Three years ago, Laura Stocker’s family and friends gathered by the hundreds to say their goodbyes and pay their final respects. A number of her clients were in attendance as well - such was her impact on this world. She wasn’t just full of life. She was full of kindness and joy - both of which she shared with everyone she’s ever known.
Laura died from complications related to her ongoing battle with pancreatitis.
Since then, I’ve rarely talked about Laura’s three-month battle with this disease. It was her story to share, and she and I both believed she should - that she would - be the one to tell it.
Sitting here this morning, thinking about the office I shared with Laura for more than half a decade, surrounded by Superman memorabilia and Mr. Potato Heads dressed as superheroes, I realize that I will never be able to share with you the full story of Laura Stocker. But there is one thing I have to share.
It’s a secret, one I never even told Laura. We named our company, Tin Cans Unlimited, after her.
There is a story about how the name came about. Laura and I were sitting in home offices hundreds of miles apart (she in Pennsylvania, me in Alabama), having great difficulty communicating. At some point, she remarked that we would do better with two tin cans and some string, and an hour later we had a logo and a name, “Tin Cans Ltd.”
What changed us from “limited” to Unlimited? Laura.
Even most of Laura’s family didn’t know this – but her vision was failing her. About four years earlier, she’d lost the ability to see in dim or bright light, and her peripheral vision had been reduced to roughly the outline of her glasses. Additionally, she had almost no depth perception. When we formed Tin Cans, she shared with me that a genetic disorder, retinitis pigmentosa, virtually guaranteed her total blindness by age 60.
This, she kept from almost everybody. She didn’t want to be a burden.
I convinced Laura that we should call the company “unlimited” because of what “limited” implied. But the truth is, I wanted to recognize that spectacular trait that she demonstrated on a constant basis without even realizing it.
Until that fateful day when her pancreas forced her to the sidelines, Laura Stocker was, in a very real sense, unlimited.
Her last three months on this world were undoubtedly the most difficult time of her 49 years. Plagued with debilitating pain, crippling fatigue and a prophetically poor prognosis, Laura never gave in to depression or fear. She never gave up on Life.
Which isn’t to say she wasn’t depressed. or scared.
She was. A lot.
She knew her condition. She understood what was happening. And yet she began every single one of our daily visits by asking me how I was holding up.
The root of Laura’s pain was not her pancreas, but her sudden inability to help others. Of that I have no doubt.
I will be forever grateful I got to spend time with Laura the day before she died. We had lunch together and spent the afternoon planning an ambitious springtime travel itinerary that included delivering speeches in Florida and Istanbul. She was that optimistic. It never occurred to her to lose hope.
Laura was more than my business partner.
She was my oldest and dearest friend, tracing back decades. She was my first friend when I was the new kid at her high school in 1983, and she never stopped being my friend, even during all of the years we were apart.
We traveled the world together, rode Segways and roller coasters together, even learned to fly airplanes together.
Laura longed to see the moon and stars one more time. She read voraciously, often completing three novels in a week. She kept a detailed journal, in which she described almost random things in Tolkien-like detail, to help insure against her fading vision. (Once, while driving along Interstate 68 through West Virginia, she had me pull over so she could stare at a wind farm for a few minutes, to commit every detail to memory.)
Laura wasn’t an outwardly religious person. She grew up Catholic, and in 2008 recommitted her life to Christ. She considered that September afternoon a watershed moment, and from that moment she literally attacked each day with purpose.
Laura’s faith never wavered, her figurative vision never faded (even as her literal vision did). She drew strength from her savior. She maintained her focus on each new challenge, wasting no time or resource on obstacles already overcome.
As I go over my notes for this column, it’s been three years to the day since Laura’s grossly unfair passing. I decided to share all this with you for two reasons: first, because it helps me get past a painful memory to write it down; and second, because Laura’s example is one worth sharing.
Laura embodied “unlimited” in the most biblical sense, as expressed in Philippians 4:13: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.