A tribute by guest writer Sarah Martin:
Three hours to the southwest of us, a drama unfolded while we slept. Urgent request, please pray for Amanda was the message from Galen on our church’s What’s App group. At the same time, Patricia had written, She’s not responding. We called an ambulance. These messages came around 10:15. A little later, there was a short message from Patricia, Cardiac arrest. Later still, our pastor had sent this message: Friends, I am sharing the sad news that Amanda has passed away. Please pray for Galen and Patricia and their family.
We had gone to bed earlier than usual that night; I choose to believe God wanted to give us the gift of a peaceful night’s rest. This shattering news was the first thing to greet us on a Saturday morning that saw many tears.
Not Amanda; not yet! I thought she was doing fine! She’s only been on the transplant waiting list for a week. How can this be happening? A confused jumble of thoughts broke our hearts and stole life’s incentive.
Our daughter Heather was one of Amanda’s best friends. Now I had to go awaken her from sleep and tell her that her dear friend was gone. It is one of the hardest things I have ever done.
Perspectives on death
Heather and I hugged each other and cried for long moments. When she seemed calm, I went back downstairs, where she joined me some time later. Together we sat on the couch that golden summer morning, alternately crying and talking. “I’m so glad this is such a beautiful day,” Heather confided with a shaky sigh. “It would be so much harder to bear if it was cloudy and rainy.”
I squeezed her hand in wordless agreement. I was thinking about how Amanda had died on the night of the first day of summer. She had enjoyed the day with her family first, and as night drew the curtains here, she entered the land of endless summer, and the most true and dimensional part of her life began.
“Just a few days ago I read the verses in Mark where Jesus says that in heaven, people become like the angels of God; but…I think Amanda was always an angel,” Heather confided. Another friend at Amanda’s visitation two days later told me the same thing- “She was an angel.”
If angels are people whom God uses to touch us in brief, mysterious ways, then this is true.
“I don’t think I want to look at Amanda in the casket,” Heather said after a few more moments of grief. “I want to just remember her the way she was, alive and laughing.” Yet our hearts need the closure of seeing the reality, painful as it is. The real Amanda is still gloriously alive.
Who Amanda was
How does one describe a person who was on that edge of blossoming from a girl who was my daughter’s friend, to a young woman who was becoming my own friend? The words that come to my mind are responsible, unselfish, and humble. Amanda’s family depended on her a lot, and the rest of us saw a girl who had a ready smile and a beautiful spirit.
When Amanda’s heart condition was confirmed, Heather said with tears, “Why does it have to be Amanda? It’s not fair.” Talking about her after her death, she said, “She was always so unselfish. She had to do a lot, but I never heard her complain. Never. And even after she was diagnosed, she didn’t want a lot of attention; she was still the same sweet, happy friend. She didn’t want anyone to make a big fuss over her. And she just kept on enjoying life.”
It was true. The girls still shared lots of laughter, and continued their conversations about books, old-fashioned life, opinions and observations on growing up, and the aspirations of youth. They still played dress-up. Amanda had a gift for designing and sewing, and she had made Victorian style outfits, complete with long, flounced skirts, frilled blouses, and smart little hats.
Amanda had a sense of humor that most of us rarely saw, a feisty way of commenting on things that made her friends laugh. One day she found something in the freezer and brought it up to the kitchen, saying as she held it out, “Mom, I’m sure this is left over from your wedding, it’s terribly old and disgusting.” Or there was the time she and her parents were in Toronto for a week of pre-surgery assessment tests, her scooter a new tool to keep her from getting so worn as they moved about. As she glided down a hospital corridor, a woman nearby glared at her and said, “I don’t think you should be riding that thing in the hospital halls.” Later, she commented to Heather, “It was like, Yeah, lady, I actually need this thing because there’s something wrong with me? Like I actually have a heart condition and need to use this? It’s not like I’m attached to it, but I need to use it.”
A few last memories
The last message Amanda heard in our little church building was one on the brevity of life. “What is your life? it is even a vapour, that appeareth for a short time, and vanisheth away.” After we die, the date of our birth and the date of our death will be inscribed on the tombstone, but the story of our life is contained in the dash between the dates. “Amanda lived her dash well,” Heather commented with quiet conviction, as we sat absorbing the shock of her death that morning.
After the fellowship dinner was over that last Sunday before the move to Markham, the girls wandered over to the fragrant new lilacs at the edge of the churchyard and picked bouquets. Amanda, ever unselfish, gave hers to one of the other girls. Later, they walked to our house a few hundred yards down the road to get a book Heather wanted to lend to Amanda. I watched them start off, Amanda so accepting of the scooter she rode, the rest matching their pace to hers. “Lilacs will always remind me of Amanda,” Heather said. “That was one of the last things we did together; and Amanda loves the colour purple.”
As our family prepared to leave the gathering that day, I met Amanda in the hall and gave her a hug. I’m so glad I did. I don’t remember my exact words to her, but they were words of friendship and encouragement. This young woman was so brave and I admired her, calmly soldiering on in spite of her limitations and the uncertainties across her future. It was my last conversation with her.
As she gave Heather a final farewell hug, Amanda rested her hand on Heather’s shoulder and looked into her face with one of her heavenly smiles. “She didn’t say anything,” Heather told me later, “but it was like she was telling me, ‘Everything’s going to be okay; I’ll be back.'” How could we know she never would be? None of us really entertained that possibility when we said good-bye.
The Sunday afternoon before Amanda died, she and Heather had their brothers’ phones, and the children were crowded around them at both ends, laughing and talking. How could they know that their next contact would be so coloured with grief? Later that day, Heather and Amanda talked on the phone for over an hour. Amanda was enthused about the lovely bedroom she and Vanessa had prepared for sharing in the Markham house, and full of plans for another old-fashioned outfit she was designing.
Burying a dream
The day of Amanda’s funeral was beautiful, with a sky that was merciful with its sunshine and sympathetic with its clouds. After a service in the packed Pentecostal church that we rented, a large group of subdued friends and family gathered around the fresh hole in the earth. “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.” Brother Tom’s voice was small in the expanse of world. As he spoke, he sifted sod from a gentle hand over the pale pink casket. Reverently, Amanda’s shell was lowered into the waiting grave. The funeral director handed shovels around, and the first hollow sounds of earth receiving her own echoed upon our ears. One by one, friends with tears on their cheeks stepped forward and gave their own affirmation of acceptance by putting a few shovelfuls of ground into the grave. “At first I didn’t want to help,” Heather admitted. “But Uncle Ben said I would be glad later, and that he would go forward with me. It was hard, but it was like I was saying, ‘I love you and I’m going to miss you, but I’ll let you go’.”
Amanda’s little siblings and their friends placed creamy pink-edged roses on the mound as a final touch of love and remembrance, and when our hugs and our tears were somewhat spent, we left the graveside.
The next morning, a summer rain had kissed the roses. I went to the graveyard, which is near our house, and was touched to see the sod all replaced and the scattered roses lying in a cluster on the corner. I pictured the calloused hand of the gravedigger gently gathering the flowers, and laying them carefully atop the scarred earth. Thank you, whoever you are.
“I wanted to be in the youth group with her so bad,” Heather said, in one of our many conversations about her friend afterward. “I just wanted everyone to know her like I did, but I’m so glad I knew her this well.” When we bury a loved one, we also bury all the dreams for their future and for their involvement in our future. Helping to put soil in the grave was a physical attesting to the reality of burying those dreams.
Amanda is gone from our midst, but she is fully and completely alive. “I imagine all the things she’s doing right now,” Heather said, “and she has all eternity to do them in. She never needs to hurry.”
Some of the tears we shed are born from our soul-longing to join her there.