Brenda Marie Holzer has a beautiful family — a husband she’s been married to almost 31 years and two sons and a daughter, all young adults. As a paraprofessional with the school district in Yorkville, Illinois, she’s worked with disabled children, sharing her huge heart with youngsters who need extra love, care and guidance each day. She cherishes traveling, cooking, shopping, gardening, decorating, animals, and all things nature.
I’ve never met or spoken to Brenda. Ever so sadly, I only know all these memorable qualities about her from her obituary. Eight months short of her 55th birthday, she died March 23 in a tragic accident in New Mexico.
I wrote recently about a driving trip I’d made to Santa Fe for a celebration of life for my longtime friend and former newspaper colleague Jon Ehret, who died of a heart attack last August — also much too young at age 55. During my short trip, I spent a few hours hiking that Sunday at Bandelier National Monument, a breathtaking national park about 40 miles northwest of Santa Fe. It’s named for Swiss-born archaeologist Adolph Bandelier, who studied indigenous cultures of the American Southwest, Mexico and South America.
One of the majestic sights I took in at Bandelier was the Alcove House, a cliffside dwelling occupied hundreds of years ago by Ancestral Pueblo people. To reach the site, which I did after sitting and thinking about it for a spell, tourists must climb four wooden ladders and stone stairs to reach the cave, 140 feet above Frijoles Canyon.
I would learn four days later from a dear friend whom I spent time with during the trip that less than 24 hours earlier, a tourist was killed climbing to the Alcove House. She had fallen 25 feet after being struck by a falling rock on the second ladder, which I recall being the longest of the four.
Immediately, I began searching online for stories and early details about the accident. As the climber was being rescued and lowered to the ground, her pulse was lost and rescue crews could not revive her.
As sadness set in, the chilling realization also took hold that I had cautiously made the same climb 72 hours before she did, stepping on the same rungs and holding on to the same rails, with not a single thought to the possibility that a rock might break loose from above and come crashing down on me. After I left Santa Fe (the morning after my Bandelier outing), the area received two dumps of snow over the next two days, but who knows if that was a factor?
Forty-eight hours after the accident, as news stories identified the victim as 54-year-old Brenda Holzer of Yorkville, I began to wonder who this poor soul was and who was left to mourn her devastatingly unexpected death.
I felt a connection to her because we’d been right there, walking along that scenic trail and taking in the historic grandeur of Bandelier just days apart. I wondered which of her loved ones were with her when she died, and I’ve been heartsick at the thought of what they went through watching this tragedy unfold.
Days after Brenda’s April 1 funeral Mass in Yorkville, I found and read her online obituary. Tearfully, I watched the video tribute that lasted over 26 minutes, overflowing with photos of her wonderful life, her family, friends, childhood and so much of the love and joy she’d experienced and shared. Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” and Lonestar’s “Baby I’m Amazed by You” added to the tears.
This excerpt from Brenda’s obituary sounds like the kind of person we’d all treasure having as a friend, doesn’t it?
“Everyone who met her was instantly captivated by her charming personality and ability to make everyone feel loved.”
I’m so sorry this happened to you and your family, Brenda. And I’m grateful to know you made such a difference in the lives of so many. God bless you, your husband Mike, your daughter Melanie, and your sons Nicholas and Jacob always.