By: Sarah Gray
Her name was Natalie Richards, a constantly smiling girl that I had the pleasure of seeing everyday in High School. She was positive, fun loving, and full of talent. She was fluent in Spanish, and spoke with such ease that it seemed like her native tongue, but that was not her most impressive talent. What she truly amazing at was music. She could sing, play the piano, and compose; all with the same grace and beauty she had in every day life. She was a dedicated student working towards one goal: to attend Dickinson College. Her brother, Chris Richards, an alumnus from the class of 2010, introduced her to our school and she fell in love. I remember her talking about it in Honors History our sophomore year, and how exciting it was to visit her brother and be on campus.
Natalie applied early decision and got in. Dickinson was a perfect fit for her, and she was exited to attend. I remember at a Dickinson event in our area, Natalie and I were sitting with our parents and she was going on and on about how much fun her brother was having abroad, and how she couldn’t wait for that experience. She made me want to come here because I thought that if someone who was already so positive about life could be even more ecstatic about Dickinson, then it must be a wonderful place.
Natalie never had the chance to enroll here though. Halfway through our senior year of high school, she started to get sick; after many tests and no results, her doctors determined that she had a low-grade diffused brain tumor. The cancer was non-aggressive, but spread throughout her brain. She started chemotherapy and radiation, and began to improve. She had lost a lot of the basic functions many of us take for granted; she had trouble speaking and moving her limbs. Yet in and out of the hospital Natalie never lost her determination and her smile.
Last September, after traveling to the Duke Medical Center, the Richards received news that space in her brain previously occupied but cancerous tissue was now replaced by normal brain tissue. She was getting better, and while reading the email that relayed this information to me, in class on my phone, I had to restrain myself from crying I was so happy and proud of her continued strength. She started physical, speech and occupational therapies and began slowly regaining the ability to feed her self, speak clearer, and even write. The urge to be self-sufficient again became her driving force, as it would for any 18 year old, and of course to finally attend Dickinson.
By Thanksgiving I thought she would be back at school with me by the next semester. She looked so good, eating and talking to everyone, as we sat at her favorite restaurant. We talked about Dickinson and how I wished she were there with her always-upbeat attitude to help me though freshman year. I told her that she would be there soon sitting across from me in the Quarry discussing classes over soup and croissants. By the end of the spring semester Natalie had begun to get worse again, and when visiting her in late June for dinner with our parents I was in shock. Natalie was back on chemo and looked sick and uncomfortable; I didn’t know how to handle it, and felt horrible that I couldn’t be a stronger person and know what to do to bring a smile back to her face.
By the end of July Natalie was admitted to a hospice center. She had become much weaker and was unable to accept chemo treatment. There was nothing that could be done, and on August 3rd, Natalie was finally at peace. Her passing confused to me; I was happy she was free of pain, but I was angry that such a talented woman could be taken from us. I had held hope that I would pass her in the HUB and see her bright smile, have her support, hear her music in Weiss, and see her talking to the Spanish speaking international students on the academic quad. I had such great hope, but now my mind didn’t know where to place this information; it just didn’t fit.
I finally understood at her service, as more than 400 people gathered to celebrate this young girl’s life. The service was filled with loving comments from and music performed by friends and family. I realized as everyone spoke, that Natalie had accomplished what she had been placed on this earth to do. She had shown everyone she had ever met to love and appreciate every moment just as she did. Even in sickness she showed no frustration or remorse, only a smile and a positive attitude. Those in attendance had been inspired by her thoughtfulness at some point and were there because of it. The service was concluded with the a recording of Natalie’s own voice singing her composition entitled “Butterfly.” It made me think back to the first time I heard her play that very song during a chapel service in high school, and it was overwhelming to know that that beautiful voice was gone.
Natalie was an amazing person, so positive, happy, and talented. I always wished I could be more like her, to be able to have a genuine smile on my face even in stressful times and to greet everyone with open arms. We may not have been the closest friends, but I always cherished the times I spent with her, because I felt like I learned so much just by standing next to her. It hurts to know that she can’t be here at Dickinson. She would have
made this campus an even better place, probably would have influenced each one of you reading this without even trying. She will always be a Dickinsonian in my mind, because she was always meant to be here and always will.
If you would like to read more about Natalie’s journey or hear Natalie’s beautiful voice by downloading her song please visit: http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/
By: Sarah Gray