When someone dies, people often speak of them in platitudes. Let’s be honest, not everyone “lit up the room.”

It’s especially frustrating to have known someone whose light burned so brightly that nothing but a cliche will do to describe her.

Valerie and my mom were roommates at CU. They parted ways after college and, as college friends do, they would go several years without seeing each other. Phone calls and letters sufficed in a season of life dominated by mortgages, careers, divorce and motherhood. But even in the years when we didn’t see much of Val, her myth loomed large.

Throughout my childhood, I heard stories about her adventures and travels around the globe. I knew about her time spent in Iran leading up to the 1979 Revolution. I heard the story of how she smuggled hashish in the hollowed-out head of a Buddha statue, which she made her grandmother carry through customs. She was loud, adventurous, wild, funny and irreverent. She influenced my own decisions to travel as much, if not more, than my literary heroines.

Speaking of platitudes, “larger than life” should induce an eye-roll from just about everyone. But anyone who knew Valerie understood that everything about her was big and bold. On a recent trip to Boulder, she — along with my mom and their other former roommates — visited the house they used to live in. The trip was organized in order to return the infamous “Bong Chart” to its rightful home, and to do that, they needed to befriend the new tenants. Like everyone else, the college kids who now live at 1048 were immediately smitten with Val. They invited her back for a tailgate party the next day. I was honest with her that a kegger with a bunch of 20-year-old dudes is my actual idea of hell, but she excitedly showed me the video of her dancing around the yard in her Buffs gear with a few hundred of her new friends. I watched in awe of her self-assuredness.

Last year, she told me how much she enjoyed reading this column, and naturally, I deflected the compliment. “I’m dying,” she said firmly, “do you think I would waste my time reading my friend’s kid’s crap?” Then she flashed her megawatt smile and we moved on to discussing travel plans.

Valerie was not afraid of death; she was simply disappointed to miss out on more life.

It’s would be easy to paint her as an inspirational sick person, but in truth, it was her lifelong “fuck it” attitude that was inspiring. And I mean “fuck it” in the best possible way. She left too soon, but she also experienced more than most people who get to see old age. She truly lived well before she knew she was dying. Val approached every day as though there simply wasn’t time for anything except love, adventure, learning, connection, laughter, dancing and gratitude for every last drop she could squeeze out of this life.

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