It’s been a couple of weeks since Athena Orchard, age 13, died of osteosarcoma after being diagnosed a year before. She grew up in a big, happy family in England, with six sisters and three brothers, yet amazingly not one had any inkling of a very secret project that she had cleverly planned to leave behind.
“She was an incredible girl, so bright and so strong. She was beautiful and athletic but as her cancer advanced, she became the bravest person I have ever known,” her mother, Caroline, told reporters at Britain’s Daily Mail. “She was always positive, even when she was in the hospital she would be looking out for me, making sure I ate and telling me not to cry.
“We knew the cancer was very aggressive … she fought it as long as she could but eventually she was too weak to get out of bed,” her mother added, explaining that only after the funeral could she or her husband finally enter Athena’s vacant room and begin to put their child’s things away. It just so happened that in the room was a large, almost full-length mirror that stood against the wall. When her husband Dean moved it, only then did they see that Athena had left behind a treasure on the back of her mirror.
In neat, precise handwriting, the young teenager had written a message of over 3,000 words she had obviously hoped would matter to her family, beginning with the words, “Happiness depends upon ourselves. Maybe it's not about the happy ending, maybe it's about the story,” she began.
“The purpose of life is a life of purpose,” was another line. “The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little extra.”
Her mother couldn’t believe it. “Dean started to try to read but then he broke down in tears and we had to stop,” said Caroline. “It was too much. It was heartbreaking. I couldn’t believe it … when I first saw it, it just blew me away. We knew Athena loved to write, that it was part of who she was. It made her happy. Just reading the words, which we have done countless times, makes it feel like she is still with us.”
With no further comment, here are some excerpts of what 13-year-old Athena Orchard wrote on the back of the mirror in her room:
* * *
“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. I want to be that girl who makes the bad days better and the one that makes you say ‘my life has changed since I met her!’
“Love is not about how much you say I love you – it’s about how much you can prove it’s true. Love is like the wind, you can feel it but you can't see it. I'm waiting to fall in love with someone I can open my heart to.
“Love is not about who you can see spending your future with, it's about who you can't see spending your life without ... Life is a game for everyone but love is the prize. Only I can judge me.
“Sometimes love hurts. Now I’m fighting myself. Baby I can feel your pain. Dreams are my reality. It hurts but it’s okay, I’m used to it.
“Don't be quick to judge me, you only see what I choose to show you... you don't know the truth. I just want to have fun and be happy without being judged.
“This is my life, not yours, don't worry about what I do. 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.”