Do you know how much money matters? My opinion on that changed in the wake of my good friend's passing.

As I was driving to the gym recently, I heard the song “Hey, Jealousy” by the Gin Blossoms come on the radio. It reminds me of the time my childhood friend Lorna and I took a trip to California together. We drove around in my aunt's sports car blasting that song down the freeway.

At the time, I was a freshman in college and she was a sophomore. We started off as roommates, but she eventually left school to study closer to home.

One Friendship, Two Very Different Paths

Because of my new perspective, I see money differently too. Money is a tool to use wisely. To spend on experiences, not stuff. To use it on things you most value.

We kept in loose touch over the years, as our moms were still very close friends. But because we lived on opposite ends of the country, I only got to see her about once a year.

Still, she was always there when it counted. Like the time my mom nearly died from double pneumonia, or when my brother was diagnosed with colon cancer. Fortunately, both my mom and brother survived.

In 2008, I was laid off from my job of eight years. On top of that, the guy I thought I was going to marry had dumped me several months earlier. As a result, there was a good amount of time when I was feeling sorry for myself and drinking way too much cheap wine. But I eventually started coming around.

That year also wasn’t a great one for Lorna. She was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer.

I remember my mom telling me that when Lorna – who was a surgical nurse – was diagnosed, she walked out to the parking lot of the doctor's office and crumbled to the ground, sobbing.

A Devastating Diagnosis

The news shattered me. I could not comprehend how this girl – the one who was voted “nicest person” by her graduating class – could have such a terrible disease.

I got to visit her during a trip home. Shortly after her diagnosis, our moms took us out for a spa day. At the spa, we filled out a general form.

She noted that for the first time, she had to circle “yes” to having cancer.

The statement made me numb. In fact, I generally tried to avoid bringing up the “C” word during my visit so as not to upset her. But I realize in retrospect that was more for me, not her.

Perhaps she noticed, because later she called me up on the phone – a call that completely changed my perspective on life.

Learning From Lorna

You see, so much of my life, I mindlessly went through the motions.  As a new, struggling freelancer, I was focusing so much on what was going wrong, and how I always felt broke.

In our conversation, she told me that she admired me. I was floored, especially as I was feeling like a bit of a loser in life. She recounted all of the cool experiences in my life over the last twenty years: trips, taking up surfing, trying new classes, packing up and moving from Detroit to Seattle without knowing a single person…

She said that I was brave and adventurous, and she wished she had been more like me. I hung up the phone and lost it.

In October 2009 – just before my 39th birthday – Lorna passed away. I got to see her one last time the week before. After I saw her, I made a silent promise to myself that I would never take life – nor any experiences (good or bad) – for granted ever again.

Because of my new perspective, I see how much money matters in a different way. Money is a tool to use wisely. You use it to spend on experiences, not stuff. To use on the things you value most. No matter how financially strained I sometimes feel, I have so much to be grateful for.

Thank you, Lorna, for that lesson.