Landscape Architect’s rendering by Kenneth Soergel, ASLA.
This is the Brandi Nicole Stanley Memorial Rose Garden, St Thomas Episcopal Church.
Her memorial bench bearing her inscription is the small light colored object near the center, next to the church. The circular object at the top left will be a labyrinth for meditation walks. A family area and patio will be out back. The family area will be used for cookouts, family gatherings, and visiting. Roses and peonies were planted earlier this month. Aside from orchids, they were her favorite two flowers.
Memorial Day was on May 25 in 2015. It was on Memorial Day 2015 that she struggled with her last breath. She said, “I will NOT go without a fight.”
No one who ever met her, forgot her. She lived life to the fullest, and in her short 26 years, made an impression on everyone she met.
She loved her church, St. Thomas Episcopal Church, and they loved her. She loved taking care of the kids in the nursery so their parents could attend services without distraction.
When her cancer was discovered three years ago, it was too advanced to be treated. She came home from the hospital under Hospice care. A hospital bed was set up in the living room. A steady stream of people came through the house. Friends on the Daily Kos blog sponsored a “Community Quilt” for her. The quilters, Ann and Sara, created a quilt for her in record time. They completed her quilt in three days. It was delivered by friends from Asheville, NC.
When the quilt was spread out on her bed, she rubbed the hem, saying softly, “This means a lot to me.”
When we had her wake at the church, she rested in state at the church altar, her Daily Kos Community Quilt beside her.
Brandi’s community quilt hangs on the altar at St. Thomas Episcopal Church
She was emphatic that she did not want a funeral. She had already attended too many. She had helped bury classmates, as well as her brother, nephew, and her mother. There were services at the National Cemetery, including a memorial for at least one blogger friend and her ggg-grandfather, Samuel Brashears.
She wanted to be remembered with joy. She asked that, instead of a funeral, we have a party and tell stories about her. And to be sure and have plenty of wine and Scotch. After all, it IS an Episcopal church. We did our best.
There were decisions to be made. The local cemetery did not want to cooperate with our wishes for her interment, so we were in limbo. I got advice and suggestions from all directions for the past three years, but in the end, I had to make the decision.
The thing that kept haunting me was a promise I made to her when she was a baby, and again when she got sick. I promised I would never leave her. One of the last things she said to me, with a look of terror in her eyes, “You said you wouldn’t leave me.”
We have been in limbo. I talked with a number of people and we came up with the idea of a memorial bench for her at the church. Not just a bench. Far more than that. It is her marker. Thanks to Daily Kos users sockpuppet and Dixiecollie, the bench was crowdfunded. It belongs to all those who visit, who donated, who offered moral support, and those who helped out in ways both tangible and intangible.
The idea of a memorial bench for her at the church triggered an avalanche of ideas. Finally, I told Fr. Tim and the Vestry that we were now in over our pay grade. I know a bit about architecture and design—just enough to know when I don’t know enough. Somewhat tentatively, I made the suggestion we consult a landscape architect. As is always the case when someone offers a suggestion to a committee, I was appointed to find a consulting landscape architect.
Kenneth Soergel, A.S.L.A., Harvard graduate and former professor of Landscape Architecture and Horticulture at the University of Maryland, has chosen this area to live in semi-retirement. When I told him what we had in mind, he agreed to do the consult without hesitation. He moved fast, because we wanted to have the dedication by the anniversary of her passing.
Fr. Tim pointed out the newly elected Episcopal Bishop of East Tennessee, the Rt. Rev. Brian Lee Cole, would make his official visit to St. Thomas on May 20.
The bench engraving was done just in time. We decided to have an interment of her ashes on May 16, so the bench could be set up in time for the following Sunday.
As luck would have it, it was raining and the ground was wet. The foundation slab could be laid, but the bench could not be assembled on wet ground. The slab needed a few days to settle.
The morning of May 16, we held a brief service inside the church for her. The workmen arrived on time to prepare the ground for the slab.
When the ground was prepared for her remains, they excavated a deep hole for the urn. We had a stainless steel urn for a “vault.”
She was interred beneath the center of the bench slab, with the traditional commitment to the earth by Fr. Tim Holder.
It was still too wet to assemble the bench by Sunday, so the workmen laid out the back of the bench in time for the Sunday service.
The Bishop of East Tennessee, the Rt. Rev. Brian Lee Cole presided over the blessing and consecration of this holy ground that holds our Lassie and her bench.
The Bench was assembled earlier this week.
There is a famous line from the 1973 Clint Eastwood movie, High Plains Drifter:
“They say the dead don’t rest without a marker of some kind.”
The Bench. Her bench. Your bench. The first object to be placed in the Brandi Nicole Stanley Memorial Rose Garden at St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Elizabethton, TN.
A gift for her has arrived from one of the fundraisers, “sockpuppet.” No inscription could have been more appropriate.
Following services on Sunday morning, a luncheon for the Bishop and his group was held in the parish hall.
The photo below is Fr. Tim Holder presenting the bird’s eye view of how the garden will look when finished. He was in the process of springing it on us that this would be the “Brandi Nicole Stanley Memorial Rose Garden.”
The concept drawing by Kenneth Soergel, A.S.L.A. of the the Brandi Nicole Stanley Memorial Rose Garden.
Now she can fly west on wings of light.
She has her marker. On Memorial Day.