It is sobering to go to a memorial service for someone born in 1976, the year I graduated from high school. Amanda Nicole Dillon died too young at the age of 36. The funeral home chapel was filled with grieving family and friends gathered to mourn and make sense of her death on August 25.
The obituary described her this way:
She will be missed beyond what is imaginable and remembered for her many kindnesses. Amanda had a very big heart and frequently put others before herself. Her passion for family, her love of animals, especially horses, as well as her utter love for nature describes only a small amount of the amazing person she was. She loved the Bosque and frequently took her children for moonlight walks along the river.
She will be dearly missed by her loving husband, Kelly and their children: Sydney, Skyler and Mason; mother: Sheryl; father, Tom and significant other, Christine; sisters: Sam, Meghan and Abby; eight nieces and nephews; and her dear friend, Suni.
Rev. Chuck Exley, pastor at St. Luke Lutheran Church, opened the service with thanks to all who came to support the family at a difficult time and offered a prayer.
Oh God of grace and glory, we remember before you today our sister Amanda. We thank you for giving her to us to know and to love as a companion in our pilgrimage on earth. In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn. Give us your aid, so that we may see in death the gate to eternal life, that we may continue our course on earth in confidence until, by your call, we are reunited with those who have gone before us, through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
He then shared the wisdom of two Psalms, 118 and 121, and two passages from the Scriptures, Romans and Matthew.
Psalm 118 (excerpts)
Out of my distress I called on the Lord;
the Lord answered me and set me free.
The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
What can man do to me?
The Lord is on my side as my helper;…
The Lord is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
Glad songs of salvation
are in the tents of the righteous:
“The right hand of the Lord does valiantly,
the right hand of the Lord exalts,
the right hand of the Lord does valiantly!”
I shall not die, but I shall live,
and recount the deeds of the Lord.
The Lord has disciplined me severely,
but he has not given me over to death.
Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the gate of the Lord;
the righteous shall enter through it….
You are my God, and I will give thanks to you;
you are my God; I will extol you.
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever!
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The reverend offered words to the family. Some powerful passages:
“It’s hard to know what to do at a time of death. What do we do? Where do we go? How do we look to the future? This memorial service allows us to stop our flailing, that we may dry our eyes and begin to breathe again…. While the family would like to go back in time and change what led to her death, we cannot go back and change…. There is hope for tomorrow… Pain and suffering does not last forever…. All things will become new with God’s grace.”
“Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. They shall find rest in time, although we don’t know when that time will be. Time begins now.”
While Amanda was not a regular church-goer, she loved Easter. The family would attend services on that holiday and have special activities at home. “I like to think she had an instinctive appreciation for new life. All services like this indicate life springs from death. We are also reminded of the shortness of life, how time races, and a sudden change can happen in the blink of an eye. We give thanks to the love of God that we can remember her gifts to us and be glad.”
Attendees were invited to share stories about Amanda, also known as Mandy or Manda-bear. Her father’s significant other Christine described her as an smart, artistic person, whose smile would light up the room. She loved holidays and decorated extensively, especially for Halloween. She worked and studied while raising her three children and became a pharmacist, following in her father’s footsteps career-wise.
Her sisters spoke about growing up in Albuquerque’s Northeast Heights. Amanda had an early love of horses, and she loved animals of all kinds. Dogs, cats, rabbits, turtles – all kinds of animals found a home at her home.
She became an accomplished horseback rider with many ribbons testifying to her riding prowess. Family gatherings were very important, with creative games and activities. She was always feeding people, and she was generous with her resources.
She loved the outdoors, hiking, camping and going to the family’s cabin in Chama. She was free-spirited, loved to laugh and to make others laugh. Her passion for and knowledge of horses was deep and wide.
The reverend led additional prayers, including The Lord’s Prayer and the Commendation as he held his hand over the beautiful wooden box, made by her father Tom, that held Amanda’s ashes.
“Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant, Amanda. Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming. Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light. Amen.”
The hymn “He Will Raise You Up On Eagles Wings” played over the sound system. Then a photo montage/video tribute with pictures of Amanda was projected onto the screen. The prayer card included a QR code that enables those with a QR code reader on a smart phone to see the video online. The pictures and music were very moving, prompting many in the chapel to tears.
A balloon launch took place after the service. 36 balloons, one balloon for each year of Amanda’s life, were distributed as people left the chapel. Attendees were invited to write their thoughts and prayers on the balloons, to release them into the sky in one mass launch. Some of the messages read “Be Happy” “You will be missed” “Amanda Rocks” and “Ride the Clouds.”
May Amanda Dillon ride the clouds. If you’d like to share any thoughts or stories, please post in the comment box below.