September 24th, 2022
How is it that I have lived a year without you my sweet girl? I think about you every day, many times a day actually. You are part of so many touch points in my life and I can’t escape you, not that I would ever want to. The memories of you wrap around me like a velvet straightjacket.
Mandy, after you died, the grief was so intense. I literally could not stop crying. I cried so often and it got so unbearable that I became concerned that if I didn’t stop, I would sink into a level of inconsolable despair that no one could pull me from. For my own sanity, I did need to escape from you for a little while. All your photographs were stored away. I wasn’t trying to forgot about you, I was desperate to find a way to stop, and unbuckle from the memories so I could breathe. No one had prepared me for the depth and breadth of my sorrow. And my anger. My fury over the unfairness of life, an unlucky roll of the gene pool and a series of fateful decisions. It really sucks when bad things happen to awesome humans.
Twelve months have passed since I last held you in my arms and I’m stronger now. I’m not healed, I’ve come to the realization that it may be a very long time before I can speak of you without crying. I’m just not ever going to get over you Mandy, it will always hurt like Hell that I can’t be with you ever again. I know that you want me to move on, so you will be relieved that progress is being made. Your photographs are back out. And now, when I see your beautiful smiling face, I smile back and say “Hi my sweet girl.”
A year without you
A lot has happened since the day you died, we have so much to catch up on.
First of all, you would have been so pleased with the house that Devon carefully selected for you. It was a narrow, light blue cottage, situated directly on the beach. Your bed faced a large open window with a view of the ocean. It was so peaceful to be there, listening to the sound of the waves, watching the sunlight spark on the water. A breeze would come through the house making the curtains dance and disrupt the stillness with its salty air. Next to your bed, Devon created a shrine for you by nestling several small tables which she covered with photographs of you, candles, incense, crystals, and flowers. It could not have been more perfect and intimate and I hope that you felt our presence and love.
When your rainbow bridge appeared we were so surprised. Devon and I jumped up and down and cried tears of joy when we saw it. We know that you called for that rainbow bridge when you were ready to leave. It appeared before our eyes to let us know that it was time and stayed long enough for us to whisper words of love and say our last goodbye before it vanished, taking you with it.
I know that your Spirit left on that rainbow bridge and a few hours later, your Earthly body came to rest. We were both there with you when you took your last breath, watching you with our hearts in our throats. We wanted to keep you and let you go at the same time. A fruitless tug of war with us pulling you close and you pulling away. In that instant, the tension was so balanced that I don’t know if you pulled harder or we let go. You won, we lost.
The very first thing I did was to call our brother. Ed had been prepared and spoke words of comfort to me, reassuring me that I had done everything I could. Eventually, I left you with your daughter, who wanted time alone with you. I went home, let myself quietly into my house and tiptoed upstairs. Sleep was pointless so I lay in bed and watched the curtain in the window until it became light.
All that’s left is a band of gold
In the morning, I let all your friends know you were gone. They were so sad Amanda, and kept telling me how much they loved you and what a wonderful person you were and how deeply you will be missed. In the days that followed, we spent time with Devon. I gave her all the things that you asked me to, but it just wasn’t possible for her to take everything. She does have your engagement ring and wedding band, she put them on immediately and they fit her perfectly. Out of everything, your rings were the most important material possession, a part of you that she can wear every day. It gives me immense comfort that she has them as a constant reminder of your endless love and devotion to her.
Surfing the wind
On the day before she left, Devon gave me some of your ashes. I didn’t know what to do with them so I kept them in a safe place. September turned into October then November and still I didn’t know what to do for you. A voice in my mind kept pestering me to go back to the blue cottage on the beach. On a whim, I drove there but the gate code that I had saved in my phone didn’t work. I seriously contemplated committing a felony by trespassing into this gated beachfront community and while I was wondering if I would look good in orange, the gate opened to let a resident out. I parked across from the blue cottage and bundled up against the cold. A narrow path of sand separated the blue cottage from another house and I took it knowing where it would lead. As I walked past the house you died in, I peeked into the windows. It was empty.
I sat on the back deck and firmly pressed my back against the door, feet away from where you died and hoped for osmosis. It felt really lonely and very final and I sensed no trace of you. There wasn’t a soul around (no pun intended) just the seagulls for company. You would have loved watching them, they were having a blast. It was so windy that all they needed to do was turn into the wind and spread their wings. No flapping necessary. They hovered and occasionally dipped but mostly enjoyed surfing on the wind. Birds have so much freedom. You are free now too, but a voice, maybe it yours, was telling me that you needed something to come home to. An idea came to me. I filled my coat pockets with sand and shells and left.
I needed to bring you home
Your friends were so kind about keeping in touch in the days and weeks after you left us. It was either Clay or Michelle that suggested that we get together in Santa Fe to honor you on your birthday. I called your favorite restaurant, El Farol and booked a private room for December 17th, it is a day after your birthday, but we all know how much you loved a long birthday weekend!
However, there was something very important that had to be done on your actual birthday and it needed to be done in Santa Fe. So I booked a flight and found the ideal Bed & Breakfast and arrived in your beloved Sant Fe a couple days early. The idea that came to me on beach was to create a special birdcage for you. I felt compelled to give you something that your spirit could live in, or maybe it was wishful thinking that a permanent shrine would embody you and make you tangible.
It was an old metal birdcage, but we’ll call it vintage (inside joke) that had been sitting in my garage for years. I wanted to transform it and weld things on it, so everything had to be metal – the name plate, a dozen or so small roses, two birds with little crowns on their heads and a metal crown that I bought from a local store. When I had everything together, I called a welder. He came to my driveway in his work truck outfitted with a large, professional grade welder and we got to work.
Gold sparks hissed and flew everywhere as he was attaching everything, the name plate with your name came first, then the roses, then the birds and then he welded a large crown on the very top of the birdcage. The very last thing I asked him to do was to weld the door permanently open so you could come and go as you pleased.
Your ashes were next. I ordered 20 small hollow orbs made out of clear glass, they are intended for jewelry making and have a tiny opening that you can insert things into to make a pendant. They came with a metal top that has a ring on it and the idea is that after filling the orb, you glue the top over the opening to seal in the contents and can string a chain through the ring and wear it around your neck.
Kerry came to my rescue for the next part, I could not bring myself to do it. I asked him to mix your ashes, with some of Mom’s ashes, pieces of dried lavender and lavender colored glitter. First, I didn’t want you to be alone, so adding Mom’s ashes was a no brainer. Secondly, we all know how much you love the aromatic lavender plant and it seemed obvious that should be included. Lastly, I hoped that the glitter would make the orbs sparkle in the sunlight. To complete my vision for your birdcage, I bought a wind chime, a crystal, faux feathers, and three colors of paint. We packed everything carefully and then I was ready to bring you home.
The one that got away
Amanda, I didn’t have much time with Clay when you were living with him and I have to say, you royally screwed up! I don’t know whose decision it was, or if it was mutual, but you should have done everything to keep him in your life. He’s such an amazing person and I sometimes wonder how different and better your life would have been with this man as caring, compassionate and stable force. Clay was the one that scouted hiking trails to find a spot to install your birdcage. Clay was the one that re-connected me with some of your friends so we could gather to honor you at your memorial dinner. Clay was the one that drove hours from Taos to Santa Fe to help me with my wacky idea to mount a birdcage on the side of a tree along one of your old hiking trails so you could have a place to come home to with a spectacular view of your beloved Santa Fe. Clay was the one that got away.
The birdcage brigade
On the afternoon of December 16th, your birthday, Clay and I hiked up a trail and searched until we found the right spot. We picked a tree that is slightly off the trail, far enough where your birdcage can’t be seen, but close enough for your friends to find you when they come to say hello. Clay wired your birdcage to the part of the tree that had the clearest view of Santa Fe and I attached the wind chime and orbs. There were some of your ashes that I reserved and I mixed them into the soil at the base of the tree. I knew that you wanted to literally become a part of Santa Fe and the only way I knew how to do this was to physically blend your remains with the landscape. A promise made and a promise kept.
Happy Birthday Amanda
On December 17th, the ones that loved you the most came together to honor you. A small, intimate group of people arrived and gathered in a private, candlelit room at El Farol, one of your favorite restaurants in downtown Santa Fe. Pitchers of Margaritas and chips and guac were passed around before we sat down to dinner. To me, it was a fascinating mixture of family and friends from all stages of your life. Clay, Brad and Eric showed up. You were in love with all of them and they were in love with you – at some point in their lives. It told me so much about you as a person that all these former romantic rivals, each knowing that the other would be there, showed up for you. I was impressed. It taught me a valuable lesson about the importance of ending all relationships on good terms. Thank you for that.
Before dinner started, I thanked everyone for coming, for showing up to honor and remember you. I told them about the rainbow bridge that came and that you died peacefully with your daughter and sister by your side. I placed my favorite photo of you in a Nicho, lit a candle and we raised our glasses and made a toast to you.
Then the stories started. I learned things about you that you never told me! Michelle told us about the time when she was working for you when Val Kilmer’s was one of your clients. He was coming to Santa Fe from Los Angeles with his kids and had asked you to get his house ready. Michelle said that you called her to give her a grocery list of items to stock up his refrigerator, and when you were done reading the list to Michelle you said “After you go to the supermarket, stop at pet store and pick up two snakes. They are waiting for you.” It was the first time since you died that I was able to laugh while thinking of you. I needed to hear that story.
Then Clay shared the time that you organized a 3-day long wedding to celebrate the marriage of Amy Sanders to Beto O’Rourke! You met Beto? Did you know that Beto is running for Governor of the state of Texas? I love that guy. You read it here first, that dude is going to be President someday.
After the stories, we ordered cake and Michelle said “Let’s sing Happy Birthday to Amanda.” We sang “Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday Dear Amanda, Happy Birthday to you.” It was a beautiful tribute and a lovely farewell to a special evening that none of us will forget.
You’re as free as a bird now
You’re as free as a bird now my sweet sister. I hope that you like the birdcage, even though cage is not the right word to describe it. Just the opposite, you are not caged at all. The door has been wired open so you can come and go as you please. We mounted it on a tree (now known as Amanda’s tree) along one of your favorite hiking trails. You have the most incredible view of your beloved Santa Fe and I like to imagine that after a long day of soaring and exploring new places, you have a safe haven to return to, a place to rest.
If anyone is reading this, and wants to visit Amanda in Santa Fe, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will provide you the coordinates of her exact location on the hiking trail.
You were delightful
The time we shared while you were here was incredibly special, I am so grateful that I was the one that reaped the benefits of your companionship. You were delightful. Always smiling, happy, and enthusiastic with an aura that would light up the room like sunshine. Your generous spirit, boundless energy and capacity to love unconditionally will never be forgotten. We will always carry you in our hearts forever and ever.
Always in all ways,
Your loving sister
Time for me to go now, I won’t say goodbye;
Look for me in rainbows, way up in the sky.
In the morning sunrise when all the world is new,
Just look for me and love me, as you know I loved you.
Time for me to leave you, I won’t say goodbye;
Look for me in rainbows, high up in the sky.
In the evening sunset, when all the world is through,
Just look for me and love me, and I’ll be close to you.
It won’t be forever, the day will come and then
My loving arms will hold you, when we meet again.
Time for us to part now, we won’t say goodbye;
Look for me in rainbows, shining in the sky.
Every waking moment, and all your whole life through
Just look for me and love me, as you know I loved you.
Just wish me to be near you,
And I’ll be there with you.
– by Conn Bernard