The cancer beat her down, but it did not win.
And, tomorrow at 1:30 p.m. Illya Chavis Lindsey will take a celebratory victory lap through town a couple of hours before she is committed to her eternal resting place at the Bear Swamp Baptist Church cemetery amongst her ancestors.
It’s what she wanted.
The popular food vendor at the Lumbee powwow known for her legendary funnel cakes passed on Sunday after a near seven-year battle with cancer. The doctors who gave her about six months to live were amazed that this warrior added another six and a half months to the wonderful life she had built in the 49 years God blessed us with her.
And, what a marvelous legacy she leaves behind not only with her friends and family, but also with the thousands of others she touched with her enduring will to fight to live.
Illya actually planned her funeral after she died for 45 minutes a few weeks ago. Doctors told the family there was nothing else they could do for her when she suddenly woke up and started telling her cousin Eustacia Lowery Jones plans for her final celebration.
Those plans began to take place Wednesday night at Harvest Church near Raynham, where Illya was a faithful member. The crowd started arriving more than an hour before the 6 p.m. wake started. They were still slowly filing past Illya’s black coffin after 9 p.m.
Her husband Boyd special ordered the coffin to match the black and gold casket spread she also requested, staying true to her beloved colors of UNC Pembroke.
Illya’s friend Linda Maynor Oxendine showed off a picture of her favorite mode of transportation, the jet black Harley Davidson Illya cruised thousands of miles on, often leaving experienced male riders with a healthy helping of her dust as she blew by them on cross-country cruises.
Boyd Lindsey will load his wife’s black coffin on the back of their motorcycle trailer for one last cruise through her beloved hometown of Pembroke. Hundreds of their friends are expected to join them in Illya’s final cruise, as the black and orange ribbons on her coffin will wave good bye to her beloved Lumbee people.
Illya may be gone, but she’s a long way from forgotten. Her message of strength and perseverance in the face of dire circumstances will continue to inspire people who never met her for years to come.
The woman who was diagnosed with cancer in 2009 only to be paralyzed as a result of back surgery never missed an opportunity to brighten the spirits of others. She was a regular sight in the Lumbee Regional Development Association building, where she kept open the office of the Pembroke Area Chamber of Commerce.
Illya’s smiling face brightened up the faces of those around her as she volunteered her time to help the organization. She never took a sick day no matter how sick she was. Those who said encouraging words to her soon found it was them who were being encouraged from her mere presence.
Now, as she prepares to take her final trip with friends through Scuffletown, Illya’s impact is still being felt by others. Many of the scores of bikers taking part in the last cruise of “Illya Warrior” will put on a brave face, but the tears will flow as constantly as the stream of Harley Davidsons roaring through downtown Pembroke.
There will certainly be one or two thunderous burnouts to announce to the world that the Indian princess is gone. And, when the kickstands go up and the throttles go down, Illya’s certain to be smiling down on her friends.
The cancer beat her down, but it still didn’t win. And, Illya will get one last opportunity to do one of the things she enjoyed most – “dragging town” with her Harley riding friends.
Rest in Peace our beloved Illya Warrior. This cruise is for you.