Saturday, June 14, 2008

Reaching.... for Angie

It has been a hard few days. One of my childhood friends, Angie Samuelson, just passed away after losing her battle with cervical cancer. She was diagnosed less than a year ago. She was engaged before she was diagnosed, and she was married less than a month ago, in a ceremony in her own backyard, because she was too weak and sick to make it to the church. I just spent a couple of days in Peoria, attending Angie's visitation and funeral. So incredibly sad.

Angie and I went to church together growing up. We, along with our friend Ashley, were "the 3 As," the only members of our class still active in the youth program and the church by the time we reached our senior year of high school. We planned our senior Stronghold retreat together, focused around the theme of Kaliedoscopes and gave talks regarding the five senses. We also gave talks on the topic of "Roots and Wings" on our senior Sunday. For four years, we spent Sunday nights eating Papa John's pizza at First Federated Church in Peoria, IL. Before that, we shared Sunday school classes, Christmas pageants, confirmation class, our first communions.

I was able to sit with Ashley at the funeral. We sat just a few rows back from where the three of us had once joined that church and then taken our first communions together. Angie's coffin stood over the area on the floor where the three of us had sat through countless children's stories together before being dismissed to Sunday school from "big church." Her sisters delivered her eulogy from the same lectern where the three of us had once given "sermons" on our Senior Sunday. All of the assembled mourners rose to sing together a song chosen for its part in our Stronghold retreats. After the funeral, Ashley and I wandered the church. We went back to our old senior high youth group room, where, the summer before our senior year, everyone in the youth group had each painted and personalized one of the cinder blocks that made up the far wall. They were all still there, joined since then by students who came after us. And there was Angie's, faded yellow paint proclaiming that "friends are friends forever."

I lost touch with Angie after high school. We saw each other a few times at church when we were home during the early years of college. But then I started spending my summers at camp, so I wasn't around to go to church except on school breaks, and then my parents both stopped attending that church, so I no longer went there either. After that, we lost touch in the shuffle of life. And now, she's gone. It just seems like too much to take in.

Growing up, Angie was just so perfect, but far too nice to be jealous of. She was beautiful, with her long blond hair, her sparkling eyes, her fabulous smile, her tiny stature, and her mischeveous giggle. She sang like an angel. She loved children, and they flocked to her, so it was no surprise that she later became a preschool teacher. She was incredibly close to her parents, and both of her younger sisters adored her. During our senior year, Angie was named prom queen at her school, in the next town over from the school Ashley and I attended. Back then, we all looked at Angie and just knew that she was going to have a wonderful, perfect life. But that life was cut way too short. 29 years old, and gone.

After hearing of Angie's death, I spent an evening looking through my old scrapbooks from high school. There, she and Ashley and I appeared arm in arm, year after year, smiling in our Sunday finery, laughing in the youth group room, lined up on the stairs at Stronghold. I came across my notes for the planning of our last retreat with the youth group, which we, as seniors, led. We had each chosen two songs for our peers to remember us by. Angie had chosen "Pray For Me" by Michael W. Smith. While that song is still appropriate, even now, it was the words to the second that echoed in my head during my drive to Peoria for her funeral.

by Carolyn Arends

There's a time I can recall
Four years old and three feet tall
Trying to touch the stars and the cookie jar
And both were out of reach
And later on in my high school
It seemed to me a little cruel
How the right words to say always seemed to stay
Just out of reach
Well I should not have thought it strange
That growing causes growing pains
'Cause the more we learn the more we know
We don't know anything
But still it seems a tragic fate
Living with this quiet ache
The constant strain for what remains
Just out of reach

We are reaching for the future
We are reaching for the past
And no matter what we have we reach for more
We are desperate to discover
What is just beyond our grasp
But maybe that's what heaven is for

There are times I can't forget
Dressed up in my Sunday best
Trying not to squirm and to maybe learn
A bit of what the preacher preached
And later lying in the dark
I felt a stirring in my heart
And though I longed to see what could not be seen
I still believed
I guess I shouldn't think it odd
Until we see the face of God
The yearning deep within us tells us
There's more to come
So when we taste of the divine
It leaves us hungry every time
For one more taste of what awaits
When heaven's gates are reached


I believe that's what heaven is for
There's a time I can recall
Four years old and three feet tall
Trying to touch the stars and the cookie jar
And both were out of reach

We will miss you, Angie. And we look forward to the day when we will see you again. Until then, as we used to say, Grace and Peace.


Anonymous said...

It was so hard to read this post since I just sat through the two days of grief with you, but I am glad that you were able to share her story since she was so amazing.

Grace and peace and love,

Kathy said...

So sorry about your loss, Amy :( We've been thinking of you and praying-

Anonymous said...

Amy, I'm so sorry to hear about such a dear friend passing. Thank you for sharing your memories and her story. We are all better for having at least known Angie through you.
Much love and support,

just a girl said...

thinking of you and friends, amy.

you are a good friend.

Cathy said...

Lovely, it brought tears to my eyes, and I'd never even met her. Feeling for your loss, Love, Me

Carrie said...

It's so tragic when a life is cut short like that. I'm sorry for your loss.

Melissa said...

Amy and Ashley,
I am so sorry to hear about Angie. I had no idea that she had cancer. This is all just so hard to believe. Thank you for sharing her story.

Anonymous said...

I am speechless right now. I got on the internet to search for a girl I had a brief encounter with back in college and I find out she's passed away. We met at ICC about 9 years ago. She kept trying to make a date but I had a girlfriend at the time. I feel so horrible.
This is beyond sad. She was one of the nicest girls I'd ever met. I'm so sorry Angie. Rest in peace.
Ryan M. Weller