Yesterday morning found the two of us at our friend Evangelyna's funeral.
Vangie died on September 11 after a two-year battle with cancer, just a few days after her 21st birthday.
Such things ought not to be.
We will always remember her vivaciousness, her fun-loving spirit, and her beautiful voice.
Over the past three years, Vangie often joined us at our house for get-togethers and special occasions, from casual cookouts to Easter dinners to Christmas cookie-decorating parties.
She loved cooking and baking, and sometimes shared her recipes with me. She would create stunningly frosted Christmas cookies that could have rivaled those at any bakery, putting the rest of our creations to shame. And as I recall, she joined in my annual Easter egg hunt with great enthusiasm.
While she had many interests and gifts, most of all, Vangie loved to sing. Nathan knew her better than I did through his work at Gordon College, where she was a student. They shared an inclination towards busting out gospel music at pretty much any time they felt like it, which was quite frequently.
Shortly after Vangie died, Nathan and I sat on the couch together and he told me one of many things he appreciated about the kind of person she was.
You just couldn't stop Vangie from singing. She might have a cold, or her voice teacher might tell her to take a few days 'vocal rest' to prepare for a performance, but nonetheless, if there was music to be sung, Vangie wanted to sing it. If Nathan asked her to come sing at the church where he worked for the past five years, she was there, every time. Classical, gospel, choral, solo... no matter the genre, she'd sing it, and she'd sing it so well. If she ran into Nathan in the hallways at school, they'd probably burst into song together, whether it was him on the keys while she sang some gospel song they both loved, or the two of them singing silly McDonald's commercial jingles together and dissolving into laughter.
During Lent one year, Vangie and I did Bach's Erbarme Dich from the St. Matthew Passion in church together, with Nathan on organ. She was fantastic, and I'm glad I have a recording to remember that Sunday morning by.
Last December, Nathan accompanied a Christmas concert that included a solo (O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen) sung by Vangie. I've watched this video several times in the past two weeks, and it was showed it at her funeral, as well.
I suppose it was fitting that, after collaborating with Vangie in so many ways, both formal and informal, Nathan had offered to be involved with the music for her funeral in any way that might be helpful. He accompanied two choirs and played two hymns, including a spine-tingling rendition of For All The Saints. As a recessional, he played an instrumental version of the gospel song Total Praise with a few other musicians (a song he had done with Vangie and her sisters in church last summer). The diverse styles he played, from classical choral accompaniments to hymns to gospel, reflected Vangie's diverse love of music, and I think she would have been proud. I sure was - proud to see my guy celebrating Vangie and giving glory to God for her life in the best way he knows how, through music.
Evangelyna Etienne. She sang lead roles in musicals at Gordon, she sang in Boston with the Handel and Haydn Society, she sang in New York City with Eric Whitacre, and sometimes, she sang in our living room with informal gatherings of friends.
If there's a heavenly chorus, and I believe there is, I know she's in it now.