Mandy will always be 30. She will always be beautiful. She will always be young.
Mainly, that's because we lost her before age could steal her skin, before she could see 45 candles on a cake. Cancer stole her hair, stole her breasts, stole her from us. But she will always be 30.
In just 30 short years, Mandy truly lived.
She made lifelong friends as soon as she knew they found out in grade school that they shared a birthday. She didn't care if she was the fastest or the loudest, she cheered her heart out at every football game and ran her hardest at every track meet (even when it ended 2 meters early -- 198 meter champion, we would say for a decade).
She had secret make-out sessions in high school and carried torches into college and beyond, even if they were mostly in fun. She drug me to "formal" parties in the lax team's basement where we danced all night. She fell in love twice, hard. She made new lifelong friends. She argued with the waiter at Le Bec Fin about a menu item, using The Little Mermaid songs -- fully sung with fervor -- to make her point.
She splurged and spoiled her family with trips to New York City. She traveled to Ireland and Paris alone and, yes, made new lifelong friends. She gave the best hugs, had the best laugh and knew how to live her life and make yours that much better.
There are days I cry over how much she has missed and days I feel like she was right next to me just yesterday. I know there are so many others out there who feel the same, who have a hole in their heart every day where a bit of Mandy should be.
But when I remember her, I get a tiny bit of renewal, a tiny bit more life to my day. A little light shines through that hole.
Today, so many of us will come together to celebrate Mandy's birthday, her 30th again. You'll probably be able to see her light shining through all of us. We know she'll be there, too.
We love you, Amanda Beth. You are loved. You are missed.