As it is now my Daughters Birthday, I have decided to post the Eulogy that I wrote and delivered at her funeral. I have cut out the greetings and a few notes: I was dressed in jeans and a Green Bay Packers jersey. I was also wearing mismatched socks. (UPDATE: with grateful thanks to @doryR for the portrait that heads this post. I’ve added her completed work below with accreditation.)
I want to explain my strange attire. All too often, we put on a suit and a tie, and do our best to look presentable. I chose to dress in the manner that Amber loved me best. Frequently as I got ready for work, with my coat and tie, I would ask Amber how I looked. She would wrinkle her nose and shrug. One time, she said “that isn’t really you.” So Instead of Mark, the business man, I chose to appear as Mark, the daddy. I even skipped shaving, because Amber would kiss me on the cheek each night, and she liked it better when I was a bit scruffy. The only difference in what I’m wearing from what I usually would, are my socks.
First I would like to tell you about the Amber from a time before most of you met her.
Amber was full of surprises. She began her list of surprises and shocks by crashing in to the world on March 22, 1996, a full seven weeks ahead of schedule. Her mother didn’t even know she was in labour, until moments before Amber arrived. She weighed in at 4 pounds and 10 ounces. She came fast, tiny, wrinkly, screaming, and beautiful. Dad nearly passed out.
She continued her preference for amusing surprises. Like the one time she was up late at night and was being really fussy, until mom and dad were able to hypnotize her to sleep. Or, the first time that mom and dad decided to go out after her being born, she promptly vomited her last meal down the inside of her mom’s shirt when hugs and kisses goodbye were being given.
And what parent didn’t have the little nudist stage? Always at the most inopportune times, off came the clothes, and the shrieks of laughter began as she ran naked and free. Amber was mostly smiles and laughs. She warmed up to people so fast and played with any kid that came along, just so long as they weren’t meanies.
She was precocious, and ferocious in her protection of her mommy and daddy. Like when mommy was watching the news and crying about the events of 9/11, she stuck with her mommy, and then prayed that everyone would be safe and the police would get the bad guys. Or when she was just a few years old, and Daddy was pulled over for speeding. She promptly undid her seatbelt, stood up, and yelled at the police officer to leave her daddy alone. Daddy still got the ticket.
The years of her as a little girl passed in a flash. Halloweens, birthdays, Christmases. Ten thousand, one hundred thousand memories of laughs and smiles and tears and temper tantrums only a privileged few of us were blessed to share in. Those memories are something her mother and I will cherish and hold dear. But what I want to talk to you more about the Amber that many of you got to meet.
There comes a time when a child starts to turn to other people for companionship and laughter. Mommy becomes Mom, Daddy becomes Dad. And that is as it should be. It was with pride that we watched Amber develop friendships and relationships independently.
Amber drew people to her. Her smile and personality made her instantly likeable. Many of you here today experienced exactly that, an engaging, unique and caring girl who was willing to be friends with just about anyone. She had a maturity and intelligence beyond her years. In a time where you would expect her to care more about gadgets and shoes and video games, she asked questions about history, current events, politics and philosophies, questions that would leave you struggling to answer.
At the same time, she expressed herself through silliness and fun. Most of the time, she did this to lift the spirits of those around her. She’d run and tackle hug people without worrying about dignity and decorum. She would tear out of the house without shoes on to greet her friends. Her mismatched socks would get filthy, and she simply didn’t care.
She sang along to her music. She often complained that her own singing voice was kind of like a tone-deaf frog, but even though she felt that way, she would sing anyways. When we drove somewhere, and she managed to convince us to plug her music in, she would dance in the car. She didn’t care who saw her doing it, and laughed when people did a double take of her silly moves in the seat.
Amber dreamed of being a social worker. She could never decide though, what kind she would want to be. She didn’t know if she wanted to work with teenagers. Or the elderly. Or with those who had disabilities. Her indecision on that came not from uncertainty, but an unwillingness to choose one; for fear that the others would be left out.
Amber loved sports. Individual sports she excelled in were swimming, water-skiing, and knee boarding. As to team sports, many here had the pleasure of seeing Amber play soccer, her first love. But she played at times basketball, hockey, and flag football too. She was never the most technically skilled player on the field, but what she lacked in training and skill, she made up for in sheer heart. She played her soul out. Her face would go bright red within moments of starting to play. A ferocious look of focus and determination would be fixed in her eyes as she chased the ball, shot the puck or tried to catch the pass.
She wanted nothing more than to help her team. In soccer, her chosen sport, she would be upset if she didn’t score a goal. And when she scored one, she would be unhappy that she didn’t score two. This was never because she craved personal glory. She just wanted to help her team win. Once, at a soccer tournament, she was awarded the team MVP medallion. She took it, put it in her soccer bag, and I didn’t see it again for months. It wasn’t until I was packing up her possessions that I found it tucked in the very back of her sock drawer. Only the awards that she won as a team, like the Milton all-stars championship trophy, were on display in her room.
Amber had an artist’s heart. She wrote. She sketched and doodled, she acted in her drama classes, she sang and danced. She was never satisfied with what she produced. Her artistic ability far exceeded that of her parents, but she would always go back and erase, and retry. The goose that she was trying to draw, its feathers were out-of-place. That line of script for her drama presentation wasn’t delivered just right. Wasn’t there a better line I can write for this poem? Amber wanted everyone to see, in her drawings or stories or poems, what she was seeing in her heart.
It is impossible to offer enough of Amber’s life to truly paint a picture of what she turned out to be. But now I’d like to talk to you about the Amber we didn’t know. When I say the Amber we didn’t know, I speak of some of the things that we learned about Amber in the last few months of her life, and what we have learned after her passing. We always knew that Amber was good and kind and compassionate. We didn’t know, though, and may never fully grasp, the extent of her empathy.
Amber turned no one away. There were no losers in her eyes. No one was unacceptable, no one was unlovable. On her Facebook page, she posted a 5 second clip of herself. She does nothing more than smile, and then hold up a sign that says “you’re all beautiful.” And she believed this. That everyone in this world deserved love. She gave of herself fully and completely. Her cellphone would buzz constantly, and she would carry on 3,4,5… 10 conversations at once. That always seemed like normal teenager stuff.
But what she was doing was helping people. She was offering words of comfort and support to people who were struggling. She would drop whatever she was doing, and go to her friends when they were in need. She did so regardless of how she was feeling. It would be raining cats and dogs, she’d have a bad cold, and she’d get a call. She’d be out in the rain and on her way to her friend in a moment.
And even seeing this… knowing how good and kind she was, it left us unprepared for the stories that have poured in since her death. Stories from people, friends, other young people, who told us what Amber really was. Stories of people who had given up all hope. Messages that said they were done with living, until Amber came and lifted some of their pain, so they could go on. Not one, not two. But many stories and messages from people of how Amber had rescued them. Or made their lives brighter.
When Amber was a little girl, I would lie on my back, lift her in the air with my legs, and she would spread her arms and fly. Pretending that she was a superhero. She dreamed of being a hero. She and I argued about who was the better superhero. I liked batman, she thought Batman was lame and that Spiderman was better. She fulfilled her dream. She became a superhero. One that put comic book heroes to shame. She never would believe that of herself, but the best heroes are the ones that don’t claim to be one.
The truth is, Amber saved lives. She made other lives better. She freely carried the hurts of others so that others could see their way through. She worked tirelessly and selflessly to make sure that her friends and others around her felt loved and worthwhile. She accomplished more good at 16 than many will in lifetimes of 60, 70, 80 years. As much as her loss hurts, as deep as the pain is, the greatest feeling is pride, and awe at what our little girl became, and what she did.
Amber dreamed of paradise. But she didn’t dream of it for herself. She dreamed of a world of paradise where everyone would be safe and happy and loved. To everyone here, Mom, dad, grandmas and grandpas, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and friends, Amber knew that we loved her. She never doubted this. Know that, and take comfort in the fact that she understood that we loved her. And take comfort in the fact that she loved each without reservation as well. Do not doubt for a moment that she questioned that love. Amber understood how to love more than most of us ever do. For those who have come to support us, but didn’t know Amber, know that she would be happy that people were here to care about those she cared about. It’s exactly as she would want it.
We know that Amber is now free of fear or pain. But we know we won’t see her again for tackle hugs or kiss on the cheek.
So we find ourselves asking, what now? With Amber gone what do we do? I can tell you she is not gone. She is in every smile given to someone who needs it. She can be in every hug you give a friend that is hurting. We can honor her memory by carrying out her heart’s desire. That everyone feel like they matter. That everyone be told, and feels, as if they are beautiful.
I say this to everyone here, but especially to you young men and women so close to becoming adults. Help each other. Lift each other up when you fall. Don’t suffer in silence when you are broken-hearted. Let no one be excluded or left behind. There are no losers; there are none unworthy of being loved. All Amber wanted for each of you is happiness and love, reach out and take it from people when you need it, and give it to those you know that are needing it now.
Thank you, for Loving our little girl.