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Provided by Amy Choate-Nielsen
Amy Choate-Nielsen and her friend Tanya Maeser traveled around Southeast Asia for some time during their friendship. In Thailand, they held a boa constrictor. Tanya recently passed away after a valiant battle against leukemia.

The words are hard to find.

I have been thinking about my friend day and night for weeks, remembering the strangest details of the things she said and the places we went. I even remembered that time in Taiwan when we were waiting for a bus to drive us home. It was late and the air was dripping with humidity when a giant green insect landed on my shoulder. It was so scary and funny, we laughed until we cried, but still, she didn’t dare swat it away — after all, we were the ones encroaching on its domain.

I have so many memories, so many emotions, and yet, I have no words. I am staring at her obituary online, wanting to write my condolences on the tribute wall like the funeral home asks, but I am utterly, frustratingly, devastatingly, speechless. My dear friend, Tanya Maeser, with the bright, fiery red hair and the ethereal blue eyes, is gone.

When I first met Tanya, she wore her hair wrapped up in a silk scarf, in such a way that her curls burst out in every direction from her head. It was artistic and carefree, and such an honest expression of her personality. I was instantly impressed. We struck up a conversation about the beauty of the desert, and the fact that her name was pronounced TAN-ya, not tawn-ya, and from then on, we were friends.

Tanya was a woman who could dance to the beat of her own drum, and it was different from any other rhythm I’d ever heard. She had a pair of black canvas shoes she loved so much she held them together with safety pins, and one day when I laughed at how unreasonable it was to wear them in the winter snow, she looked at me and raised her eyebrows in surprise. She loved those shoes, so why should she wear anything different?

She had worked as a youth counselor on a survival program in the desert, making fire from sticks and flint, relying on scarce water and scant supplies, and it put things into perspective for her. She spent much of the time I knew her tied only to the essentials, although she did splurge for organic groceries, holistic medicine and, occasionally, her favorite anti-aging eye cream. Little did I know that Tanya would battle leukemia, be saved by a bone marrow transplant, go into remission for four years, and then lose her second round to that same disease before she had really done enough aging to be worried about it.

When we were roommates, Tanya took that scarf she wore the first time I met her, and she tied it around her “naked lady” lamp to cover up the feminine anatomy displayed on a sculpture of a dancing woman that held up her lightbulb. She thought it was tasteful and respectful to cover the woman, and it was. It was also funny, and such a perfect representation of her personal flare. She was different, beautiful and witty, sensitive yet untethered to popular opinion.

Later, when she lost her hair, I saw her tie that same, flowery scarf around her head again while she waited for her curls to come back. She knew they would, that first time. She knew she was going to live even though her chances were slim.

The second time was different.

Tanya saw shades of energy and life that exist between the layers of our tangible world. She had immense faith and a spirituality that made me believe there were angels around her all the time, not just when she was sick. She taught me about dreams and visions, and that there is so much more to our existence than our tiny glimpse of finite matter. She once wrote a blog post about Isaiah 61:3, about the “trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord,” and she said, “I want to be that tree.”

For me, she was. I loved her like a sister, and now she is gone.

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In the wake of her death, I find myself tearing up at times, sometimes sobbing and sometimes numb. I have a hard time concentrating. I have a hard time finding words. Sometimes, it is as though nothing has changed, and I think she is still here, and then I have a passing memory of her, and I mourn her loss. I mourn for her husband and son, for her family who loved her so dearly, for all the people she touched in her life.

A few days before she died, she told me she was ready to go. “I’m so excited, Amy,” she said in a text message. “So excited.” Those words were a gift. In my sadness, and the sadness I know is shared by many, I know she is happy.

I know she is free.

And my memory of her lives on.