and then, after 8 years of marriage to a great guy, this second husband died - also quite unexpectedly. But, my mother remains one of the happiest people I know. She is active, social, and grateful for what she has, including her 4 children. And, I am sure Neil will be the same way.
Neil and Diane were part of the same person (remember, they were - and will always be - DiaNeil). They were an inspiration to couples everywhere - an example of how to create and maintain a "perfect" relationship. It's just that now, the "Neil" part will be here on this earth without the daily support of his "other half". It is certainly very sad (a huge understatement) and it is truly "unfair". He will miss her at the deepest level of his being.
So, will he be happy? Should he remain positive and upbeat as he always has been?
I'd like to know your thoughts. Many of you have likely experienced significant pain in your life, perhaps the death of someone very close to you. Please give me your thoughts. Send a message to Neil through this website by filling in the information in the comment section below. I will pass your thoughts and comments on to Neil. I know he will appreciate it.
BeHappy! Thought for Today (Wednesday June 23, 2010)... “It's only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth - and that we have no way of knowing when our time is up - that we will begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.”
- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Now I know Neil believes that "life is for the living" - and that's partly why I've spent some time thinking about Neil over the past few days and talking about him in this "death and happiness" piece. Because Neil is alive - and needs to keep living. Even though that's true, though, this isn't only about Neil. It's also about Diane.
So, a toast.
Here's to Diane Cantor...
Her death at such a young age is clear proof that "life isn't fair". There is no better human being that has ever walked this earth. To list her positive qualities would take several pages. And, as someone said at the hospital while we were there with her, "Diane doesn't have a mean bone in her body".
Yes, she can be best, and most simply described as a beautiful person. From her sweet, bubbly personality to her sharp, astute intellect ... and from her gentle, vibrant demeanor to her gorgeous, fit exterior, Diane had it all - including the important gift of love. She loved everyone, and everyone loved her (especially her wonderful husband, Neil).
She made people happy! She will be remembered forever ... and missed greatly.
So, today, June 23rd, 2010 - the day she is laid to rest - we celebrate the gift we were all given by just being lucky enough to be called her friend. So here's to you sweet lady, Diane. Thanks for letting us be part of your life. We love you.