“She was an angel. It was almost as if she was an old soul; she had great insight. Her mission was to say ‘I didn’t have a long long life, but we lived it well. And I would like to sparkle.’” - Lee Estridge, Maxx’s mom

Once, there was a girl named Marion Finkle. 

The people who loved her called her Maxx. 

And there was no shortage of those. 

Maxx outdoors next to plants.

“When Maxx was young, I always cooked a lot of food for dinner,” shares Lee, “because I never knew who was coming over. On any given day, she’d always have a friend at the house.” 

Lee describes Maxx as “effervescent,” and “a glass half-full type of person.” 

Her friends called her "the living embodiment of the groove garden.”

Maxx bubbled with joy and celebration, and she loved to sing and dance to music of all genres. The daughter of two photographers, she had an innate appreciation for art and graduated from the Massachusetts College of Art. Her favorite book was The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, and her preferred mode of transportation was rollerskating. She loved olives and the color purple. And above all, she loved to travel. In her just shy of fifty-four years on this planet, Maxx had traveled the globe. 

“The Ultimate Answer to Life, The Universe and Everything is...42!” - Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Maxx with her dad, Richard, in New Mexico.
Maxx with her dad, Richard, in New Mexico.

Born with a sense of adventure, the first sentence she ever said was, “Bye bye in the car!” She spoke fluent French, which came in handy when she and Lee took a girls’ trip to Paris and Italy. In fact, Maxx loved Paris so much, that she'd even visit the City of Love in her dreams. In one particular dream that she shared with Lee, she was eating olives - something she hadn't been able to enjoy in years since developing an extreme allergy to them.

“She shared this dream with me, once,” says Lee. “She was in Paris and there was an olive man. She was eating all the olives. So I hope she’s in Paris now and that she found the olive man.”
Maxx and Lee at the Grand Canyon.
Maxx and Lee at the Grand Canyon.

“She saw the Volkswagen bugs when they were just being thought of,” recalls Lee. “When she came home from Germany, she was like, ‘Mom, I saw your new car! We gotta go test drive it!’ And wouldn’t you know, I’ve had Volkswagen bugs for a long time.” 

In 2017, Maxx was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. She had beat cancer before and already undergone a double mastectomy. But now the disease had returned, spreading to other parts of her body. 

Living with Cancer

When Maxx received her stage 4 cancer diagnosis, the doctors gave her three to six months to live. She lived for over four years. 

Emphasis on the word lived. Maxx did not simply endure or get by. She maximized every moment, most of which were spent with her mom.

Maxx and Lee having fun.

“Every day, we did something fun,” shares Lee. “That was how Maxx handled her cancer. We redecorated her whole apartment; we called it ‘the girl pad.’ As a mom, in a way, you don’t get to be with your adult children so much, and I got this wonderful opportunity to be with her. We were best friends."

“We never knew what we were gonna do or what we were up against. That was the excitement.” - Lee Estridge

When asked about her daughter’s longevity, Lee shares some pragmatic advice, cautioning what she’s dubbed ‘doctor syndrome,’ a side effect of just accepting one doctor’s opinion and protocol and not daring to try something different. With a pharmacist father and a two-time cancer survivor herself, Lee has been around medicine her entire life, which means she’s also attuned to the fact that new medicines are constantly being introduced to the market. 

Maxx in cowboy hat.

“You have to have the right oncologist,” she explains. As it turns out, sometimes, the right oncologist is a dynamic duo. Splitting their time between Maxx’s home in California and Lee’s home in Boston, they were able to connect with two doctors who collaborated for Maxx’s treatment. 

Medical innovations and doctors who sincerely cared were critical to Maxx’s overall wellbeing. But there was something else that Lee suspects was at play. “She was having too much fun!” she says. “We were having the best time.” 

A Mother’s Mission

“We’re here until we’re not,” says Lee, reciting a mantra she would often tell her daughter. “Seeing Maxx out of the world, I believe that was my higher calling. Helping to take care of her made me realize I am a planner by nature. Knowing that, it helped me overcome it. Because you cannot plan everything.” 

"One of the many things we learned was about living in the moment. And understanding how important that was. There’s so much happening in today’s world, you need to have all your wits about you. Living in the moment is even more important now than ever.” - Lee Estridge
Maxx smelling a rose.

Finally, when Maxx went into hospice, she told her mother, "I need to be free." 

Maxx's closest friends and family gathered at her home to be at her bedside during her final days. "We performed rituals and created a loving place to give her as good a death as you can have," says Lee. "We never left her alone once we started hospice. We protected her."

But Maxx would not depart with her parents in the room. Finally, on April 24, 2021, Lee took a page from Maxx’s favorite book, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which the answer to the universe is 42, and she told her sweet daughter: “The numbers are 4, 2, 4, 2, 1. If you’re choosing, then today is probably a good day to go.” 

Moments after Ken and Lee left the house to go for a walk, Maxx drew her last breath. She was free.

Maxx’s Diamond

Of the million facets of je ne sais quois that make Maxx so inimitably remarkable, one that truly sets her apart is that she asked to become a diamond. It was a little over four years into her cancer journey when she turned to Lee and said, “Mom, I’ve been thinking. You can make diamonds from ashes.” 

When Lee asked her to confirm that was what she wanted, she gave the most ‘Maxx’ answer: “Yeah, I want to sparkle!”  

Beyond having her ashes transformed into a beautiful stone, there was another motivating factor for Maxx to seek out Eterneva. “I really want you to go with them, Mom,” she said. “Because they’ll keep in touch with you. It’s hard enough with everything you have to go through.” 

Maxx's blue diamond.

Lee honored her daughter’s wish to become a diamond. She chose the color blue—”because blue is beautiful''—and recently welcomed the stones home. That’s right, Lee has two diamonds. She has a raw diamond as a result of a regrowth, which she plans to wrap in silver and give as a gift, to someone truly special throughout Maxx's life.

“The diamonds really do help you feel like they’re close when they’re gone. I’m very grateful that Marion asked me to do that.” - Lee Estridge

The Last Chapter

Since saying a heartfelt au revoir to her daughter, Lee has learned the true meaning of making every day count. She shares that she and her husband, Ken, continue to tick destinations off their bucket list. "We work really hard at seizing the day," she says. "Because I know that one of these days, I'm going to hang up my suitcase." 

Maxx with her stepdad, Ken, in Boston.
Maxx with her stepdad, Ken, in Boston.

One of Maxx’s requests was for Lee to scatter her remaining ashes at all of her favorite places. 

"I can’t think of anything more free than being in all of the places you loved." - Lee Estridge

And so from Maxx’s beloved California beaches to a rock quarry in Rockport, Massachusetts, Lee went on a pilgrimage with her husband, Ken, and Maxx's best friend, Alex, where they battled every ridiculous thing imaginable, from gale force winds, crowds, poison ivy, and impromptu rock climbing in ninety-degree heat. 

“Everywhere we went,” shares Lee, “some hilarious, dramatic thing happened.” 

Maxx ready for an adventure!
"There were so many people, you could hardly walk. I went into the woods where the lupins were blooming - purple, of course - her favorite color. I put ashes on every purple flower." - Lee Estridge

Their last destination together was Sedona, Arizona, where they scattered Maxx’s ashes in Peace Park, looking out over Thunder Mountain. 

“Alex has one little jar of ashes,” states Lee. “And she told me, ‘I know where the last place is. It’s Paris.’ And I said ‘you’re right.’” 

In life, Maxx sparked joy and wonder in everyone she met, and she continues to do so as a diamond. Her love of adventure will live on, as she travels from one bucket list destination to the next with Lee and Ken.

“I believe that the last chapter is about finding peace and love," shares Lee. "If we can all have that in our life… because we’re all going. Personally, I learned a lot. I brought Maxx into this world, and unfortunately as a mom, it’s the worst thing letting her go. I feel that was part of my mission. And we did it with grace and peace.”