Linnea Stephans did what few people get the chance to do: she co-wrote her own obituary.
In her final words, she asked her friends and family to “live life,” an example she tried to set with her own life.
“Give to others, especially those who are suffering,” her obituary continued. “And beyond all, love one another fully.”
Stephans was diagnosed with brain cancer in March 2016. She had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor and went through chemotherapy until her body developed an allergic reaction to the drugs.
She had another tumor surgically removed in May 2017, but in August, five more were found.
Her response? She told her assistant, Robin Pestalozzi: “I’ll just keep eating my favorite foods and going for walks and laughing and enjoying life as much as I can,” according to the Duluth News Tribune.
She spent her final days hiking, laughing, planning her funeral, and arranging for three different people to mentor her 11-year-old daughter Megan.
She passed on Jan. 3 at the age of 49.
Remarkably Good and Happy Person
“Linnea was one of the most remarkable people I knew,” Don Ness, former Duluth mayor, told the Duluth News Tribune. “She had this joyous personality, boundless energy and a real love for people and relationships.”
Ness knew Stephans for about 15 years from when she was a financial adviser to becoming a major force in funding for the Center for Changing Lives, a 27,000-square-foot, $9.1 million facility run by Lutheran Social Services (LSS). The center provides a home for homeless youth, as well as training and assistance.
That is where Stephan met Pestalozzi, who worked as her assistant before taking over her position when Stephan left to become a financial adviser again.
“She was really just a tireless advocate for youth and the programming that we provided,” Pestalozzi recalled, reported the News Tribune. “It was really helpful to have her as a mentor.”
— Linnea Stephan (@LinneaStephan) May 21, 2015
After leaving LSS, Stephan joined the board of directors of another charitable organization, the Ordean Foundation, where Ness is executive director.
“Linnea always cared about Ordean and its mission to help people struggling with poverty in our community,” Ness told the News Tribune. “I think that’s why she wanted to support the organization.”
In her obituary, Stephans suggested to friends, “Rather than buy flowers for my celebration of life, would you please consider buying a meal for a homeless person?
“Better yet, a homeless family with kids. In addition, if you are struggling, I sure do hope someone shares with you today.”
— Linnea Stephan (@LinneaStephan) November 5, 2015
In December 2016, knowing she might be facing a terminal illness, she got engaged to Pat Mullen. They met some four years earlier at a charity event where Stephan was volunteering.
“She’s probably the most open, bubbly, smiley, welcoming person I’ve ever met,” Mullen said.
Has anyone ever gotten salmonella from eating raw cookie dough or are people just trying to stop me from living my life? #livewithoutfear
— Linnea Stephan (@LinneaStephan) December 19, 2015
Her final tweet, just seven weeks before she passed away, said simply: “Addicted to hiking.”
Addicting to hiking.
— Linnea Stephan (@LinneaStephan) November 18, 2017
Stephan’s daughter Megan was the real center of her life. In her obituary, she wrote, “The most joy I have found in my life is being a mother.”
— Linnea Stephan (@LinneaStephan) June 4, 2015
“My happy place is in nature. I am a terrible singer and I am not afraid to admit it. I love to laugh. I love to read. I especially love to hike. My favorite season is fall.
“Best job? Working at a nonprofit or volunteering at a nonprofit (please do that!). I found my true love while volunteering at an event.”
In her obituary, her final message to all the people she loved, Stephan wrote, “if there is one word that I could use to describe my life, it is this … blessed.
“Life is what you make of it, and I have chosen to make my life happy and full of love.”