5 Lessons Learned from Losing Two Friends Under 40

At this moment, I am 19 days from my 38th birthday and a little more than two years from my 40th birthday.

I pray that I will be blessed to see it on May 22nd because two of my friends did not.
Last weekend I had the sad occasion of attending the funeral of my sweet 38-year-old friend, Sylvia. My soror and line sister.

5 Lessons Learned from Losing Two Friends: Sylvia

Sylvia and I on my visit to Chicago

Two years ago, my college suite mate and beautiful friend, Melanie, died six days after her 35th birthday.

5 Lessons Learned from Losing Two Friends

My roommate and friends with Melanie (4th from left) in our college dorm

They were two of the sweetest, funniest spirits I know, and I was blessed to meet them. Both are my freshman year of college at the University of Memphis.

Soon after us meeting, they both began battles that many people didn’t know about (including me to a large extent). They were selfless and caring and didn’t want other people to worry about them, and it feels so unfair that they would have to leave us so soon.

As always is the case when someone dies, you question your own mortality. But I also examine my existence. They were both my age when they passed away, but I’m still here. They can no longer physically do anything, but I can. So I ask myself, “What am supposed to do with the time that I have?”.

In life and in death, both Sylvia and Melanie taught me and many others so much. These are a few of the lessons I learned from losing two friends under 40.

1. Live, Laugh, Love.

When I think of both Melanie and Sylvia, I immediately smile because that’s what both of them did– all the time. Well, more accurately, they were laughing–all the time. They had fun and they enjoyed life and lived life in spite of anything they were going through. And they both were the epitome of love. They loved everyone and everyone loved them.

2. Stay connected to your friends.

When we lost Melanie, it hurt especially bad because I had not talked to her or seen her in several years. I knew she had been sick, but I had not seen her. Losing Melanie, brought me closer to my other suite mate and Melanie’s best friend, Erania, who celebrated her 38th birthday the weekend we celebrated Sylvia’s life.raniAlthough I had seen Sylvia because I spent a week in Chicago with her, it had been nearly two years, and I had only talked to her a couple of times since.

I normally keep in touch with people well, but I let my busy life keep me from talking to them as much as I thought about them. Losing Sylvia brought my entire line closer, Spring 98 Epsilon Epsilon chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. We were preparing to celebrate our 19 year anniversary on May 7th, but losing Sylvia brought us together sooner and tighter than we ever could have imagined.20170429_141935_001[1]It also reconnected us with other lines from our chapter especially those who came immediately before and after us.20170429_141325[1]AND so many other Greeks and non-Greek alumni of the University of Memphis who loved Sylvia.

3. Focus on what matters.

Knowing your friend who has lived the same number of (few) years as you have is fighting for her life then watching her no longer have that life is heartbreaking. The things you complain about become so trivial and you gain a greater appreciation for life. And for me, a greater conviction to do more with it.

4. Be grateful.

The illnesses my friends dealt with ultimately took their young lives. But they could have easily been my issues. I have many issues and conditions I have complained about, but these experiences have made me grateful for my life and the minor challenges I have had. I have also become more grateful for the friends in my life and our ability to support each other in fun times and hard ones.

5. Give people good things to say at your funeral.

As I sat at Sylvia’s funeral just a few days ago and at Melanie’s a few years ago, I listened as each speaker shared memories of them. Of course the people on the program giving remarks would have good things to say, but as I sat there and looked around I seriously doubted that anyone, in the churches or outside of them, would have anything bad to say about either one of my friends.

Tomorrow is not promised to anyone. None of us are given the same conditions for living nor the same number of days. What we do have in common, if you are reading this, is that we are still living and can still use our lives to have an impact on the lives of others.



I’m Summer Owens, and my passion is helping youth and young adults realize success no matter what obstacles they face. As an international resilience and leadership keynote speaker, author, S.O. What! Success Coach, and creator of the S.O. What! Literacy, Life Skills, and Character Education curriculum, I empower people to say, “So what!” to even their greatest challenges.  provide a framework to help people see past their challenges and focus on solutions using the S.O. What! Success System (Overcome Obstacles + Eliminate Excuses + Calculate Choices = S.O. What! Success). Through keynotes, workshops, books, online courses, and workbooks, I use life’s challenges and my own story of resilience as a rape survivor and teen mom success story to help others confidently pursue their dreams.

Looking for an inspiring college motivational speaker? A high school literacy curriculum? A middle school life skills workbook? A great example for teen mothers? A women’s empowerment or single mother’s conference speaker?  I’m your girl and will help any audience say, “S.O. What!”.



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