“How are you doing?” I asked my friend a few weeks ago.

“I’m dying,” he replied, as in saying he was exhausted. Then, realizing what he had just said, he turned bright pink and began apologizing.

“You can’t say that!” I laughed, pretending I was offended. “Some people are actually dead.”

YAAYAE01My name is Isabella. I am nineteen years old. I am going to college over 3,000 miles from home. A little over a month ago, my dad passed away after battling cancer for three years. Over the last three years I have experienced many changes: changes in my life, my father, my attitude, and my faith.

Throughout his battle with cancer, my dad always remained optimistic and full of life. In the Gospels we are told that Jesus brings eternal “life.” What I never knew until recently, was that in Greek (the original language of the Gospels) there are two words that get translated into English as “life.” There is bios, which means life as in physical existence—breathing, eating, etc. But then there is this other word, zoe, which means more than just one’s physical existence. Zoe is the life in the experiences we have, it is the life we live. And while my dad no longer exists in bios, I have to believe he continues to exist in zoe.

For three years I was grieving his loss before he was gone. Now I have finally begun a healing process and I am happy to say that even though I have lost one of the greatest people in my life, I am still happy. I still exist. I have a wonderful mother and sister, I have amazing friends, I have a great partner, and I am here. I still exist. I am alive.

My dad taught me many things including, “Do what you love, and you’ll do it well; do it well, and you YAAYAE tokenwill be compensated for it,” and “You are as you are: enough.”  Throughout his journey with cancer, he always said “it’s all good.” He taught me to laugh, and, even when it hurts, there is still good in life. My dad had a very distinct sense of humor, always pushing the boundaries of appropriateness. And so when my friends make hyperbolic remarks about their busy schedule, I poke fun at them, because that is what my dad would have done in order to put things into perspective. He would take that pain and joke about it to turn it into something light. He wanted to keep things light so that, as we grieve his loss, we continue to live life, to live zoe.

But this optimism and willingness to joke that I have now has not always been my story. I have grieved, I have struggled, and I have hurt. It seemed unfair that my dad got cancer. People told me that “he didn’t deserve it.” Guess what? Nobody does. Nobody deserves to get cancer; nobody deserves to lose their dad at 19. But it happens: we experience loss, we grieve, but we keep living. And so I am here to say, I’m surviving. I am here, living, rejoicing.YAAYAE02

I now have an online store called “You Are as You Are: Enough” (in honor of my dad) where I sell positive affirmation tokens, among other things that share the optimism I’ve learned to keep even during tough times. I’m trying to “do what I love.” I make positive affirmation tokes, rosaries, cards, etc. as a way to grieve with joy. To grieve but simultaneously to make something beautiful out of my grief.

YAAYAE_IsabellaAbout Isabella

My name is Isabella Laythe, and I am the owner of You Are as You Are: Enough, a small business that looks to make the world a more positive and compassionate place in a way that honors myself and my loved ones. All the products are handmade with love and compassion in mind. My online store can be found at https://squareup.com/store/yaayae and my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/yaayae, with an Instagram featuring all our products coming soon.

Text and Image Copyright 2016 Isabella Laythe, all rights reserved.  Images used with permission.