I don’t know when I first met my childhood friend Beverly Stripling. It seems like we have known each other forever, because we went to the same church for decades. Her death this week has me nostalgic. One of my first memories of her was fighting with her during our elementary years. One incident in particular involved name calling and rock throwing, which resulted in window breaking and allowance-losing trouble. Big trouble. Somewhere after that episode, we became friends. I guess shared trouble bonds you in some way, little did we know the shared trouble to come in the future.
We were a part of a youth group that was tightly knit, even though we came from around 8 different high schools. The activities we did were numerous and always fun whether it was a choir tour, youth camp, or simply rolling down the hill in front of the church. It always seemed to me that Bev was fearless. She had a way about her that made me feel as if she was the most confident kid around. She was tough, a bit of a tom-boy, and she never backed down from a challenge. She was competitive and wanted to win. When we played “street” hockey in the fellowship hall, she would jump right in while many of us sat on the sidelines too afraid to participate. Hill-rolling was also a favorite of hers and she led the way, not caring one bit if she got grass stains on her clothes or weeds in her hair. She was wild like the wind and didn’t care what anyone thought. I secretly wished I could be that bold.
She also had a playful way about her. Always up for a joke. Always laughing. Always looking for mischief. If there was a prank happening, she was involved. A few years ago, I wrote a blog that included a memory about a shaving cream battle from youth camp. She pulled me, the sideline-sitter, into the middle of it and we both ended up covered in shaving cream. That playfulness created a twinkle in her eyes and you could tell just by looking when she was up to something…which was most of the time.
We grew up and I think appreciated our differences and the fact we could be friends despite them. Underneath her toughness there was a tender heart and a big one. She was kind and made others feel included. We all learned that lesson from being together with kids from different schools and all kinds of backgrounds. Bev and I lost touch over the years. Our parents, still friends, kept us informed of one another, but we didn’t have any contact other than that. When Facebook came around we followed one another and messaged from time to time or made comments on each other’s photos.
It wasn’t until I heard she had cancer that we started chatting a bit more. I was freshly out of Cancerland myself, and she was just starting. Cancer tends to create a bond of shared experience. Once a cancer patient, always a cancer patient. At one point, four years into her journey and several years after mine, she came home for a visit and we got together. We talked chemicals, hair loss, bone pain, and all things cancer.
However, we didn’t dwell on the harshness of the disease and treatments. She wasn’t one to live in the negative space, but chose instead to focus on the positive. We also talked about life and living it…the real lesson of Cancerland. We talked about how cancer changes your perspective on things. She was planning some hikes for her 50th year and overjoyed that she had lived to see 50. She was celebrating every breath in her brave way.
She was finding being out in nature therapeutic. A place to connect with God. We had that in common. Nature is healing to the emotional scars that cancer inflicts. She found hiking and camping on her own to be exhilarating. She was never afraid to be alone in the wilderness and didn’t think twice about taking off for a week to do what she loved. It seemed to me, even in this battle she was confident and never afraid.
Bev’s cancer was an aggressive type, but ever the fighter, she didn’t let it win. She continued treatment almost continuously for YEARS. When it spread, she kept her chin up. Her eyes weren’t dull, but bright and that mischievous sparkle was still there despite the treatments and pain. There were ups and downs throughout the journey, where it looked as if she had won the battle, only to find the cancer had spread and she had to enter all over again. I was amazed at her courage to face whatever came her way and whatever treatments they gave her. I feel sure I would have given up if I had endured all that she had, but she fought for more time. She wanted to be with her friends and her family as long as possible.
This past week her body just couldn’t do it any longer. It was weary of the fight. But despite her physical decline over the years, her spirit remained strong. Her positive outlook and her strong faith carried her. I know she loved her people deeply. I also know she is finally free of the disease that ravaged her for so long. Her spirit is free to be whole. In my mind’s eye, I can see her smile and the twinkle in her eyes, her confidence shining out…her spirit finally resting in peace.