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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

By Jessica James read at the funeral
I met Nicole in 6th grade but it wasn’t until the summer before freshman year when the four of us were brought together. I remember the first time we hung out at Lakeforest Mall. I’m almost positive that we spent hours at American Eagle, Nicole’s signature clothing brand. Afterwards we went back to my house and played the board game Cranium. That game became an instant classic with us and will forever remind me of the outrageously fun times we shared together. There was an instant connection and chemistry that you only find once in a lifetime or not at all. It was then that four brunettes Nicole, Maddie, Michelle, and I formed the “Bru Crew.” We immediately established traditions like exchanging Secret Santa gifts at the Cheesecake Factory, having rendezvous in her bed or hot tub, exchanging our special traveling purse over the summer, buying matching souvenirs whenever each of us made a trip, and of course playing Cranium as much as possible. Throughout high school our bond held me together. I was so awkward but I think that’s a quality that drew Nicole and I to each other in the first place. With her I felt safe and secure at a time when I could have easily lost myself in the pressures of being a freshman at Magruder.

      Being with Nicole meant never having to worry about wearing makeup or the right clothes. It meant that at any time you should be prepared to laugh uncontrollably. It meant you could openly talk about your obsession with The Lord of the Rings and Viggo Mortensen, or in Michelle’s case Orlando Bloom. It meant that you could expect to have your butt kicked in Star Wars Trivia. It meant on the weekends you were always going to meet someone new that she was friends with through the dozens of activities and organizations she was involved with. It meant that if you were having a bad day you could call and vent or just hang out in her cluttered and disorganized room for a few hours. It meant that you always had to be prepared to challenge yourself intellectually. But most importantly it meant that you were loved and appreciated for exactly who you are.

      It’s tragic that so many people will be deprived of meeting Nicole and being touched by her radiant personality. So many men have yet to fall in love with her wacky sense of humor. So many people have yet to learn how to do the Rubik’s Cube or hear the trumpeting of her blowing her nose. I knew we were close as soon as she taught me how to inject her with her EpiPen in case a bee stung her.

      One night last semester I was an emotional wreck and decided to call her. College was like starting high school all over again, except this time I didn’t have her to make me feel safe and to keep me from losing myself in the pressures of starting a new life on my own. I needed so badly for someone to be there for me; and she was there – exactly as wacky and adventurous as I left her. She asked me if I wanted to work at Disney World with her over the summer as one of the people who wears the characters’ costumes and take pictures with kids. I thought she was joking and declined, but looking back I should have realized she was being serious. I would give anything right now to spend a summer in Florida with her, even if it means that I would have to be dressed as Goofy the whole time. I’m sure she never forgave me for brushing off so many of her half-baked ideas. That’s ok because I will never forgive her for stranding me and Danielle at the top of a difficult ski trail the first and last time I went skiing, for harassing me on the phone whenever I skipped school, for giving me hot pockets and ice cream every time I came over, and for leaving so suddenly and without saying goodbye.

      Just before we all left for college, the four of us piled into Nicole’s bed and talked about our big plans. Nicole’s plans weren’t just big – they were enormous. We had these visions of how all of our lives would end up. We’d meet occasionally for lunch or for drinks after we landed our high-powered jobs. She told me that under no circumstances was I allowed to get a dog because her allergies would prevent her from visiting me. There was never any doubt in my mind that Nicole could accomplish anything and everything she put her mind to. It was that night that I told my three best friends that who I am today is a direct result of our friendship. We knew that no matter what happened or how much we drifted apart we’d always be best friends, the “Bru Crew,” the Sisterhood of the Traveling Purse, and of course Fristers. Nicole, I love you so much.

7:48 pm edt 

By Jennifer Pearce (Nicole's Big Sister) read at the funeral
Hello, my name is Jennifer Pearce, and I am Nicole's oldest big sister.  This is her other big sister Sandy Myers.  On behalf of her mother, father, big brother Chris, Sandy and I , and all of her extended family let me thank you for coming and being a part of Nicki's life. 
Usually you hear about how little sisters look up to their big sisters.  There are 16 years separating Nicole and I and I have to say that in our case even with the age gap it was the other way around.  Even this week after her accident I have found more and more reason to love and respect about her.  I could write and write about her and never feel like I told you everything I need to say to honor her appropriately and in the way she so deserved.  So I hope to share a few things I learned by being Nicole's big sister.
Lesson 1 - Have unconditional love
I can't remember a time when Nicki has ever said a bad word about anyone.  She never used other people's flaws to describe, categorize, or judge them.  She was able to bond with many types of people because she always looked for good in them as individuals.  I have heard from her friends from high school that she didn't belong to one click she belonged to them all.  In such a large family as ours there are many different personalities.  Nicki seem to be special to everyone because she always showed she cared and accepted us for who we are.
Lesson 2 – Let your guard down
This is one of Nicki's best qualities.  There was nothing jaded about her.  She was open and available to everyone she ever met.  She put herself out there freely and reaped the benefits of so many deep relationship (even those that were relatively new) for it.  She was such a happy girl, and I believe that was because she was able to give and receive love without hesitation or reservation.  She embraced all those that crossed her path.
Lesson 3 – Build your character everyday
Nicki was the most honest person I have ever met.  In 18 years as her sister I can't remember ever catching her lying to me.  I didn't even realize I felt this way until she had passed away but she was the person in life I trusted the most.  She may not have shared everything with me but I knew if she said something there was nothing but truth to it.  Nicki made her own way in this world.  She made her own decisions and she never felt the need to apologize for them.  Some of the decisions she made were not the most popular decisions for her peer group, but she stuck to her guns and lived a life where she was always true to herself.  Her character was always strong, her fortitude was deep, and she was consistent in all of her relationships. 
Lesson 4 - Stay modest
Being the baby of our family Nicki was showed with love.  I am sure she was told almost everyday of her life that she was beautiful, intelligent, and worthy of love and attention.  The fact that so many of you are here tells me she probably heard it outside our home often as well.  Nobody had to tell you she was a wonderful and successful child you just felt it being in her presence.  She never was vain or boastful.  She never led conversations with her accomplishments.  She wasn't needy or didn't take advantage of the fact that we would have done anything for her.  Instead Nicki used all of that love and praise to have the confidence to go out into the world and pass it on.  She spread her kindness and compassion whereever she could. 
Lesson 5 – Smile and Play
My family has spent hours and hours pouring over our pictures and videos and those sent to us by so many of you.  In every picture almost, a light shines through Nicki's eyes because her smile lit up her face.  Over and over again I have heard about that smile this week.  It was infectious.  By sharing it with everyone she met she was able to just make the world around a better place.  Nicki's sense of play was on of the things I loved about her the most.  In the pictures where there wasn't a beautiful smile there was some ridiculous face she made.  I am profoundly saddened that the world has lost someone so willing and open to making fun of herself and situations to entertain others.  Nicki's was just goofy, and I know that side of her is something that I will miss forever.  She brightened almost every moment I ever had with her. 
Lesson 6 – Live Life Like You Only Have One Every Single Day
One of the most comforting things for me this week was a quote on a memorial board at Virginia Tech.  It read: A short life is not an incomplete one.  This brings me so much comfort in these tragic days because I know Nicki lived such a full and active 18 years.  Nicki moved at the speed of light from one activity to another.  She was exceptional academically, competitive athletically, and an active volunteer, a tutor, the editor of her school paper, she took pictures and videos to archive her high school class history,  she had a part time job, and still found time to make her family and friends believe they were the most important thing on her calendar.  Nicki knew how to explore her passions.  If she thought she would enjoy something she went out and did it with no hesitation.  If she found herself bored she came up with ways to enhance every moment she had.  At such a short time at Virginia Tech she was already planning and organizing and somewhat trying be social director for her group of friends.  Although we can all focus on the things that she will never get to do I hope that you will take her spirit in your heart today and let her drive you to live your life with the energy, enthusiasm, and passion she had everyday she was with us.  Remember all the things she did do in her life.
I will strive to take each of these and many other lessons that Nicole taught me and honor her by living a life that is fuller and better than my own capabilities because she will be in my heart and helping me along.
I will spend all of the rest of my days trying not to mourn my loss but remembering the gift that was given to me for 18 years.
I will miss you little sister and I love you more than you ever knew. 
7:39 pm edt 

The Dash read by Jessica James at the funeral

The Dash by Linda Ellis


I read of a man who stood to speak

At the funeral of a friend

He referred to the dates on her tombstone

From the beginning…to the end.


He noted that first came her date of birth

And spoke the following date with tears,

But he said what mattered most of all

Was the dash between those years.


For that dash represents all the time

That she spent alive on earth… 

And now only those who loved her

Know what that little line is worth.


For it matters not, how much we own;

The cars…the house…the cash,

What matters is how we live and love

And how we spend our dash.


So think about this long and hard…

Are there things you’d like to change?

For you never know how much time is left,

That can still be rearranged.


If we could just slow down enough

To consider what’s true and real,

And always try to understand

The way other people feel.


And be less quick to anger,

And show appreciation more

And love the people in our lives

Like we’ve never loved before.


If we treat each other with respect,

And more often wear a smile.

Remembering that this special dash

Might only last a little while.


So, when your eulogy’s being read

With your life’s actions to rehash…

Would you be proud of the things they say

About how you spent your dash?

7:23 pm edt 

Editor's Notebook by Brian Karem

About Marilyn and Nicole

By Brian J. Karem

If religion is the opiate of the masses, as it has been said, then here in the wonderful United States we're all numbed addicts.

I say this after attending a viewing for Marilyn Praisner and a viewing and funeral this week for Nicole Lee, the young local woman who was killed in an automobile accident while returning to Virginia Tech from a ski trip in West Virginia.

I heard similar comments at both viewings this week.

"How could God let such a bad thing like this happen to such a good person?"

Father Lee Fangmeyer at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Derwood took that sentiment on in his eulogy for Lee and for once a member of the clergy didn't let me down.

He said, in point of fact that God had nothing to do with Nicole's death. Thank you Father Lee for keeping it real.

God had nothing to do with Mrs. Praisner's death either.

The fact is Mrs. Praisner died because of a heart problem and Nicole died because she was in a car accident. Wondering why they passed seems to be to diminish the celebration of their life.

Some of the not-so-Christian views expressed by so-called Christians in the wake of both deaths puts a chill into me and makes me wonder if we could do with a little less religion and a little more true Christian feeling.

"If this is God's plan, then I don't believe in God," one person angrily said during Nicole's services.

I know these sentiments came from pain, but I think they also cause pain.

Let's be honest, it's hard to fathom what a 66-year-old accomplished politician and public figure had in common with a relatively unknown but very spunky and bright college freshman, but you'd be surprised.

At the very least they both had a lot of people who loved and cared for them who are angry and sad at their passing.

I am too. Marilyn Praisner was always a joy to speak with on the telephone, always took as much time as I needed to explain the most arcane elements of county policy and genuinely took pleasure in helping other people.

I once told her of a cousin of mine who said, "Success isn't measured by how much wealth you have, but by how much you help other people."

In that respect Marilyn Praisner was probably one of the most successful people I've ever run across.

But, then again, so was Nicole Lee.

This young woman was helpful to everyone who knew her. She was a great source of inspiration and help to all her friends - as they said at her funeral. She seemed a boundless source of energy who said of herself, that she had found her "inner nerd" in college while studying math.

Who knows what great things Nicole Lee might have accomplished in her life?

I think she would've done her parents, friends and neighbors more than proud, and as I watched the dignitaries file into the viewing for Marilyn Praisner, I couldn't help but think that too could've been for Nicole.

She had that potential.

Marilyn Praisner reached it.

The shame of course is that we'll never know what Nicole could've done.

It made me appreciate Marilyn's accomplishments that much more this week as everyone around the county weighed-in on her career.

But it also made me sad thinking of what we had lost at such an early age.

Even with those thoughts, though, I can't go down the dark alley some of us seem to want to visit.

Questioning God over a traffic accident or heart failure is the height of hubris, folly and stupidity. The temerity of such actions is astonishing, laughable and sad.

The events that unfolded which led to the deaths of both women can be questioned by the rest of us, but never fully understood.

Ascribing their fate to an act of God shows just how little we know of God.

So, fewer opiates please, and a bit more reality if we dare. Goodbye Nicole. Goobye Marilyn. We'll miss you both.

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The Montgomery County Sentinel, published weekly by Montgomery Sentinel Publishing, Inc., is a community newspaper covering Montgomery County, Maryland. Founded in 1855.

The Prince George's Sentinel, published weekly by Berlyn Inc., is a community newspaper covering Prince George's County, Maryland.

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7:18 pm edt 

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Music - Time and Time Again by The Counting Crows