In the last 2 weeks, I have been combing over memories of my cousin Evy. She passed away on June 22nd. She has been in my thoughts and prayers in the entire 6 and ½ years that she lived with cancer, even more-so in the last 6 months when we heard the end might be nearing. It feels impossible to do this adequately, but here is my tribute to her.
It’s a mystery to me how someone I have seen less than 10 times in my adult life can be someone I felt so close to, and whose death has prompted so many tears. Even as I sit to type these words, tears spring quickly to the surface. She married in the same summer I did, but our paths took different turns when she and Jerry moved out of province. Considering the years and miles between us, it is hard to logically explain the place she has in my heart, but it is indisputably true.
Pondering memories of Evy has been like walking on the beach, uncovering a never-ending supply of stones, finding a mini-world under each. I began to call these memories the “Evy Canon”, and I have bent the ears of any friends who would listen lately. As I saw when I went to the Winnipeg memorial for her on July 1st, I am not the only one. Someone mentioned the phrase, “Evy lore” – everyone had stories about her pranks and jokes and creativity and love.
I have described her as a female “Huck Finn” in my life. Growing up, the Mennonite world was quite conservative with its list of “Thou-shalt-not’s”, but she brought a spark of adventure and fun to each family gathering. When we cousins tried to read the plaques bearing Bible verses in indecipherable Gothic German script, we dissolved into irreverent laughter. That particular sin of ours never got discovered by the adults in the next room, but our attempts at playing “baptism” did and we were reprimanded. Who knew that it was wrong to “baptize” each other in the air in our Oma’s front hallway? Evy was the one who invented these and other crazy games we’d play in the upstairs spare room that we sought retreat in.
There were 4 of us who were similar in age, and Evy was quick to secure our bond by giving us one name – “Hemestevia” was comprised of Hemmy, Esther, Evy and myself (Lydia). When Esther’s family moved to Calgary, Evy hatched a plan at one gathering – why not ask our parents if we could take the train (without parents of course) to go visit her? To our astonishment and delight, they said yes and a pack of pre-adolescent girls began our adventure. Everyone on the train became friends and once we got to Calgary, “Hemestevia” did not stop laughing. To this day, that trip is one of my fondest memories, and in recent weeks as Hemmy and Esther and I have shared over Facebook, it is #1 in the memory bank.
Evy also was a master at making little books to give to people. The occasions of birthdays prompted a home-made book, and it was an art I took up in my own adolescent circle of friends. To this day, I love making cards for my friends and I think the seed came from Evy’s love of unique creativity.
Evy was two years ahead of me in school, and her antics became legendary. I heard of the time she skipped class and borrowed the janitor’s hat and pail and squeegee and climbed the ladder, washing the window of the very class she was skipping. Her jokes were always marked by absurd and bizarre humor. Her laughter was intense and gutsy. She taught us to speak “Egg-Latin” and when we took a Singer Sewing course together one summer, we sang through the entire Sound of Music, no doubt to the bemusement of our teacher who was used to more demure young ladies.
I often took the same paths she did – she was the yearbook editor and I followed in her footsteps in my grade 12 year, my friend and I pulling off a ridiculous campaign marked with crazy humor much as she would have. I went to the same Bible School in Colorado as she did, and when our paths crossed again at MB Bible College in Winnipeg, she passed on the torch of editing the college newspaper, opening a vocational path for me like its name, “The Door”, promised.
When cancer entered Evy’s life in 2007, it was hard to believe that a shadow of death could fall on this beautiful life. I was privileged in that first year to go for coffee with her and a few other cousins when she visited Winnipeg, and it was then that our friendship went to a new place, beyond jokes and pranks. I heard of the deeper journey she’d set on – the many anxieties and fears surrounding her and the relationship with God that was sustaining her. She was open about both the fears and the faith, and my heart opened up about my own journey as we talked. It was the beginning of the closeness in Spirit that I would continue to experience with her despite the miles. As Jerry her husband said at her memorial, Evy had touched so many people in her strength, but would paradoxically go on to touch so many more people in her weakness. “My [God’s] grace is sufficient for you, and My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Through the years, praying for her has invited me on a path of trusting God’s sufficient grace amid my own weakness, amid circumstances I
don’t always understand. Like many others, I prayed for her routinely, giving thanks when test results seemed positive and praying for strength and faith when news didn’t seem good. Knowing that she too was trusting in the “no matter what-ness” of God gave me strength in whatever trials I was facing.
Evy and I had a bond in my own sister Hilde who had passed away from leukemia in 1968. As children and adults, this had impacted both of our lives deeply. In those early years of cancer, Evy told me how much she had thought of Hilde. I’ve always believed that Hilde is somehow an angel guide for me in this life, and I began to believe this for Evy as well.
We went on to have a few more visits, phone calls and letters over the years. I am infinitely grateful that I was able to visit with her over coffee this past Christmas. It was clear that cancer had taken its toll and she was much quieter, but love still shone through blue eyes whose clear beauty I had never noticed before. We prayed together at McDonalds, giving thanks for deep friendship rooted in faith, and for the meaning and love that cancer can not steal from a life. We prayed for God to still carry us all through whatever lay ahead, and for peace that is stronger than fear. The trust in God and the simple love for me touched me deeply. The prayer broke my heart even while it strengthened it. A famous hymn says it perfectly, “Joy and sorrow flow mingled down.”
In the last year, during my Saturday morning runs, I make a stop by Winnipeg’s Assiniboine River to pray for a few minutes. For a long while, Evy has been on my prayer list and I don’t think I will stop now. I will continue to pray… for her family who now must grieve her loss, but I will also give prayers of thanks for this spark of life which has been such a gift to so many.
Evy, I am so grateful for all the fun you brought into my life, but I am even more grateful for the witness to God you became in your weakness. You gave thanks to God and trusted even when doctors and hospitals and even alternate treatments could no longer help you. I hope I can honor your memory by believing, like you did, that with God, all things are possible. Rest in peace dear friend. I love you.