Many have asked that I post the words I shared at Tori’s memorial in September. I’m so grateful for the opportunity the McLean family gave me to share about my dearest friend. I hope you are able to get a glimpse of her heart and love for others.
I want to take a moment to say thank you to everyone who was there for Tori over the past five months and a very special thank you to every doctor, nurse, and staff member who cared for Tori and made today possible.
If you’ve had a week at all like I’ve had, you’ve got a lump in your throat the size of a volleyball and a hole in your chest so big you don’t know where your next breath is coming from. To me, that’s a reassurance that we had the honor of experiencing and knowing someone amazing.
I have more memories with Tori than I could possibly share– like the time we blasted Carrie Underwood as we navigated up a flooded, crumbling street to get home, or the nights in the kitchen making noodles with vodka sauce and watching way too many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy. But if you’ll allow me, I would like to share some of my favorite moments and lessons I learned from the Tori I love and know.
First, Tori valued honesty. In one conversation early on in our friendship, she said, “I’m tired of people asking me how I am and feeling like I have to say ‘I’m fine.’ What if I’m not fine? Shouldn’t I tell them that? If they choose to ask me how I am, that means they must care about me enough to know the truth, so I’m going to tell them.” From then forward, I rarely heard her tell someone she was fine, and if she did, she meant it.
Her honesty was brutal at times. I always appreciated that trait in her, and I have to admit that it was great fun to watch it catch others by surprise. I even had the pleasure of witnessing her make an intern squirm when she questioned his bedside manner leading up to her first blood transfusion. “Do you have acute myeloid leukemia?” she asked. “Then you can’t say you know how I feel. Didn’t they teach you that in school?”
Tori was the most loyal, dedicated friend. She was by my side at a moment’s notice, asking how she could help or what she could do. On the day my husband and I got married, Tori handled every last detail and made sure we had the perfect day. She took the week off work leading up to the day to spend with me and Zach and worked long after everyone else went home to load every last gift into our new apartment. She was my person, the kind you put on all your emergency forms or call when you need to dispose of a body. (Don’t worry– we never got that far.)
Tori was all-in when it came to her faith. That’s actually how we met– we had the opportunity to plant a church together. And it’s amazing that from the day our church began in April 2011 until the day she graduated in May 2014, she served every weekend the doors were open. When she would approach the leadership team about what time to arrive, her question was, “Well, what time are you getting here?” She truly had a servant’s heart and would do any task to honor our guests, our leaders, or anyone else around her.
Tori loved Jesus. He was her Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” All week, I have wrestled with the fact that I wasn’t with her in her final moments, that I didn’t get to say goodbye. But I have peace when I remember that even though I wasn’t there, He was. If you ever wondered where that incredible joy and kind spirit and contagious smile came from, it was Emmanuel.
Something that many of you in the Class of 2020 pointed out in your tribute to Tori was her encouraging nature. I was blessed to have this encouragement in my life for over five years. There wasn’t a week that went by when I didn’t get a text from Tori encouraging me about something I was going through or just to say she missed me and loved me. That type of encouragement will change a person’s life.
So in the spirit of Tori, I thought I would take a moment to encourage each of you in this room today:
I hope you know how much Tori cared about you. I hope you know that you are capable of extraordinary things. I hope you know that you are not alone in your hurt, anger, pain, and confusion. And I hope you know that you are loved by Jesus, who meets you right where you are. God with us.
Right now, thinking about my life moving forward without Tori seems impossible. Looking ahead to all the moments we will have without her feels wrong and incomplete. But I seek purpose through my pain to bring honor to Tori’s legacy. My prayer is that you will search within yourself to find what lessons Tori taught you and live each day with that as your guide. I don’t have the ability to cure cancer like some of you, but I do have the capacity to give a word of encouragement each day and to love people like Tori did, like Jesus loved her.
This week, I got a text from an acquaintance saying she had a video of Tori she wanted to share with me. It was a video from the day Tori was baptized. She has the biggest, most beautiful smile throughout the 13 seconds, but it was the end that took my breath away as she said, “I’m excited to see what He decides to do next.”
I have great hope because I know I will see my dearest friend again one day, and in the meantime, I will wait in anticipation to see what God decides to do next.