Our beloved daughter Annie died of natural causes in 2020. She was only 41.
Nothing could have prepared us for her sudden death that June morning. In an instant our world fell apart.
Later that day we found a small notebook on her desk with a single entry:
“Don’t just live the length of life. Live the breadth of it as well.”
Since Annie died, these words have inspired not only those who knew and loved her, but also people who never met her but have heard her story.
Love and compassion
Annie packed more into her life than most people who live twice as long: she was a teacher; scripture scholar; evangelist; Samaritan; volunteer in an orphanage in Kenya; loving daughter, sister, twin; loyal friend; fun aunt, the list goes on. Her final role was with Church Army.
She had an extraordinary love and compassion for all people: friends, family and strangers alike. She saw this as the natural response to her love for God and God’s love for her. She cheerfully devoted her free time to street evangelising in Sheffield city centre, chatting to people about her faith, sharing stories, offering friendship and a listening ear, always with a warm smile. She had a special gift for looking out for those on the “outside” and making them feel valued and welcome.
It goes against the natural order for children die before parents. How do you come to terms with such a devastating loss? Without faith it would be impossible to make sense of it. But we know death is not the end.
Some years back friends lost their daughter due to a degenerative illness. I remember them saying:
“She was given to us by God and now we give her back to God.”
This made a deep impression at the time and now I begin to understand. Their focus was not on mourning a life cut short, but on cherishing the happy times they had enjoyed as a family.
And in the joy she’s left behind, Annie is still with us. Her warmth and kindness is still in our hearts.
We spent time as a family deciding how best to continue Annie’s legacy. We wanted to channel our loss into an opportunity to journey forward with hope.
My husband has taken her place as a trustee for the orphanage in Kenya. We have teamed with Church Army to expand a programme to train lay evangelists which Annie had piloted. Plus, we are collaborating with The Archer Project in Sheffield Cathedral to set up a peer-led mentoring scheme to help homeless people make a fresh start.
Annie was part of a volunteer outreach team who place tiny knitted Christmas angels in and around Sheffield with a tag saying:
“You are not alone. God came because he loves you. Take this home as a reminder.”
For the past two years friends and parishioners have knitted 500 angels in Annie’s memory to add to the Sheffield total. This has given a lot of joy for those who were knitting, many of whom were elderly and living alone. It was a wonderful focus in those lonely days of enforced isolation.
A woman who found one of the angels placed it next to a photo of her daughter who had also died suddenly. She told us of the comfort it brought her.
Ripples of love and hope
Already we have seen so many ripples as Annie continues to spread her message of love and hope. A close friend has applied to become a Samaritan; another has shared Annie’s story at two church services; another is starting a weekly ‘coffee and chat’ in her parish to bring lonely people together.
One of Annie’s former teachers told us:
“How wonderful that someone like Annie actually existed. Her whole, beautiful life is, for me, a proof that God exists. I am filled with awe, joy and sadness.”
Annie was inspired by Helen Keller and in one of her blog articles quoted her:
“Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing at all.”
So this is title of the book I compiled as a tribute to our darling daughter: a daring adventurer who lived the breadth of life to the full.
For a copy of A Daring Adventure please send your full postal address to: email@example.com. There is no charge but you can support Church Army who have published the book. There is a slip inside the book with details of how to donate.
Anne O’Connor is a member of the National Justice and Peace Network (NJPN) Media Team. She has been actively involved in Justice and Peace in the North West of England since 1985.