BY ART BUKOWSKI and ANNE STANTON
Record-Eagle staff writers
CENTRAL LAKE — Maris Spaulding wouldn’t want to see tears.
Maris, a 2012 Central Lake graduate, lost her months-long battle with leukemia on Thursday evening. The community rallied to support her since her March diagnosis, and those who know her said she wouldn’t want people to focus on sad sentiments in the wake of her death.
“Love one another, that would be something she’d want people to do,” said her grandmother, Jan Johnson. “And keep smiling.”
Maris died at DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids. Doctors initially thought she’d have a chance at beating the cancer, but it became too aggressive in the end.
“None of us really gave up until Wednesday,” Johnson said. “It was devastating, of course, but we had to deal with it. We just tried to be there with her and tell her that we love her.”
Maris was a girl of strong faith who always brought smiles and laughs to her friends, family and the doctors who cared for her, Johnson said.
“She was a very upbeat kid,” she said. “She always, always had a smile on her face.”
Maris served as president of the student council and was a three-sport athlete. She also was a member of the National Honor Society, an active participant in her church youth group, and editor of the school yearbook, among other activities.
She was inspirational in more ways than one, said her grandfather, Gary Johnson.
“She had a subtle way of getting into your heart,” he said. “She’d affect you without you even knowing it.”
Maris was accomplished in volleyball, basketball and softball, and her competitive spirit would likely dictate what she’d want to tell others in the wake of her death, Gary Johnson said.
“Things are going to get better, they’re going to be OK,” he said. “Keep moving forward. Nothing is going to drag us down.”
Her pastor, Gary Bekkering of First Congregational Church in Central Lake, frequently visited her at DeVos, which became her second home.
He was there when she died, surrounded by friends and family.
“We shared memories, laughter, tears. Bible passage readings. We sang songs. It was an incredible time, and it was a true honor to be there,” said Bekkering. “It was incredibly spiritual, a very moving moment.”
As a pastor, Bekkering said he is supposed to be the one to inspire and strengthen those in need.
“But whenever I walked away, it was she who was inspiring and strengthening me. She is a very, very special young lady. Deep spiritual faith,” he said. “She has this infectious, beautiful smile. She touched many, many hearts: the little kids at Devos, the nurses and doctors. In her short time on this Earth, God blessed us.”
Bekkering said he’ll go to Central Lake High School next week to meet with her peers to prepare a celebration for Maris’ funeral.
The funeral will be held at the high school gym on Dec. 8 from 1 to 2 p.m. A luncheon will follow at The Pelican Room. A visitation is planned for Dec. 7 from 4 to 9 p.m. at the Central Lake Chapel of Mortensen Funeral Homes and again on Dec. 8, from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m.