Remembering Sandra ~ 3/22/72-3/10/06

Jordan, Nathaniel, Noelani & Danielle at Danielle's 5th Birthday party. She looks more like her mother every day.

Sandra & Danielle (2005)

It was three years ago today. I still remember every detail of what I was doing when I got the news. I had just come out of the Lincoln Theatre after watching one of my good friends in a play. I was slightly annoyed because my eldest niece had called several times during the play, but there was no reception. I couldn't imagine what couldn't wait until after the play! I stepped out of the building and onto the DC streets so full of life and activity. It seemed everyone was out enjoying the warm spring day in one way or another.
Amid the noise of the city, I walked back toward my car and finally called my niece back totally unprepared for what she would say. The moment I heard her shaky voice on the other end of the phone line any residual annoyance vanished. In the next few moments she proceeded to tell me that my youngest sister had been in a car accident; a fatal car accident... I felt like I was underwater. All the sights and sounds that had been so vibrant and clear only moments before became a muffled blur. The friend that had come with me sensed immediately that something was wrong and she began to pray.

The ride home was also a blur. I don't really remember driving per say. I do remember turning on the worship CD that my church had done and playing it all the way home. If ever I needed to connect with God, now was the time! It was those words that held me together and got me home. I can hear Minister Amma's voice assuring me, "Emmanuel, Emmanuel, Emmanuel God is with us!" I made it home and joined my family to endure what would be the hardest 30 days of my life. You see, Sandra's husband was badly injured in the accident so we waited until he was well enough to attend the funeral. That was such a hard time. It seemed as though we were in limbo that whole time: still working, and going through the motions of life but unable to really move forward, like moving through jello...
It's hard to believe it has been three years. What's more it's hard to believe that Sandra is no longer with us. I still expect her to call or walk through the door sometimes. Her presence left a great void. Anyone who ever met her knows what I mean and for those of you who never had the pleasure, allow me to introduce you.
Her full name was Sandra Laurina Pinto Urbano Strong and she was born in Angola, Africa on March 22, 1972. She was the eldest daughter of my mom's only brother. I call her sister because in Angolan tradition, your first cousins are considered brothers and sisters and your parents' siblings are also your parents. Confusing to the American mind I know, but our society is very familial. In fact my parents' native languages don't really have terms for "extended" family - it's all just family! I also call her sister because in 1984 she leapt out of the letters and photographs we received over the years and actually came to live with us. From that point on... she was my sister in every sense of the word.
Sandra was special. She had this way of making everyone around her feel like they were the most important person in her world. She was that someone that everyone wanted as a friend. She had a million watt smile that lit up any room she was in. She had the weirdest sense of humor and this funny little dance that always made me laugh. She had an upbeat attitude even in less that ideal circumstances.
Oh and she was so easy to fool! We got her all the time with our jokes! Don't feel too bad for her because she got us every now and then too! I remember the first time we went shopping and she bought these heinous royal purple legwarmers a-la Flashdance!! I remember her first purchase with her babysitting money - a pair of white jeans that she kept throughout the years to remind her of her beginnings. I remember how LONG it used to take her to get ready for anything. We had to tell her an hour early so she'd be thirty minutes late! I remember staying up laughing and talking until we were delirious and still having to go to school/work the next day! Yeah, I remember...
The single thing that I remember most about Sandra was her ability to find and draw out beauty in people most of us would overlook. She was always drawn to the "least of these." She knew their names and their stories. People from all walks of life, all nationalities, ages, races, creeds and colors. I see now that she had to make all these connections with all sorts of people because her time on earth was to be so short. Looking back over conversations we had and comments she made from time to time, I believe she always knew she wouldn't be here long.
Although my heart is a bit heavy today, I am not mourning like those who don't have hope. Sandra had a strong relationship with Jesus Christ and I know she's with Him now. I know we'll see one another again. I just miss having her here. Still I am planning to enjoy this day. I expect it to be a good one and I plan to savor each moment. It's what Sandra would have wanted. She wasn't one for a lot of sadness or gloom and doom in her presence anyway, and even if you started out that way, it never lasted long around her. That was the essence of Sandra. Sure there was a lot more to her, but this was her essence; this is the legacy she leaves behind. I am thankful for the time I had with her. I'm thankful for the life she lived and that she got to experience so many wonderful things - true love, marriage, motherhood, and realizing her dream of becoming a nurse - the perfect profession for her.
Sandra, I hear you in every laugh. I see you in the faces of the people I walk by. I see you in Danielle's face more and more each time I see her. So baby sister, you are with me, in my heart, today and always.