LOSING YOUR BEST FRIEND
Every year, April Fools Day comes and goes. It's a day of jokes and laughs and most people seem to enjoy the humor it brings out in everyone.
I don't ever participate.
It's not because I don't have a good sense of humor. And it's not because I don't enjoy a good practical joke.
It's because today, 17 years ago, my best friend died.
Let's back track.
I'll never forget the night that bonded me to Cheryl. I can't remember exactly how old I was, maybe eight, but I do remember the conversation.
We were riding in a church van. It was dark and we were traveling to some sort of church function, I don't remember what it was either. All I remember is HER.
She was a soft spoken, thin girl who looked about my age. She sat next to me in the back row and like most young girls, it didn't take long before we were chatting and giggling like old friends.
After a little time had passed, and it was clear a friendship had been formed, she asked, "Can you keep a secret?"
My eyes grew big. Even at that age, I knew by her tone and facial expressions, she had a HUGE secret. And while I could keep a secret, I was terrified it might be one of those really bad secrets that you're supposed to tell adults. In that moment I had to make a decision whether or not I wanted to carry the burden of her secret.
I slowly nodded my head.
"I have a disease," she whispered.
My heart fell to the my feet. "What kind?"
"It's called Cystic Fibrosis."
I shrugged, having never heard those words before. "What is it?"
"It's in my lungs. It makes it hard for me to breathe."
Tears formed in my eyes, but I refused to let them fall. One question lingered in my mind. The question. But I couldn't ask it.
I think she sensed my hesitation. She shook her head. "Oh don't worry, you can't catch it. I just don't tell people because they all treat me different."
That wasn't the question on my mind, but I let her think it was. "I won't tell anyone. I promise."
It was a promise I kept, though it wasn't long before I realized her secret wasn't really a secret. Every adult knew, and in time, all of us kids knew too.
But, Cheryl was easy to love and she didn't have trouble making friends.
When I was in sixth grade, I went to a very small, private school with Cheryl. There were nine of us in the entire school!
I loved getting to spend so much time with her, but there were many weeks when Cheryl was absent because she was in the hospital.
My mom told me one day that Cheryl probably wouldn't live much longer.
It was the answer to the question I'd had so many years ago, as a little girl who wondered if her new friend was going to die.
One day, a group of us (11yo-13yo) were walking down the road and one of the boys pulled out a cigarette and lit it up. He asked if anyone wanted a cig. Like any wanna-be-cool sixth grader, I perked up and said, "Sure."
Cheryl stormed off.
The next day Cheryl wouldn't even look at me. It broke my heart. We'd NEVER had a fight before!!!
The first chance I got, I cornered her in the bathroom, while she was on the toilet and no one else was in there. "Why aren't you talking to me?" I asked.
"Like you don't know."
"What?" I puffed. "I have no clue what I did to make you so mad. Was it the cigarette?"
"YES!" she yelled.
"It's just a cigarette. That's no reason to be mad at me!"
She flushed the toilet and came storming out of the stall, her face red. "How can you say that! I'm going to die because I don't have good lungs. And YOU have perfect lungs and you're messing them up!"
My eyes flooded with tears. It hadn't even crossed my mind to put the two together.
I sniffed and wiped away a stray tear that rolled down my cheek. "I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking. I won't do it again." I couldn't bear the thought of hurting her feelings. How could I have been so stupid?
She smiled and threw her arms around me.
That was the only fight we ever had, in over five years of friendship.
A year later, on April 1st, she went to be with the Lord.
There are so many more stories like this I could share about the times I spent with Cheryl. She was a light in my life. She was wise beyond her years. She often spoke of Jesus and Heaven and I don't doubt for a second, she is with the Lord now.
At such a young age, she understood more about life and death than most people ever do. She knew her life would be short. She loved well. She lived well. And she taught this little girl so much about what it is to be human.
Every year, on this day, I remember the amazing person she was, and I thank God for the time He gave me with her. The way she lived, loved, and died taught me more than words ever could!
"I love you, Cheryl. I miss you. And I will see you again."