The pieces of Annie's life
form a picture of a
beautiful young woman

In memory of Anne Elizabeth O'Brien

(This was the eulogy delivered at Annie's funeral August 8, 2003.)

Hi, for those of you who do not know me, I am Annie's cousin Kim.

As I think back to the funeral home last night and as I look around me today, I am truly touched by the outpour and abundance of love and support that Annie's death has generated. I am also very grateful for being given this opportunity to share my perspective of Annie's life and what she stood for. I cannot possibly capture every beautiful thing about Annie, but as I prepared for this, I felt Annie's presence and her reassurance that she would guide me in knowing what to say.

As I think about Annie and her life, I see a beautiful yet complex puzzle of which 22 pieces had been laid, the 23rd was in progress, and the rest were yet to find their place. I do not have a wealth of knowledge and memories regarding the first 17 pieces of Annie's life, but based on my many interactions with Annie between the ages of 17 and 22, I do know that Jerry, Mary, and other family members must have contributed significantly to the beautiful young lady that Annie grew into.

I want to tell you Jerry and Mary, you both did an outstanding job with Annie as evidenced in her adult years by her respect for people, her passion for art, writing and music, her empathy toward other people, her endless efforts to make it to all family functions, her desire to help those in need, and her ability to push forward in a world that is often negative, confusing, and judgmental. I know that to the two of you Annie most likely represented your best self and your worst self. But to me, and the many people who I have spoken with that interacted with and knew Annie, she represented the best of both of you as well as represented her own unique self. Put simply...she was an outstanding daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin, friend, employee, co-worker, scholar...simply an outstanding young woman. I want you to know that all of us here today share in your admiration, pride, love, and respect for Annie, and I believe that we will all help in keeping her spirit alive.

Speaking of keeping Annie's spirit alive, I want to transition into sharing a few memories that illustrate the charismatic nature of Annie's spirit as well as some of her endearing qualities. First, as I mentioned earlier, Annie put forth great effort to be present at family get-togethers and to make a difference at those get-togethers. There were many times when we would be having a Birthday party for one of my kids or another family member and Annie would call me to say thanks for inviting her (She gave meaning to the word RSVP!) and that as soon as she finished her class, her exam, work, etc., that she would be over to join us...and amazingly enough she almost always made it! Not only did she make it, but you knew when she arrived because she was beautiful inside and out and her smile and warm personality captured the heart and soul of those who interacted with her. She always greeted family members with a hug and always asked how people were doing... genuine empathy. In addition, she was quick to play games (like the game of Life with my daughter Bailee), to engage in intellectual, personal and/or trivial conversations, to help out in whatever way needed, to hug and tease her sister Erin and her brother Pat, and to be crazy if necessary like when she played the Grim Reaper at her mother's 40th Birthday party!

She also seemed to savor each function by taking it all in and staying until the very end. She was never in a hurry to get going and she always seemed to love to be with family. I treasured this about Annie, as I often find myself in a hurry to do this or that and to get going rather than to take it all in. I know my dad, Steve, also treasured this about Annie, as I recently heard him say that when Annie was at his cabin she seemed to be so relaxed and to enjoy herself so much.

Before I go on to share more of my memories that illustrate Annie's spirit and endearing qualities, I want to also share something grandma Marje shared with my sister Jamie about Annie.

With all the years of cherished memories filled with grandma's pride, Annie's grandma Marje said, "From the day she was born she was 'My Annie.'" As she would head up Grandma's driveway or enter a family gathering, Grandma would smile and say, "Here comes 'My Annie.'"

On July 16th, Annie was heading to work on her bike and decided to stop to spend a few minutes with grandma. Grandma was not home, and Annie took the time to write her a note which went like this: "Hey grandma, It's Annie. I stopped by to say Hi. As long as I rode my bike all the way to work, I thought Altoona's was not that much further. But you're not home so I left you this note. So, Hi. Love ya, Annie."

On July 25th, Grandma and Annie had lunch together at Wendy's. Annie asked grandma, "What can I have?" and of course Grandma said "everything," and Annie grinned and made good on Grandma's offer. It is very evident what a beautiful relationship Annie shared with Grandma, and just as she touched Grandma's life in a special way, she also touched many of our lives in similar way.

Second, Annie had a heart of gold, a quote I believe her mom has used more than once. Annie wanted to help everyone, and she went to great extremes to do so. She found joy in helping others, and she spent a great deal of time trying to make life better for others. I also rarely heard Annie judge others, she seemed to approach life with unconditional love and acceptance and to find the good in others no matter what. She is a lot like my Grandma Marje, and anyone who knows Grandma Marje knows that to be thought of like Grandma Marje is one of the greatest compliments anyone could ever receive.

Annie's heart of gold not only came across in her passion to help others but also came across in the simple things she did. For example, she made homemade cards for Christmas and took the time to personalize them with a special message, her trademark flower, and a personal signature on the back... "Handmade by Annie O'Brien." She found special gifts for under a buck for my kids' Birthdays, like superballs in all sizes, that of course my kids found to be AWESOME! And one of my most special memories of Annie's heart of Gold was when she offered to help take care of my kids in the morning and at night for a week so that Wayne and I could go on vacation....and she did this while simultaneously getting to class on time and going to work, too! Annie even found positive in that experience and relayed that message to me when I got home by informing me that babysitting was fun, being that my two year old Bailee kept her in line and told her how to do everything from changing my son's diaper, to picking out clothes for them to wear, to giving her directions to the daycare!

Finally, beyond being a family person and having a heart of gold, Annie had a variety of talents. As many of you know, three of Annie's greatest talents were her artistic abilities, her writing, and her singing voice. As for her artistic abilities, most of you know that her mother Mary is an extremely gifted professional artist, and she certainly was a wonderful mentor for Annie. Mary and Annie shared this passion from the time Annie was a toddler, as evidenced in the Leader-Telegram article when her dad stated that "From the moment she could hold a pencil or crayon she was drawing." What a talent this young lady possessed. From her first portrait (as many of you saw displayed at the funeral home), to portraits of her brother Pat (including a caricature), to horses, to basically everything, it was clear that Annie had a passion for art and she was an outstanding artist. I was even blessed with the opportunity to go through some of Annie's sketchbooks a couple of nights ago, and her abilities left me in awe. Not only that, but I also marveled at how Annie incorporated her love for drawing into computer classes, photography classes, science classes and the like. Some of her college computer class notes and photography notes that I looked at contained detailed drawings of the inside of computers and cameras. It was fascinating to see how Annie was able to bring meaning to so many areas of her life through her artistic abilities.

In addition to artistic abilities, Annie could write! Just as I was able to view some of her sketchbooks, I was also fortunate enough to read some of her poetry and some of her college papers. And let me tell you, from poetry, to political papers, to science papers...this young lady could write! Of all of her writings that I saw, however, I have to say that her poetry touched me the most. She wrote from her heart and soul and her works were masterpieces. There were no rough drafts or editing, Annie just seemed to be able to take it straight from her heart and turn it into a work of art. Just as she was able to bring meaning to many areas of her life through her artistic abilities, she was also able to do this through her writing.

And finally, her ability to sing. Of course, most of us know that her dad Jerry has an incredible singing voice and a gift for music, and he was lucky enough to share this passion with Annie. I do not know a great deal about her music accomplishments, but I do know that she had a beautiful voice. I feel very blessed to have had Annie and her dad sing a duet at my wedding as well as to have been able to listen to Annie sing karoakee up at my dad's cabin. Just as art and writing seemed to come from her heart and soul, so did singing.

It should be clear in the many things that I have shared with you today, that Annie touched many lives in her short time here on earth. For some of us, she had brief interactions for others she had very intricate relationships, but regardless of the depth of the relationship any of us had with Annie, it can be certain that she left each of us with many gifts, gifts that will continue to influence us as we continue our journey here on earth and gifts that will help each of us to keep Annie's spirit alive.

Now before I bring this to a close, I want to end on a more difficult topic to understand: the nature of God. I believe there are several defining characteristics of our God. One is love, another is justice. I know that the second is hard for all of us to accept right now. I know many of us are saying, "why Annie?" and "what did she do to deserve this?". However, I believe that God's perspective is different than ours. Justice is ultimately served in the eternal status of Annie, not in the circumstances of her life or of her death. Surely, Annie's removal from this world, from our lives is unjust and possibly evil to say the least. Our pain is undeserved and unrelenting. However, Annie is only dead in a physical sense. Dead to this world where evil is inevitable. But spiritually, Annie is very much alive in our hearts and in heaven. I know that Annie is in Heaven due to God's just nature and due to the way Annie lived her life while here on earth. That is not to say that Annie was not human. Of course Annie was human, and I am sure that she made her share of poor decisions, did things she wasn't proud of and didn't always love and appreciate herself. She is no different from many of us in that respect. Do I believe the good outweighed the bad, not only do I believe it but I know it with all of my heart. Annie was a good person.

But regardless of being a good person, I know that Annie is in heaven because, you see, Heaven is not about how good Annie was; Heaven is about how good Jesus was. Jesus paid it all when he died on the cross for us. Annie earned eternal life by accepting Jesus as evidenced by the way she let the light of Jesus shine in so many of things she did and said!

So, in closing, let's remember that the first 22 pieces of Annie's life have been completed and they form a picture of a beautiful young woman. Now it should be our privilege as family and friends to continue building on the puzzle of Annie's life by contributing our own pieces through the sharing of stories, memories, feelings, thoughts, etc. In other words, let us all keep Annie's spirit alive and allow her to work through us in our time left here on earth. I encourage you to hug your loved ones, affirm them every day, tell them of your mistakes so they know your "human", and live life to the best of your ability as your time here on earth is so trivial compared to the eternity you will share with Annie.



You can reach Kim at

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