Tribute to Topher

Some people light up a room when they walk into it but my friend Kris Jones wasn’t one of those people. She was more comfortable in the background…a woman of few words. Her light was just as bright but added to the space in a quiet way. Behind her shy demeanor was a wicked since of humor and a mischievous grin. One of those people who delighted in pranks that no one knew she instigated. She was a deep thinker and a gentle soul with a love for puns, cats, and words.

I met Kris in college on our freshman hall. All the girls were an eclectic group who became fast friends; the 2nd Lemley girls. We developed the kind of bonds that end up lasting a life time despite time or distance. We all came from different places, but starting college together brought us close. Over the years, we all slipped off into our different fields of study and lost the everyday interaction of that first-foot-on-campus feeling. Yet, we were still joined as though we never had been apart.

When Facebook became a thing, I found many of those girls and became FB friends with them, Kris included. She and I shared pictures of our beloved nature hikes with each other and book recommendations. We lived within 30 minutes of each other so we ate in the same places, hiked the same trails, and ran into each other frequently. I always said, “Topher!” (Her college nickname, short for Kristopher.) It brought a smile to her face every time.

I ran into her at a coffee place in this past fall and gave my usual greeting. She hugged me and held on tight. Said she hadn’t heard that term of endearment in a long time and that no one ever calls her that. She said she’d been thinking of me a lot and that she wanted to get together soon, she needed to talk to me.

If you knew Kris at all you know she was a very private person. She did not share personal stuff easily or with many people. The comment set off a flag in me that said, “There is something important happening.” I knew her dad had been ill so I thought maybe she needed to talk about navigating elder care or something of the sort.

I asked her, “Is it parent related?”

“No. Health related. My health. I’ll message you.”

I went back to my seat overlooking the mountain. And she went back to her friend, but I was worried. Being a fairly public cancer survivor, I am contacted often when someone is newly diagnosed. I share my story and experiences happily because it gives some purpose to my journey to walk others through their own. I just had that gut feeling this was not good.

I reached out in a couple days to set a date, but she was going out of town. She contacted me when she got back, but many days beyond when she said she would. When we finally met back at the coffee shop, a week or two later there was a seriousness in her eyes.

Kris was always had a serious face on, but there was heaviness beyond the usual. She reminded me of a hike we took several years ago where I shared about my cancer journey. She told me she had cancer and she wanted to know how have a positive attitude like me. “I am realist,” she said, “and it is hard because my cancer is aggressive. How were you so strong? Beyond your faith. In practical ways.”

There it was. The check in my gut that something was amiss. Cancerland. We spent 2 or 3 hours. I answered questions. Gave tips. Encouraged her that she could do it. At that point it didn’t sound good, but she hadn’t been given a prognosis. She was waiting on a lung biopsy but then her legs started swelling. They thought it was blood clots, but it was the tumor, which had been removed in September, but was already grown back enough to cut off the circulation in her legs. The procedure to fix it was why she hadn’t contacted me sooner about our meet up.  

We stayed in touch. I sent her messages. She sent me questions. There were more doctor/hospital visits, and it became clear VERY fast that this cancer was on the move. We had talked about chemo and radiation. Hair and ports. IVs and chairs. But the time came, before any of those things, for her to decide what she wanted. She opted to forego all of it. The tipping point for her cancer had passed and the one who had worried she couldn’t be strong, became one of the most courageous people I have ever known. She died this past Friday after a short but intense battle. However, cancer did not win. Kris decided. She chose. She surrendered, not to the cancer, but to the peace which surrounded her. She surrendered to the love of her friends. She gave up, by putting down her sword and letting grace take its course. To her appointed time.

I had the chance to sit by her bed and chat a few weeks ago. We talked about old days and fun times.

I told her how brave she was and she told me, “I haven’t done anything but lay in the bed.”

“That is the bravest thing of all,” I said.

She was so much weaker in the short time since I had seen her last. But she was at peace with her choices. I told her I thought she was wise, given her circumstance, to avoid the chemo symptoms that would not have brought her very much gain. She agreed it was the best thing. When I said my goodbye, I knew it was the last one. I kissed her forehead through my mask and told her I loved her.

Kris will be missed for her quiet way and her gentle spirit. There will be a void where her grin and her laughter filled spaces. Her punny jokes will not appear on FB anymore and I will be sad about that. I will miss her hiking pictures and the little things she noticed around her all the time. But I know that her spirit was peaceful, though she was surprised by the suddenness of her illness and the speed at which it progressed. She found solace in her friendships and she felt loved as she went.

Rest in peace, Topher. Rest in peace, my friend.

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