Lessons From Lauren on Life & Healing

In Loving Memory of Lauren Chapman Ruiz

On September 29, 2018, the world lost an angel. Lauren was my teacher, mentor, friend, and healer. While our friendship was for less than two years, her impact was profound on my life. I’m sharing a few of the lessons I’ve learned from her about life and healing in an effort to keep her mission and spirit alive.

Lauren and I first bonded over our love for user research. I reached out to my former teacher after graduating from CCA, asking how she navigated the path to teaching (something I’ve always been interested in). She responded with some recommendations, as well as an offer to guest lecture a class at UC Berkeley (!!).

Lauren doing what she did best—teaching! Overlooking SF Bay.

Soon after, I blogged about the healing journey with my rare disease. Our bond deepened over our shared experiences with rare diseases, and Lauren responded with resources that helped her in her own path.

I read every book she recommended.

On May 16, we attended an Andrew McMahon concert together at the Fillmore. Lauren wiped away my tears as Andrew played songs about searching for a resolution and swimming for your life (particularly resonate as I still couldn’t swim post-surgery). She said she used to listen to his music on repeat while in a hospital bed, getting treatment. In the same way Lauren inspired me, Andrew inspired her through his words of hope and healing.

We kept in touch throughout this year, sharing work and life achievements. She answered questions about “assumption-storms” and other nerdy research methods. I checked in on her pregnancy and she asked about my recovery from surgery in March.

On September 23, I emailed Lauren letting her know I was scheduled for another surgery this October. She responded 2 hours later, “Sorry to hear — I hope it goes smoothly and well, and that it’s the last one!” Less than 24 hours after that, I got another note. “I relapsed with sudden low platelets so I’m in icu getting treatments until they can get my platelets back high enough to induce and get the baby out. :/ oh rare diseases. Prayers appreciated!”

Lauren gave birth to her second daughter three days later, and passed away due to complications associated with TTP on September 29, 2018.

I received the announcement of her death while at a conference in Palm Springs and starting crying mid-session. Hadn’t I just been emailing her? Didn’t I just send her a FB message about going to Andrew’s upcoming concert in Oakland? I knew TTP was incurable and unpredictable, but I naively didn’t realize her life was in danger.

I’m still in shock.

At a candlelight vigil a few days after her passing, fellow CCA students shared things we’ve learned from Lauren and how we’ll carry her spirit on. I was reminded of one the lessons Lauren taught me. If we could find meaning in her life and honor her being, we could start to move past our own suffering.

Remembering Lauren

Here are some lessons I learned from Lauren and her teachers.

1 | Illness teaches us

We are all going to die. We will all experience some form of illness. How we respond and the lessons we learn is what defines us. Lauren responded with grace and decided to “focus on people”. In her passion for teaching, she was able to amplify her impact.

Illness is a part of every human being’s experience. It enhances our perceptions and reduces self-consciousness. It is the great confessional; things are said, truths are blurted out which health conceals.
Virginia Woolf, On Being Ill

2 | Change ourselves

After commenting on how much she has accomplished at such a young age, Lauren shared that her illness put into perspective how precious life is. The incurable nature of her illness undoubtedly changed her and made her fearless in pursuit of her goals.

We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed. For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement. When we are no longer able to change a situation — just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer — we are challenged to change ourselves.
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

3 | Choose one’s attitude

In the Book of Joy, The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu make the distinction between being healed and being cured. Lauren was unable to be cured. I have not found a cure. But throughout our journeys, both Lauren and I were able to find a sense of healing. In a story Lauren wrote under a pseudonym, she said “TTP has continued to harden my determination to work hard to hold onto health, sunshine, and a good life.” I have learned that the more I let go of the process, the more joyful I become.

We are not striving to make the pain go away or to become a better person. In fact, we are giving up control altogether and letting concepts and ideals fall apart.
Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart
The last of one’s freedoms is the ability to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

4 | Heal by helping others

In Lauren reaching out to me, and in me sharing her lessons, these were both small steps on our healing journeys.

Adversity, illness, and death are real and inevitable. We chose whether to add to these unavoidable facts of life with the suffering that we create in our own minds and hearts…the chosen suffering. The more we make a different choice, to heal our own suffering, the more we can turn to others and help to address their suffering with the laughter-filled, tear-stained eyes of the heart. And the more we turn away from our self-regard to wipe the tears from the eyes of another, the more- incredibly- we are able to hear, to heal, and to transcend our own suffering. This is the true secret to joy.
Dalai Lama XIV, The Book of Joy

I leave you with a poem by cleo wade.

what happens to pain

time and time again
my soul
my spirit
my learning heart
prove to me

I heal

For those who knew Lauren, there is an event on 11/11 at CCA celebrating her life [RSVP]. In the spirit of transcending suffering, I started a scholarship to honor Lauren’s memory and continue her impact in the classroom [info on how to contribute. If we raise $25,000, her scholarship will live on in perpetuity and I’m matching up to $10K]. If you donate, please make sure to mention Lauren’s name on the donation page (under “Gift in Honor/Memory of”).

**Update: we’ve raised over $50,000 and the first scholarships have already been granted! Thank you to everyone who has donated.**

Also, I have two extra tickets to Andrew McMahon’s show at the Fox Theater in Oakland. Andrew *may* dedicate a song to Lauren at it. Please let me know if you’re a friend of Lauren and want to join (there are also tickets still available online).

We miss you and your big heart, Lauren