That hair. Flowing a gorgeous shade of auburn, it was the second thing I noticed about her. Maybe it was because I have my own little red-haired girl at home, but I was drawn to the beauty and radiance of her long locks; it was the subject of our very first conversation. “I love your hair,” I remarked as I moved around the room on that first day, covering the syllabus and the rules and all of the other boring necessities of the beginning of the year. “Thanks,” she giggled. I soon discovered she was always giggling.
Those eyes. Bright and engaging, focused on whomever she was speaking to, willingly giving all of her attention. They might not have always been trained on the day’s history lesson, scrawled out on the whiteboard in colorful dry-erase markers, but that’s because their attention required a bit more excitement. With eyes that electric, they deserved to be attracted to shinier things. They sparkled when she talked and their brilliance grew in proportion to her engagement. They added to her expressive nature. She was a master of funny faces, and her eyes contributed to the humorous contortions of her countenance. She even smiled with her eyes. I know that sounds kind of funny, but it’s true. I’ve never met another person who fit the old adage of “the eyes are the windows of the soul” more than her. They revealed her true nature—sweet and disarming, gentle and kind.
That laugh. Everything was funny and every dark cloud had a silver lining in her world. Her laugh didn’t discriminate; I don’t think she ever met a joke she didn’t like. Who wouldn’t want to be friends with someone who gave so freely of her happiness? It was infectious and disarming, and it drew people in. A laugh is a powerful tool for a teenage girl to wield, especially when faced with new surroundings and judgmental peers. She used hers to break down walls and build up friendships. It didn’t take long for this stranger to become a member of the Bucktown family. By the second week of school, it was as if she’d always been here.
That spirit. Without any fear, she jumped into the social structure of our high school with both feet. She became a leader of her class and a staple at every sporting event. She earned that front row spot in The Herd and cheered for the Bucks with the lungpower of a lifelong resident. Want to know just how much of a Buck she became? Just look at the picture of our cheering section for the Battle of the Fans competition in 2015. There she is, front row center, arms spread wide as if she were channeling all of the energy and excitement of the moment. I love that picture. It is so symbolic of how she approached life—embracing every moment and taking nothing for granted.
Those friends. She didn’t come to this new school alone. She brought Morgan. And it didn’t take long to figure out these two were members of a close-knit tribe of girls who were more like sisters than friends. It didn’t matter that the tribe was now split between two rival schools, they spent their nights and weekends and summers together and couldn’t be divided by something as silly as a zip code. I became a bit closer to her after we discovered a common connection: my little cousin Bethany. These three, along with MaKenna and Bre and the rest of their crew, were inseparable and I loved seeing pictures of all of them together on Facebook. My favorites were always the funny ones of them with their arms around each other with captions like, “My Valentines!” or “Partners in Crime.” Their bond was undeniable and their friendships nothing short of eternal.
That family. It didn’t take long for me to realize that she was part of a large and loving family. She gushed about her sisters and fawned over her brothers. She loved and respected her parents deeply and her reverence for them was unmistakable. We shared countless conversations about her little brother and how much of an inspiration he was for her own life. I never met her mother and father, but I’m confident that they are incredible—they would have to be in order to raise such an amazing young woman.
Her faith. A post on her Facebook feed from February 28th reveals a stunning picture of the girl I’ve described along with the caption, “When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. -Isaiah 43:2.” That was Angela—always faithful, always comforting, always a friend. She wore her faith as a badge of honor and it is this faith that will carry those she left behind when she earned her angel wings this past Friday. It was much too soon; a kid like her deserved more than 19 trips around the sun. It isn’t fair. And it is almost too painful to bear, especially for those closest to her. But she probably wouldn’t want us to dwell on that. I bet she would want us to remember the warmth of her hug and the kindness of her heart. She would urge us to recall the depth of her soul and the courage of her convictions. She would caution us from feeling any guilt or asking any what-ifs. Instead she would tell us to think about the sleepovers and the bonfires, the quiet conversations and the joyous celebrations.
I wasn’t planning on writing this. For the first couple of days after I heard the news, my heart was broken for her family and friends and I was angry with a God that would take such a bright star away from all of us too soon. I was worried that any attempts to describe this incredible young woman, my former student and my friend, would fall too short and feel too shallow. I wasn’t confident that my words could capture the enormity of her presence and the weight of her absence. But I just couldn’t shake her presence on my heart. She showed up in my dreams, and I thought of her as I brushed my daughter’s long auburn hair. My newsfeed was full of pictures of her captivating smile and her effervescent eyes. It was as if her spirit was saying, “Just give it a shot.” So here is my attempt, Angela Danielle Briand, to tell you what you meant to all of us. You never shied from sharing your feelings for others and you never hastened to tell those around you just how much you loved them. It’s important for me to tell you this, because I know you are listening—the feeling was mutual, kid.