Life Remembered: Evans recalled for grace and faith
A day after Tricia Hays Evans died, her sister posted a poem that Tricia had asked her to share on Facebook.
It was taken from the book "Hard Choices for Loving People," by Hank Dunn, and read in part:
"Giving up lives out of fear. Letting go lives out of grace and trust.
"Giving up is a defeat. Letting go is a victory."
That was how she approached her life with ALS, and her death from the devastating disease, friends and relatives said.
Mrs. Evans, a Champaign teacher and mom whose grace inspired a community, died Wednesday at age 43.
She had been diagnosed in October 2010 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease), which attacks the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, resulting in muscle weakness or atrophy.
The disease slowly paralyzed her, taking her ability to walk, use her hands, breathe on her own and, eventually, to speak.
She had let her husband, Jim Evans, know that when it got to the point where she couldn't communicate with her eyes anymore, she wanted to be taken off life-support. In recent weeks, as her eyes grew weak, they made plans.
On Wednesday afternoon at Carle Foundation Hospital, surrounded by family and friends, Mrs. Evans died.
"Everybody was with her," Jim Evans said Thursday.
He posted a tribute to his wife on Facebook that read in part: "As you all know, Tricia has fought a great battle against ALS, fighting with patience and courage and her faith in God, and along the way, inspiring us all."
"While this may seem like sad news — that we're losing this beautiful person — now is the time to celebrate who she is and has been and what she's meant to us all," he wrote. "We should also be happy for her that she will now get to do all the things that ALS prevented her from doing — walking, talking, singing, dancing, and hugging — and just being the Trish we all know and love."
Mrs. Evans was born Patricia Lynn Hays in Normal and spent much of her childhood in Decatur before moving to Danville. She graduated from Danville High School where she was active in band. She attended Hope College in Holland, Mich., but finished her degree in special education at Illinois State University.
In 1994, she married Jim Evans, whom she had met as a teen in Milford where her father was a minister.
She taught at Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School for six years before taking a break to stay home with daughters Kelly, now 14, and Sarah, 9. She returned to work at Westview Elementary School in Champaign in 2009, nine months before the first symptoms of ALS appeared.
She spent the last three years trying to enjoy as much time as she could with her girls — little moments, like reading "The Wizard of Oz" with Sarah, and big ones, like the trip to Indianapolis with Kelly to see "Glee! Live!"
Legions of friends, relatives, co-workers, church members and others pitched in to help, mowing the lawn, fixing things, mopping up basement floods, dropping off meals or picking up the kids.
The Evans family's church, Faith United Methodist in Champaign, sent them to Disney World in December 2010 and partnered with the Down Syndrome Network on a fundraiser in June 2010 that drew 500 people, raising more than $50,000 for the family. Tricia Evans said later she didn't want the night to end.
In June 2012, more than 100 caregivers, friends and well-wishers met at Hessel Park and marched with balloons and banners to the Evans home to celebrate her 42nd birthday.
"That meant a lot to her," Jim Evans said.
More recently, they worked hard to keep her connected to her family after she had to move to Prairie Rose nursing home in Pana. Just last week, she watched her daughter's eighth-grade promotion ceremony via Skype.
"Without all the love and support and prayers of everyone, we would not have been able to carry on as we have," Jim Evans wrote in his post. "You've all made a huge difference, and we owe you a debt that we can never repay."
Friends remembered Tricia Evans as a fun, energetic friend who loved singing — especially karaoke — and a patient mom who always put others first.
Close friend Erin Kidwell Shumaker said even in recent visits Mrs. Evans made a point of asking about others, and at one point indicated she was having a "belly laugh on the inside."
"She was always thinking about someone else," Shumaker said. "I think that's a real testament to who she is and how she's raised her family. The girls are amazing."
Her sister, Jennifer Schottland of Bloomington, said when they were growing up Mrs. Evans was “the one who everyone would talk to.”
Shumaker said Mrs. Evans handled her death with the same grace she used to fight the disease over the past three and a half years.
"From the beginning, she just took it as it came. When one of her hands stopped working, she had the other one. She saw that as OK. She kept thinking of what she still had left.
"I know that she was ready," Shumaker said. "I miss my friend, but because of her faith, and because of my faith, I was sobbing and smiling at the same time. Because I knew she was doing all the things that she wasn't able to do these last few years — singing her karaoke, able to hug people and walk and dance and have fun and enjoy the party that we believe heaven is."
For a fundraising project to create "wearable art" inspired by her life, Mrs. Evans chose the song "Go with God" because it "portrays the positive attitude that I strive to have and want for my daughters."
The lyrics: "So now go with the wind at your back, and the sun on your face, with a song in your heart, and the promise of grace. Go in peace and in truth, and let love lead your way. Go with God."
Visitation for Mrs. Evans will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Saturday at the Worship & Life Center at Faith United Methodist Church, 1719 S. Prospect Ave., C. A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday at the same location, with the Rev. Brad Shumaker officiating.
She is survived by her husband and children of Champaign; her parents, Bryce and Linda Hays of Palmyra; her sister of Bloomington; her in-laws, Gerry and Judy Evans of Milford, and her grandparents, Maurice and Joyce Hays of Girard.
Memorials may be made to Sarah Evans Special Needs Trust Fund. Freese Funeral Home, Tolono, is assisting with arrangements.