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.
Day is done,
Gone the sun,
From the hills,
From the lake,
From the skies.
All is well,
God is nigh
Go to sleep,
May the soldier
On the land
Or the deep,
Safe in sleep.
Love, good night,
Must thou go,
When the day,
And the night
Need thee so?
All is well.
To their rest.
Fades the light;
And the stars
Fare thee well,
Day has gone,
Night is on.
Thanks and praise,
For our days.
‘Neath the sun,
‘Neath the stars,
‘Neath the sky,
As we go,
This we know,
God is nigh.
This was for Bob Hoover. Seems appropriate here.
What a fitting and beautiful tribute
Thank you. Would not have been possible without the contributions and hard work of many people.
She was a musician and poet herself. When she felt something intensely, she tended to speak in lyrics. It came naturally to her. Spoken two days before her death:
There was someone who was/is truly loved!
Thanks SF. She was indeed. She charmed everyone, and I know she laid a bit of charisma on you as well.
It’s always good to be back home with loved ones.
Ted, this has been driving me batty for three years. The circle had to be closed.
We all needed this. The rest of her ashes will be set free on two of her most beloved places in these hills. A Highland Lass’ spirit needs to be in the high wild places.
How lovely, Scribe.
Thanks Malisha. I miss hearing the skirling of her pipes coming from the back porch as she played Amazing Grace .
such love and such caring
Thank you Ann.
I try to put into words what cannot be expressed with words.
Admirable and fitting.
She loved to fly. Some of her pilot friends were legends.
As you know, she loved music. When she was still a pre-schooler, we had the album, In Country: Folk Songs of Americans in the Vietnam War.
One of her favorite tracks was F-4 pilot Col. Dick Jonas singing a song reminiscent of some of the songs that came out of WW1. She liked to sing along with it in the car–so many times she had the words memorized before she ever learned to read.
Will There Be A Tomorrow
I wish that my son and his sons (who play pipes and drums) and two daughters (who Highland dance) would have known Brandi. I know they would have been friends.
Ken, I have no doubt. She took highland dance for more than a year when she was in elementary school. Her favored instrument was the pipes, but the bodhran was the only thing she ever played on stage.
Thank you so much for your wonderful design. This garden-park will live on long after we are gone.
Such a wonderful memorial Chuck! Her spirit will live on forever in that beautiful garden!
Someone told me that this is not only a gift to St. Thomas, but a gift to the city. Seems amusingly ironic and somehow fitting that it is right behind the courthouse.