My Friend Beth

When I found out my friend Beth passed away, I was heartbroken.  She was more than a music teacher. She was a dear friend who loved all three of my boys from the time they were itty bitty.  She instilled a love of piano in Teddy while she instilled a love of life in me. She was a warrior who inspired me more than she could have imagined.

It all started with a contest I entered on Facebook. As a stay at home mom with two little boys, I was thrilled when I won.  The first time I nervously unloaded my babies and entered the charming white house on Bulloch Avenue I had no idea that I was winning so much more than a free music class.  I was winning a dear friend who would forever change my life.

That early morning in March of 2013, Beth greeted us with her warm smile as we joined the first of many music classes that would follow.  Beth was bright and energetic and her shining spirit filled the entire room. She was funny, quirky, open, and fearlessly authentically herself.  Any sense of anxiety I brought into the room was easily set aside as we settled into a circle and filled the room with music. While Beth sang and played instruments with joy and enthusiasm, the mommies collectively let out a sigh of relief as our children (and we) were entertained for an hour.  Beth had a gentle yet wise way of meeting children exactly where they were. And yet she always held them to the highest expectations. Because she knew they could reach them. I learned a lot by watching her. My boys loved music class with Miss Beth. But I was the one who was really lucky to be there.

Once a week, for the next several years, my boys and I attended Beth’s classes.  Although she started out as our music teacher, we very quickly became friends. Beth watched as my family grew and so did her love for my boys.  As I went through the ups and downs of pregnancy, postpartum depression, and a relapse into my eating disorder, our weekly class with Miss Beth remained a constant.  Some weeks she was the only adult I interacted with during the day. Many weeks I withdrew from social activities, but I always came to music class. Perhaps I simply wanted to be warmed by her bright spirit.  Beth was honest and direct; she did not let anxiety prevent her from having the hard conversations. When I was at my lowest point, she was one of the few friends who confronted me directly on my own downward spiral.  She was somehow able to do it from a place of love and in a way that helped me climb back up.

When I started my Color Street journey, Beth was one of my very first customers.  When she joined my team, I was thrilled because it gave us another excuse to hang out, spend time together, and talk.  Beth was a hard worker, was serious, and she was very driven. But she was also hilarious- her texts often had me breaking into a fit of laughter. Best of all, she had a way of helping put things into perspective.

I will never forget the first class we attended after Beth was diagnosed with cancer.  While I was mentally prepared that her cheery “Hello!!” would not greet us from the kitchen,  I was not emotionally prepared for the gaping hole her absence would create. Beth’s strength, courage, and determination continued to shine through her blog and the texts we exchanged.  Everyone who knew her fell more in love with her. She was tenacious, she was honest, and she held on to her amazing sense of humor as she battled the next four years for her life.

I often told Beth how grateful I was to have her in our lives.  But I am not sure I told her enough. When Teddy began taking piano lessons 2 ½ years ago, I was most excited about the one on one time with her he would get.  Sure, she taught him how to play notes and chords, to read music, and to love the piano. But what I cherished most was the life lessons she gave him. She and I talked often about his own anxieties and perfectionistic tendencies and it comforted me to know she was working with him on being more flexible, accepting mistakes, and being gentle with himself.  Having a friend who loves your children and reinforces these messages you are trying to instill is priceless. The piano skills,  like the free music class, were just bonuses. We were the lucky ones.

Just like my children, I was blessed to learn so much from Beth.  It wasn’t necessarily anything she said or wrote, but it was the way she lived her life.  She was warm and friendly and caring and passionate. She was optimistic and determined. She wanted desperately to keep living life and she made it a point to find the joy and humor and love in all situations.  She was also direct and honest, and while she and I only talked about my own struggle with an eating disorder a few times, she inspired me in so many ways. Watching her body fail her as she fought relentlessly for her life, I could not deny the gift of physical health that my body gave me. It was difficult to justify starving myself while I watched someone I loved fight for her own survival.  I learned a new appreciation for my body and my life just by watching her struggle to keep her own. Suddenly the size of my jeans or even the size of my insecurities felt superfluous compared to the size of the mountains she was climbing. And while many times she must have longed to sit down and quit fighting, Beth did not give in. And she inspired me to do the very same.

It sounds so cliche but watching a dear friend slowly die puts life in perspective.  She was one year younger than I am, with so many hopes and dreams for the future. So many people here who still needed her. She was a mother, a sister, a daughter, a therapist, a wife, and a friend. The very last time I saw her, we met for brunch.  She pumped me with questions about my own writing journey and shared her desire to write. It was yet one more thing that bonded us in friendship. Sitting at the table chatting that morning I remember wishing the time didn’t pass so quickly.  Beth was like that. Whenever you spent time with her, you drank it in, hoping for just a little bit more.

As my husband and I walked into Beth’s memorial last week, Sweet Child of Mine filled the church while pictures of her magnetic smile flashed on a screen.  We sat on the hard pew as her loved ones stood to speak about the ways Beth touched their lives. Tears streaming down my face, I was reminded again how extraordinary Beth was.   One by one her family and friends described Beth exactly the same way I would describe her. It occurred to me that many people spend their entire lives molding themselves into what they think a person or situation demands of them.  But Beth taught, by example, the power and beauty of being yourself authentically and courageously. She taught me the power of using your voice. She lived life to the fullest touching everyone who was lucky enough to know her, and leaving them all a little better for it.  After the service, my husband placed his arm around my shoulder while we walked to our car in the grey rain. “That was the most joyful memorial I have ever been too,” he said and I agreed. It was heartbreaking and yet, even after her death, Beth was inspiring all of those lucky enough to know her.  She was a warrior and I already miss her dearly.

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