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Remembering a young life lost: Elizabeth ‘nurtured them’

When a precious young life is taken from us suddenly, leaving a trail of tears and questions that may never be answered, the pain and angst from family and friends collects into a powerful energy.

At the moment, it feels so deep and gripping that just taking a breath hurts. Literally, one has to remember how to breathe.

And emotion well beyond grief pours out. Parents, for instance, get frozen for a moment into a fear of how their child will be remembered. We worry that any last moments less than societally picture-perfect will overshadow so much goodness.

I know, because I have been there.

When my son died unexpectedly we were worried how he might be remembered.

We found, as the grief melded into furrowed lines of experience on our brows, that people neither forget the last moments nor do they forget so much goodness – it all becomes one’s story in a wonderful but complicated human life.

We can’t really control either.

So, when a young woman’s life was taken from us prematurely this week in Oxford, we feel the rumble of emotion as people both search for answers while others cry out to remember the precious child for who she was.

All the answers may never come, and her circumstances were her circumstances, different from my my son’s and others. The grief, though, feels the same: Heavy.

And we can help family and friends grieving celebrate the so much goodness – the gift that a 20-year-old who loved working at a camp for girls in the summer gave to so many.

Elizabeth, who died in Oxford on Sunday, arrived here as an Ole Miss student. Her passion was working with young girls at Camp Merrie-Wood, a Christian summer camp located in western North Carolina.

“Hey! My name is Elizabeth,” she posted on the camp site in 2014, before arriving to serve as a counselor, “and I am from Nashville, TN. I am a freshman at Ole Miss, and I am currently undecided about what I am majoring in but really looking into nursing. I am passionate about dance parties, laughing as much as possible, and barbecue nachos. I am so excited to have the best campouts and singing around the campfire.”

Friends say she was every bit the camp counselor one would imagine from her comments

“Elizabeth was (a) 100x better counselor than I ever imagined I could be,” said one mother, whose daughter was mentored by Elizabeth at camp the past two summers. “(Elizabeth) was involved with her girls.  She saw their needs and met them all the while nurturing them.  She spent time reading to them each night and talking to them about what was important to them. She was a role model.”

Once Elizabeth was set to return to camp the next summer as a counselor she posted once again, sharing how excited she was to return.

“HELLO! My name is Elizabeth Cheek, and I am from Nashville, TN,” she wrote. “I am a sophomore at Ole Miss, and majoring in Integrated Marketing Communications. I am passionate about being the first in line to get dessert and putting lots of energy into singing camp songs. I am so excited to have dance parties and spend another summer in my favorite place on earth!”

Elizabeth showed the young girls at camp her energy and smile with fierce caring and dedication.

She was, “A young adult struggling against the hopelessness while at the same time bringing joy and laughter to all who knew her,” said the friend. “I have never seen a picture of her when she was not fully smiling, mouth open wide.”

And that makes for a wonderful lasting memory.

David Magee is Publisher of The Oxford Eagle. You can contact him at david.magee@oxfordeagle.com.