Vanessa Juresic has always been one to get the last word on any subject. And her own death was no different.
Juresic was just 36 when she lost her battle with stage IV triple-negative breast cancer. She’d been battling the terminal illness for 15 months.
But before she passed, she wrote a goodbye letter and requested that it be read at her funeral in Sydney, as her way of ensuring that she’d have the “last word” on the matter of her life and death. Her best friend, Lisa Mayoh, who had the grave honor of reading that letter aloud, surrounded by Juresic’s closest family and friends, said the experience was ‘surreal, soul-destroyingly painful, beautiful, and comforting all in one.”
In the letter, Juresic described her life and everything she wished it could be. “I wanted to be the miracle kid on the front cover of National Geographic but that wasn’t meant to be,” she said.
The letter also addressed friends and family members with individual messages. One of the most poignant was what she wrote to her partner, Patrick:
“You changed my life. I dreamt of a big, beautiful family with you, of growing old with you and I hate that this insidious disease ripped our dreams away from us.”
The letter continued, “You have a church filled with love here for you and me equally—embrace it. Every person here loves you as much if not more than me. I’ll always be in your soul and you in mine. Nothing can ever take that away from us. Real love stories never end.”
Juresic also wrote to her sister, Sophie, “You were my favourite person. I am who I am because of you.”
But aside from messages to individual people in her life, Juresic also wrote about the big picture of her life and the frustration and devastation surrounding her inevitable death. “I had so much more to do,” she mourned. “I wanted to join boards, write more policy and change the world for the better, fundraise more, mentor and ‘make a difference’ as they say. So I’m going to give it a go here instead and give you my learnings from my short life.”
Even through the pain and anger, Juresic was able to find moments of beauty and clarity. She urged friends and family to make the most of their lives and not let the little things get under their skin.
“Life is fragile and so beautiful,” she wrote. “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”
Juresic finished her letter with a simple, “Until we meet again” and a short poem. Her poignant words left the entire church in tears at her funeral. There’s no doubt this beautiful, talented, and kind young woman will not be forgotten. May you rest in peace, Vanessa.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?