“I am 100% optimistic,” Lynn wrote to close her email—the last treasured one that I will ever receive. Those precious words on my screen depicted her battle with cancer—one that tragically took her life last month.
In both her personal and professional life, Lynn Grefe emanated genuine positivity. Throughout over a decade of knowing her, I have tried to channel this light. With these words, I hope that you will feel Lynn’s warmth and optimism. And, even just for today, maybe you will choose to seek the positive over the negative. In life, finding what’s bad is simple; holding onto what’s good is the tough thing to do. But, I must say, in the presence of Lynn, this challenge was made a little easier.
Maybe you never met Lynn personally, but you probably know her—through the spirit of hopefulness that shines throughout the National Eating Disorders Association where she served as president and CEO. If you have ever called the NEDA Helpline or been inspired by words during a NEDA Walk or NEDAwareness Week, then you know Lynn. Under her leadership since 2003, I watched the organization thrive—saving countless lives through efforts to improve prevention, treatment, and research. As chair of NEDA’s Ambassadors Council, I saw various hurdles thrown her way. Each time, she stood strong; she never, never, never gave up.
Don’t get me wrong: Lynn wasn’t blindly positive, ignoring important truths. A highy intelligent woman, she walked through life with her eyes wide open. In both her career and personal life, Lynn was fully aware of all challenges surrounding a task ahead—whether it be launching a new program at NEDA to undergoing grueling cancer treatments. Lynn gathered the necessary information, harnessed the good from the facts, and remained positive as she plunged ahead.
Referring to losing her hair, she wrote in another email, “By the time I see you, I will be sporting a new portable hairstyle. All fine, no worries.”
Believe it or not, she even incorporated a smiley face into that last message. During her battle with cancer, among the most powerful words Lynn shared with me are these:
I promise I haven’t spent one day worrying about it, or I would be wasting a day of this precious life I have been given.
Wow. I wish I would have the fortitude to say something like that under similar circumstances. I am someone who is prone to worry (major understatement), so this message from Lynn really hit me hard—in a good way. In the past year, remembering her attitude, I have been able to skip worry altogether in certain circumstances. If Lynn can focus on enjoying biking and swimming throughout her fight with cancer (yes, she did), then maybe I could stop obsessing about missing a work deadline or something else that doesn’t seem quite so important now.
“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” people say.
Most agree with this principal, but how many of us truly apply it to our lives? Lynn sure did. What is even more incredible about Lynn is that she took this idea further to the concept of don’t sweat the big stuff.
Cancer is big, but Lynn did not let it crush her spirit. The disease may have taken her physical body, but it will never take the essence of her life.
If you are suffering with an eating disorder, cancer, or something else, I hope that you will find strength in Lynn’s story. Like she did, surround yourself with people who lift you up. Kudos to those who work at NEDA for doing just that for Lynn. She told me how the staff was exceptionally supportive throughout her struggle, even transforming the office into special and fun events—like a Hawaiian Luau to a pretend day at Yankee stadium. Referring to this time in her life, she said, “Really amazing…..so, it has indeed been an interesting and different summer!”
Just above, Lynn chose to say “amazing,” “interesting,” and “different” rather than “awful” or “excruciating.” The later words certainly describe cancer. I know, because both of my parents battled the disease at the same exact time. Of course, Lynn encouraged me to stay strong throughout this entire ordeal. She had a talent for fostering hope and keeping things upbeat. Both of my parents are doing well today.
To honor Lynn, how can you shift your thinking from negative to positive? If your mind is spinning on something bad, let Lynn’s words move you in a new direction.
I will close with yet another powerful thought from my mentor, colleague, and friend:
Recovery is possible! I am a believer, you know?
Yes, I do know. And, because of you, Lynn, I, too believe.
A Celebration of Life in Honor of Lynn Grefe will be held at 10 AM on Saturday, June 6, at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Fort Lee, NJ (1576 Palisade Ave).
If you who wish to make a donation in Lynn’s memory, her family has asked that funds support the NEDA Conference scholarship fund.