I am grieving today! A beautiful soul has left us and I am finding it difficult to convey how horrible that feels for me. There is an irony in the situation because I knew of the person for whom I cry for many years but I did not really know her until quite recently. Bren Ortega Murphy was one grade behind me in school from the time that we were both quite young. If my parents had not insisted on placing me in the first grade when I was only five years old Bren and I would have been classmates and in all probability the best of friends for a lifetime. Instead it took Facebook and national events for us to realize how kindred our spirits truly were.
Bren was an amazing individual from the time I first really noticed her when we were both in high school. She seemed capable of doing virtually anything with a kind of excellence that few ever achieve. Even selling World’s Finest Chocolate was a skill that she mastered so well that she won kudos for the number of bars that she sold one by one with her warm smile and charismatic charm. Her brilliance really shone through in her participation in speech and debate where she became an outstanding member of our high school forensic team. She brought home medals and trophies with her seemingly natural ability to mesmerize an audience whether reciting poetry or arguing a point in debate.
When I was a senior in high school and Bren was a junior we formed a slate of candidates for school wide offices. I ran for secretary of the student body and she ran for treasurer. Our campaign materials included a photograph of the two of us along with the two young men who represented our party as president and vice president. None of us won but I still remember how cool and calm Bren was in delivering her speech to the entire school. If the vote had been based on her speaking ability and confidence she most surely would have been a victor.
I left high school and rarely looked back. A lifetime of living filled my days and weeks and months and years as happened with Bren as well. She went on to earn a doctorate and become a tenured professor at Loyola University in Chicago. There she built a resume of achievement that was stunning. More significantly she earned a reputation of kindness, wisdom, profound compassion. She left her mark on papers, books, films and hundreds of students and colleagues who felt that she had changed their lives for the better. She also created a family that loved as deeply as she loved them. She spread happiness and understanding wherever she went.
Retirement and Facebook and the pandemic happened for both of us and suddenly Bren and I realized how alike we were. We shared stories and talked on the phone. She invited me to come stay with her anytime that I wanted to visit Chicago. We mailed each other cards and messages. She even sent me a special stamp that she said reminded her of me. I felt the rush of excitement that comes from realizing that I had truly found someone who totally understood me. In fact we were in such sync with each other that we might have been sisters and it was beautiful. I imagined our relationship growing deeper and deeper for many years into the future.
Bren supported me as I became more and more willing to take a public stance on political ideas. She helped me to challenge injustices and encouraged me to be myself when stating my beliefs. She made it easier to find a strength that I didn’t even know that I had. I excitedly told everyone about this wondrous person who had become my friend. I felt so comfortable with her while also being in awe of her goodness, her intellect, her accomplishments. It felt like an honor just to talk with her even has she treated me as though she was the lucky one.
Bren fell last Friday and died from her injuries. I still find it difficult to think of a world without her. She was important to so many people. She was a whirlwind of energy with a boundless supply of love and encouragement for everyone she encountered. She seemed to literally adore all of the people in her sphere of influence but most especially her family. She liked to decorate her home with a whimsical touch and make even the most casual gathering a special occasion. She proudly posted joyful messages about her children and made it clear that life with her husband had been a profound romance.
Bren was a deeply spiritual person with a Christian spirit that embraced the message of Jesus without reservation. Her heart was pure and open to everyone. After the death of George Floyd she and I discussed injustice, inequality and issues that affect far too many people on this earth. She guided me to books and articles that enlightened and supported my own views. She was indeed the quintessential friend, teacher, mother, wife, follower of Christ.
I feel a void that will not be easily filled. I had hoped to one day visit with Bren in Chicago. i wanted to continue our talks. I wanted to know more about her. I wanted to tell her how much she had impacted my life. She was so vibrant that I thought we had more time. I never expected to lose her so soon.
Bren is with the angels now. She has always been one of them in so many ways. Heaven rejoiced in her arrival because she lived on earth as a saintly person while still being delightfully human. She squeezed every second out of the time that she was here with us and gave us an example of how we all should live and love. May she now rest in peace and hopefully know how magnificently she changed the world into a better version of itself. Those of us fortunate enough to spend time with Bren Ortega Murphy will be eternally grateful for that opportunity. She showed us all what true love is like and how to live a purposeful and happy life.