Reliving the life and death of my best friend over ten years later. Death is hard, but we can learn something from it. 

I was playing hooky at Disney World, or possibly actually out sick. Either way, when I got back to school that day in the sixth grade, I had a big paper due ASAP. Mrs. Robbins briefed me on the latest assignment, saying that the topic was “My Biggest Challenge Is…” and we were to write about what we thought that may be. Within the next week the whole class would read their story aloud and vote on the best story. The winner would move on to the school wide competition and from there county, and state. I don’t know if it was genuinely well written or if I straight up tore apart everyone’s heart strings, but I made it to the state competition, and boy did I have a story to tell.

She was beautiful, pure. Anyone who met her knew she was special, and honestly, not meant for this earth. The plan was always for her to spend a short time here, leave her mark, and fly back up to where she came. God sent us an angel, made her gracefully go through hell, then took her back to His arms where she will forever have a fresh coat of paint on her nails and endless plates of the most delicious cheesy bread.

At just twelve years old I contemplated what my biggest challenge was during that pre-teen era of life. Would it be the confusion of figuring out who my friends really were, that I didn’t understand how to part my hair, or being the furthest from knowing what sine and cosine meant? Nope. I knew that my biggest challenge in life was watching my best friend battle cancer and leave me on this earth alone.

Gina was smart, happy, curious, sweet, and a fashionista. She knew more than most her age, and had most definitely lived through more than most ever will. I watched the twelve-year-old queen slowly lose her life, but never the royalty status. Eventually, cancer took over her body for the third time and she became immensely weak. In my sixth grade paper I recalled pushing her around in her wheelchair during visits to the school. She was now blind, but would laugh because she could sense that I was a bad driver (similar to today) and we would carry on, me almost nailing her to the walls. She didn’t mind. We were doing kid things, and that’s exactly what she needed to be doing. I also took my audience down a not so bright memory lane, when I wrote about the last time I would ever see my friend. The cancer had nearly taken everything from her at this point, except her genuine soul and being. Gina was in a coma, and people took turns coming by the house to say their final goodbyes. I loaded up all the ladies, the tea party squad, and we all headed to her Moldovan household. She lay still, a tumor growing out of her nose. She looked like Sleeping Beauty and a peaceful vibe maintained its presence in the room. I picked up a Bible nearby and read to her, well kind of, as it was in her language which I didn’t know. Later on, post coma and days before death, she woke laughing. She told everyone I read to her and did a terrible, comical job! Walking outside that day, the vibes changed as it was quiet, and the rain poured down. The raindrops fell in a similar pattern to the tears rolling down my face. Everyone hopped back in the car, but I took another glance back at the house, where my dear friend lay waiting for the day she would get back to that party in the sky.

It was the last time I saw her alive.

But, that is not how I remember her. I remember her alive and vibrant, the biggest dimples beaming from her cheeks. The many wigs she wore, looking for that queen feel after cancer took her luscious, dark hair. I think about painting her nails, giving her those few moments of pre-teen normalcy. I aimed to take her from that cancerous world for a bit, and show her a piece of a worldly heaven.

Gina Rykhlov died at twelve years old on May 3, 2006. I was in the shower singing, per usual, but got the news right after when her mother called me up. But, she really didn’t die, she just came back to life, and she lives through people like me every day.

Today, “My Biggest Challenge Is” not watching my best friend go through cancer, watching her lose all of her strength and eye sight, and eventually going to her funeral knowing we would never have another play date. Instead, I am years older and wiser and can think of the many blessings she brought to my life. Man, the way she lived. Really lived.

I am sharing this to show a short part of the life of my friend, and the big impact such a small, young lady left on me… even to this day. We often want to grieve when we lose a loved one, which is fine, but only for so long. At a young age I learned the real purpose of death, to teach us left behind on earth something… a way to live a better and more meaningful life. It turns out that really is the least we can do for the deceased, find a way to make their lives more meaningful. Gina is an angel and always has been. She touched my life and hundreds of others. For a life to end that soon, the least I can do is share her story about the good fight, and the one that took her home. I carry her with me, I carry her in my deepest being.

Live life to the fullest. Be kind. Set a good example. Smile always. Don’t give up. Be brave. Get uncomfortable. Learn something new. Give more than you take. Appreciate what you have.

Gina did. You should, too.



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