Most of the time, when a person passes away, they are well-eulogized. People talk about fond memories, all the best attributes of that person, and list off their achievements in this life. Sometimes, however, the person who has moved on hasn’t spent that much time on this planet. Their life, in our estimation, was cut too short, and we’re left to wonder what all they could’ve gone on to do, lamenting time lost.

My cousin, Whitney Harden, passed away yesterday at the tender age of 19. She could easily fall into the category I described above, but if you had known her you would have a hard time leaving her there, or lamenting anything about her.

She was sick from the time she was born, fighting a relentless auto-immune disease that sought to rob her of any kind of real life. For instance, she had to complete a lot of her education online, and through tutors, due to an inability to keep consistent attendance at school, and frequent hospital stays. It made spending time with friends hard, and for a fairly isolated life. She did meet her goal of graduating high school and walking with her class, but beyond that, and by the world’s standards, she didn’t have many achievements.

While the disease might’ve been tempted to think it was winning, I don’t think it counted on the warrior heart of its prey. I  don’t think it realized what a formidable enemy it would find in her very best weapon:


Whitney was a person of light. She wielded kindness and selflessness like a sword that sliced through darkness and pain like butter. Even with her limited availability, her friendships were deep and steadfast, and she offered an understanding ear to other patients, adding a boost of positivity in an otherwise often negative and hopeless environment. Her vast medical community found not one untouched by her unflagging spirit of hope, as evidenced by the surprise birthday parade of her doctors and nurses, past and present, on her hospital-bound 19th birthday. They came from all over, donning hats, and carrying cake and balloons, to honor their incredible patient.

I think that living in the shadow of death for the entirety of her life served not to make her cower in an ultimate resignation, but stand up in determination to make the very best use of her time. She had little use for pettiness, complaints, or narcissism. She always seemed to know what was really important with a maturity well beyond her years.

I think she would want you to remember that you, too, live in the shadow of death. We all do, although we tend to live with an arrogance that we have all the time in the world because we don’t have a life-hungry reminder breathing down our necks. My darling cousin would remind you that there is no place for arrogance in this life. She would want you to make much of every day, and, if you’ve been given the incredibly generous gift of many years, tell you that a litany of achievements at the end of them doesn’t necessarily equate to a life well-lived. Unless, of course, they include kindness, selflessness and hope.

Unless they include JOY.

Dance, my darling girl. Sing. Run. Breathe DEEP the clear, perfect air of heaven. You have finished so very well.


Whitney Harden

September 12, 1996 – November 15, 2015