Joy Comes in the Mourning: Part I

"It is not the length of life, but depth of life."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

My dear niece, Beth Renee Pears, was only 44 years old when she died but the life she lived will go on and on through all who knew her, especially her students. This is her story. Less than a year ago she found herself having considerable stomach pain. Though it did not go away, doctors told her it was nothing to be concerned about, after all, "Bad things don't happen to pretty girls."

When the time came last fall for her to begin her 21st year of teaching English Literature and Honors English at Shenango High School in western Pennsylvania, her pain had become almost debilitating. A scope of her stomach revealed the sobering news: stomach cancer.

Over the next eight months she received the best the medical profession could provide. Her husband of 21 years, Dru, made sure they would spare no human effort to find a cure for this very rare "Burkitt's Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma." Even the specialists in Pittsburgh and Seattle rarely encountered it.

Anyone who has had a loved one battle cancer knows the regimen. Strange words are used by strangers in white uniforms who work in big buildings with intimidating machines as they use chemicals to kill so their patients might live. The weeks that followed were a testament to her courage and faith. She never complained.

Her school created an afghan throw with pictures of her students and colleagues. She received over 3,000 cards and too many emails and text messages to count. She taught English to high school students but she also taught all of us how to live and how to die.

One of her famous assignments was to have each of her students prepare a Bucket List of "100 Things I Want To Do Before I Die." She showed them her list as a model. From "Make several quilts of my own" to "Plant a tree every year of my life" and from "Have a star named after me" to "Ride a camel in Petra, Jordan," her list was inspiring. I was able to read her list and many items had more than one check mark by them meaning she had done them more than once.

Beth loved the words "Carpe Diem" (Seize the Day) and she displayed them everywhere in her classroom and home. On the day after her passing, those two words were posted on the sign in the front of her high school. Everyone knew then that their beloved teacher had gone to heaven.

I wish you could have attended her funeral. The gifts of flowers and wind chimes filled the front of the church her father pastored for 25 years. The line of visitors went on for hours and hours. And, the prolific comments of everyone, especially her students, brought tears of sorrow and joy for a life well lived.

So many former students said they are English teachers today because of her. Though out of school for five years, one student said, "She was the best person I have ever known. She changed my whole life." Another said, "There is usually one teacher that many do not like; Mrs. Pears was that one teacher no one didn't like."

Number 113 on her Bucket list was, "Always be a role model and an inspiration to others." She did not have a check mark by it. But if anyone who knew her had a pen, we would all place countless check marks there.

In 2001 Beth wrote an eloquent poem titled, "Joy Comes in the Mourning." It captures the depth of her perspective when one faces the challenges of life. Because of its profound message, I am going to include it in entirety in my column next week.

Only eternity will answer our questions but, until then, our faith is strong.

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of
Valley Forge Christian College, Phoenixville, PA
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