Lessons from a little sister -- how Ayra Qazi left her mark

She had struck once again. First my white bed, painted in green nail polish, next my four poster canopy, now just a one poster canopy of loose threads. But this was a whole new level. It takes true creativity to properly destroy a laptop, yet that was exactly what my sister had accomplished; first by pouring bright orange paint all over it, then picking the keys out with a fork. This was Ayra. This was my every day.

In her few years, Ayra had perfected the art of leaving lasting impressions everywhere she went; our home is a huge testament to that. Every day, I came home to something different. Yesterday, all of the doors in the house had names (phonetically spelled, as in “Shy Onn”). Today, my mom had put up a newly framed painting of mine, and shortly after, Ayra followed underneath with her own rendition, in Sharpie no less. Soon after, all of our doors were illustrated with pictures of their residents, and that was when my mom made the sharpies disappear, to no avail however, as sharpie was soon replaced by crayon, and each addition more vibrant than the last. By the age of five, her “artwork” spanned more of the house than mine did, and she quite literally drove everyone insane.

Fast forwarding to present day, I could not have imagined a life without her. Ayra and I had almost a ten year age gap, and as the eldest of the four of us, I felt like half a parent to her. To lose someone with such a loud, outspoken, sassy, and vivacious personality does more than break your heart; it breaks your soul. Long before her diagnosis and subsequent treatment, we spent our days making sure we knew where she was at all times so as to ensure she didn’t burn the house down, and in the years after, we spent our days in and out of the hospital, taking great care to ensure she was happy and comfortable through her treatments. She was our purpose, our hopes and dreams and our pillar of faith, one day there and the next day gone.

This year will mark five years to her passing and, in truth, it doesn’t get easier. There was nothing to fill the void that her absence had created, no real way to leave the pain behind I was told, except perhaps time. With time, I realized that the only way to not feel the emptiness was to not have known her at all, and the thought of that is worse than grief. With time, I was able to focus less on the void, and think more on the beautiful life Ayra lived in her eight years.


From Ayra, I learned to never take no for an answer. Of the four of us, she was by far the most rebellious and by far the biggest daredevil (clearly taking after our dad), so whether it was jumping off the bookshelf or using my eye shadow as lipstick, “no” was never an option. I learned from Ayra that confidence is the key to anything and everything. Ayra in all her actions was never shy, never one to back down from an opportunity. As adults, and especially young adults, we often hide our faults and weaknesses and are ashamed of them, but Ayra flaunted them. She was never afraid to tell anyone she had beat cancer (twice), or that she had hearing aids because the chemo had dampened her senses. I learned from Ayra to live life fully and to leave a lasting impression on others. She taught me to live boldly and to never miss an opportunity. Regret was not a word in her vocabulary, never even a thought entertained in her mind.

Ayra taught me to paint my life, not just my canvas. If paper could be her canvas, so could walls, and if walls could be her canvas, the entire world was her canvas. Her creativity and passion knew no bounds, and in her eight years, Ayra had painted the perfect life. Her world was vibrant, full of family, friends, teachers, nurses, and doctors who loved her. Her days were filled with color, from soccer to art classes to homework (honestly, what kid loves homework?) to playing dress up, which was an all time favorite activity of ours.

I’ve come to learn that time doesn’t in fact heal; time simply makes the void more manageable. Life has thrown me many curveballs at my family and me since Ayra’s passing, and each one brings the void to the surface. However, just like any mis-stroke on a canvas, in time I’ve learned to pick up the brush, embrace what’s before me on the canvas, and keep on painting in vibrant color. I strive to live each day to the fullest, and live my life loudly, boldly, and in full color as she did. If our lives are our painting, then they should be full of happiness and color. Ayra taught me that life, like art, is an expression of self. So paint your life, not just your canvas, for what is life, if not a work of art?

Author of the Month: Shayaan Qazi