Farewell to the Girl with the Smiley Heart

“Hi, my dearest friend. Will undergo my 3rd open heart surgery tomorrow 7 am here, 8 pm there on Tuesday feb 5. Please pray for me, para maka-bakasyon pa ako d’yan at makapag-starbucks tayo.” (Please pray for me, so that I can still go on a vacation there and we can meet up at Starbucks“Love you and miss you my dear!”

My friend Betchico

One of my dearest, best friends, Beth Garachico-Shockey, who lived a colorful, somewhat tumultuous, but fulfilling life. Image Copyright © Jerry Shockey

That was her last message for me. She is coming home for good, but we’ll never meet up at Starbucks and I’ll never have the chance to see her ever again. She with the beauty queen looks and wonderful smile. It was a shock the other day to find out that one of my best friends, Beth, has finally left us, never to return. I felt so bad that I never even got to see her last year for the last time when she went home here. Her health did not permit her.

She was one of the first people I met at my first job. She was a student then and I was a new graduate applying for a job at her tertiary school. Our first encounter was when I took the psychological test prior to employment. A volunteer student at the Guidance Counseling Office, it was her who handed me the questionnaires and timed my exam. I thought she was very skinny. I got acquainted with her next at the President’s Office, where I already worked under the Planning Office after some months, after she had graduated (turned out she was just one, two years younger, according to her, unless she was pulling my leg for years). Not sure now if she was under the Human Resources Department or there were just some stuff for another department that she had to work on at the office. The last job that I remember her holding at the school was at the Student Affairs Office.

Beth enjoying at the beach

Cool inside and out. Image Copyright © Jerry Shockey

Beth (Betchay to many, Betchico to me) and I became friends, but it was when she transferred to our boarding house and became our roommate that we became very close. I came to know why she was skinny and why she had a long scar at the center of her chest–she had had a heart ailment since she was a kid that required operation several times already. She always had to watch what she ate ever since she could remember or it could be detrimental to her health.

I came to know about her life more as she was not much of the secretive type, although we did have secrets. There was a time when I joined a writing-for-film workshop and I asked that she be the one whose life story I would use. Anonymously, of course. What I found was someone’s real-life story that was full of twists and turns, no one would’ve believed they could have happened to just one person, but they did. So I understood more how such a frail, skinny girl could grow as tough as nails.

Oh, she was tough. Very kind, very nice, very thoughtful, but tough as tough could be when the situation called for it. She would never shout in anger, but she had a way with words that could really hit home. Not that she was mean. But don’t push her to the limit or you better be sure you could back up whatever you said with credible arguments. Besides, it could never hit home unless you, yourself, feared it was true in the first place. I once arrived at the boarding house and she told me that she and a very aggressive, aspiring lawyer-roommate of ours–who was becoming meaner and meaner, for some reason, to the whole room especially to her–had an argument at the stairs earlier. The girl was raising her voice again. So Beth kept calm and smiling and after a while, laughed mockingly and said, “Ha, ha. Like you’re going to be a lawyer.” The girl was taken aback, asking, “What? You don’t think I can be a lawyer?” and Beth said, “You? NO.” And the girl went up the stairs and into our room looking just about ready to cry. That was Beth’s Psychology background working.

After that, I told her, “Wow, you’re scary. If ever you’ll get mad at me, tell me already, okay? So I won’t have to go through that!” Imagine hearing that from someone like me whose temper at the time was much more notorious (then, alright?). She never did get mad at me and I never tried to test her patience. We would’ve lost our friendship, just like her friendship with someone did when in irritation over something so petty, he shouted at her and gave her the F-word. That ONE time and she never talked to him ever again, no matter how much he tried to apologize. Regardless of our opinion on that, that proved one thing: you never walked on Beth and get away from it smiling.

If anything, she could be the most loyal of friends. She became my champion, telling people who assumed I was probably a difficult roommate, “Not true. That’s just because you don’t know the real Gi,” and it’s true, they didn’t. Beth was one of the few who sincerely took time to get to know me. She was easily my number 1 fan who loved my stories and believed so much in me and my writing. In later years, there were wrong decisions made by her. There were times she left without saying goodbye, perhaps to find herself, and I had to tell her when we got together, “Do you know how worried you’ve made me? We didn’t know where you were or how to contact you to at least know you’re okay, knowing your heart condition. Don’t do that ever again. You’ll give me a heart attack!” Well, she was human, and she got over everything by sheer courage.

Beth's First Place trophy

Beth bagged First Place in the 2011 International Speech Contest (District 38 Area 4) with her speech about her “smiley” scar and what it meant to her. I wish I could share to you what she wrote, but sigh, I have no copy and have never read it as well…Image Copyright © Jerry Shockey

She could be quite persevering that she never stopped until she finally got her Master’s Degree last year when she went back home for that. I thought she abandoned it long ago. And if that wasn’t achievement enough, she became a part of the Toastmasters International in the States, won in her speeches especially about the scar that looked like a smiley on her chest, and later on, was hailed President of the Mainland FAA Toastmasters Club. I truly admired her for being her. So proud to be her friend!

More than a year ago, she told me she wanted to create a foundation for underprivileged kids in the Philippines with the same heart condition as hers. We shared a common dream, somehow, and I had a bit of background, having worked for a child-welfare NGO before. I have yet to find our exchanges that mentioned the name she planned to give it. Naturally, she wanted me to be a part of it. I told her how hard building a foundation was going to be, especially the requirements, but she still considered it nonetheless. Unfortunately, it was one achievement she could not have. She also wanted to write her life story, encouraged by her Toastmasters friends to write a book “about my life experiences, about how blessed I am that I’m still here,” but it was supposed to be in English so who best to ask for help but “Ba-gie” (pronounced buh-ji, one of her then-new terms of endearment for me)? I was so looking forward to that. But as it is, it was not meant to be.

Those undone, I do not believe that Betchico really actually left unfulfilled. She went away happy. In one private message consoling me about my father’s death, she said that she, too, since she was a kid, had been already waiting for “that” time to come, but it just wasn’t yet her time. I think that we can be consoled by the fact that Beth was ready to meet her Maker. Let me share one more (partly translated) quote from her:

“Before, I could not appreciate the reason for my going through so many pains and struggles in life…but now, I’m thankful I went through all those things and I am not afraid to go through more…I’ve learned a lot, I’ve met so many people, I’ve met my soulmate and I’ve met friends like you…”

Beth, I lost another loved one in you, but I know I gained another angel. Thank you so much for the friendship. Rest in peace, Betchico. I will always remember you with fond memories. You’ll continue to be an inspiration to all of us you’ve touched with your smiley heart. We’ll see you there 😀

Beth and her achievements

She was featured as one of the Women of Atlantic City in the July/August 2011 edition of the Atlantic County Woman publication. Of course, copyright is theirs

Lovely Beth

Beautiful Beth had one of the loveliest hearts. Image Copyright©Jerry Shockey