A Tribute to Laura Rozo

 When we travel through life we never know when we will encounter another human whose presence and whose circumstances are so compelling that we must reach out. This is what happened when I first heard about Laura Rozo and invited her to come chat one afternoon last December.

 Laura Rozo

What first struck me was that she, who was ill and dying, had more life energy in her than most people I know. Laura had just finished her freshman year at UNC when she was diagnosed with a rare rhadomyosarcoma. She had immigrated from Colombia in South America as a teen, learned English and earned the prestigious Morehead Cain Scholarship. She was a student in my husband’s Entrepreneurship class and had just revealed that her treatment options had run out and she did not have much time left.

 I soon became a member of Laura's team. I met her friends, her mother Erika and adoring younger brother, Jacobo, her healthcare and hospice workers, and the great folks at the Morehead Cain Foundation. Laura was our friend, our daughter, our sister, our classmate, our patient, our student, but especially our teacher. She has brought us all together because of who she was...with her open heart, courage, determination and unblinking honesty. She opened our hearts.

 One of the most inspiring messages she left us was her talk at TEDX at UNC this spring. She left the hospital the day before, had her bald head painted with an elaborate henna design, and told her story as a surprise speaker at the end of the program.  Cancer for Laura was the “condition that maximized” her life. She challenged us to understand that we all are dying and that we had a choice about how we could use our precious time.

 Laura had wanted to use her brilliant mind, her passion, courage and inquisitiveness to make a powerful difference in the world. What she imagined may actually pale in comparison to the impact she continues to have on the many people who knew her or have seen her TedX video.  Just last week, a friend of Laura’s, Hannah Nemer shared a song written by some young people in Africa who saw her speech and were profoundly affected. Literally tens of thousands of others have experienced the same.

 It was an honor to walk this final path with her. What I saw in her and what I hope she knew is that the contribution she made to the world was not always about her accomplishments. But it is about being who she was.  She, by simply being the remarkable Laura Rozo made us better human beings. She reminded us what is most important about our journey here. She never forgot to find the joy in living, to take risks and to find acceptance and peace even when she knew she would never accomplish the many things she had set out to do in her life. She approached the path to her death with the same determination and brilliance she used in every other endeavor.  

 During one of our talks I mentioned to Laura that I wanted her to send me a “message” to let me know about her journey after death. This may seem odd, but it was fueled by my belief that life does not end on this plane and that we can sometimes glimpse the world on the other side. I wanted to reassure her of the unending connection humans have between them. As I saw her approaching death, I was reassuring myself as well. My last words to her a few hours before she died were that I would be listening.

 It was just 24 hours after Laura died that I was thinking of her while shopping. When I pulled my wallet from my bag to pay, I heard a voice coming from my pocket book. I looked and saw that my iPhone was playing a youtube video of Laura’s audition speech for TedX: “What I Learned from Dying”. Laura’s face was looking directly at me in a closeup. I was both shocked and delighted. I almost laughed out loud. Was this Laura’s sign to me? I wanted to think that but it was almost too perfect to believe. 

 The next afternoon, while walking through my house and holding my phone I heard some music. I looked and saw it was playing a track from the CD I had given Laura the first time we met in the hope it would help her relax during her chemo treatments. The particular track was titled “Celestial Highway.” I had no recollection of having played either of these selections on my phone. I have no doubt that Laura, ever the “A” student, communicated with me in a way that would disspell any doubt or attempt to explain how these two coincidences could happen.

I remember Laura now at odd times, but they are always infused with a certain poetry and grace. Today as I kayaked the Chilmark Pond, a single white swan flew over my boat and then reversed course and came across my view again. I thought of her, wishing I had been able to share this place with her. And then, I realized her memory was a gift that only expanded my appreciation of this moment in my own life. My gift to her memory is not to waste any of those moments.









  1. Chex's avatar
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    Thank you for this beautiful piece, Kay. Laura really brings out the best in us. :)
  2. Diane Hayes's avatar
    Diane Hayes
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    Thank for these beautiful words. Laura continues to inspire.
  3. Concetta Antonelli's avatar
    Concetta Antonelli
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    Kay, Thanks for the tears and heart opening on this 'O' day. I was fortunate to see Laura's TedX video and indeed touched by this remarkable soul. And no coincidence that I came upon your blog post on this day...I've been pondering how to accept more and more that simply being the best human being possible, the best Concetta Antonelli possible is indeed enough. Thanks for reminding me that Laura 'accomplished' an enormous feat in her way too short life. xo
  4. Zoe Ackerman's avatar
    Zoe Ackerman
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    Beautifully written and so true!
  5. Nicole's avatar
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    Thank you for this tribute. I too have seen little moments that I can only point to as Laura's message. She is surely not forgotten. <3
  6. Cari Jeffries's avatar
    Cari Jeffries
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    So beautiful. Thank you for sharing, and for loving Laura so well.
  7. Andrea Restrepo's avatar
    Andrea Restrepo
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    I just wanted to comment about Laura's country of origin. It's spelled incorrectly in this post. It's Colombia, not Columbia. I know she would have wanted it to be represented correctly.
  8. Natalia's avatar
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    I came across Laura's TEDx lecture today. Then I googled about her life and your article came upon. It's beautifully written. We should aim to live our life at the fullest, just as she did. I think that is her legacy. Greetings from Argentina.
  9. Gabi's avatar
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    I am speachless. Her eyes in the end of the Ted talk, while the room applauds, is disturbing. The emotions really got her then, over all her will to be strong. It is unfair that someone like her has to die so young and innocent. Or maybe dying is just the path to a better place. RIP, dear soul!..

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