Morgan Meredith Rohde was born at home in Santa Ynez, California on June 6, 1981. From the first moment I saw her and held her in my arms, she brought pleasure to my life. I was smitten by her calm beauty and the light that followed wherever she was. She captured my heart within the first moments of life and never ever let it go.

Morgan (a Celtic name meaning ‘of the sea’) was our third child, a second daughter, born on a waterbed one sunny afternoon, while 5-year-old sister Skye and 3-year-old brother Ian were away at a gymnastics event. Her birth was the first of many impeccably-timed performances. Just moments after her uncle and grandmother arrived from Los Angeles, Morgan made her debut at a time the doctor was unavailable, which necessitated that our favorite midwife be present to attend the home birth. It was as if Morgan had planned things to suit her purposes and left us following in her tracks.

Adored by her brother, sister, family members and friends, Morgan assumed her role as “baby” of the family by being the perfect infant every mother dreams of, but rarely sees. She was happy, healthy, easy, charming, flexible and extremely adaptable. As a result, I took her everywhere and we became inseparable. She constantly reminded me of why I was still at home with a third child as other friends went off to work seeking lucrative careers. I remember thinking how fortunate I was to be able to spend time nurturing such a child, as if there was nothing quite so important in the entire world. She was truly a gift from God – a gift our busy and somewhat dysfunctional family desperately needed and treasured.

Morgan, as her name suggests, was a “water baby.” She spent much of her life in, on, or around the water, taking her first swim when she was only a week old. She approached water with the same enthusiasm, joy, silliness, love of life, warmth, optimism, and beauty that carried her throughout her life. She was also a “sun baby,” spending most of her time outside the house, actively enjoying the fresh air and comfort of the warm California sun with family and friends.

Morgan loved animals and was always surrounded by a menagerie of pets: large and small dogs, cats, ponies, birds and fish. Active and inquisitive, Morgan was what her sister called a “girly girl,” both a sweet-natured chatterbox and a princess from the time she began talking and those adorable blond curls came in. She was interested in and devoted to both her siblings, but she carved out a special place in her heart for her brother, Ian, who took great pleasure in protecting her from harm and tending to her needs in a thousand different ways. In the early days they were nearly inseparable. Later, after they were both grown and decided to set off in different directions, the two continued their strong friendship, and were often mistaken for twins. Morgan was never more than two steps behind her older sister. She relished the excitement surrounding her busy life, which included school, friends, and outside activities. Whether participating as a “future brownie,” playing on the swing set in the back yard or trying to fit in at her sister’s annual birthday costume party, Morgan held her own and – in the end – always won the hearts of all her sister’s friends.

After the first of many transitions, our family relocated to the Oakland Hills when Morgan was three. It was the first leg of a journey reminding us that not every life was meant to remain in the same home, in the same town, with the same people you’ve known throughout your life. Morgan was on the move.

She found a new church family at the Montclair Presbyterian Church, began school, spent much of her free time exploring the San Francisco Bay Area with family and friends, and became active in a local dance studio. Morgan always loved to dance, dress up, and perform. To find all three in one activity was wonderful.

During her elementary school years, Morgan made friends easily with children and adults of all ages. She brought a certain sparkle to any situation; she was of those 10,000-watt people who could light up any room. Her spirit was contagious. Morgan was loved by all who came under her spell. I remember watching with awe as she continued to win the hearts of friends and their families to the extent they would often refer to her as their other “daughter” or “granddaughter.” Morgan just had that way about her. Although she loved her own family, she was open to the benefits of being loved and cared for by others as well. I always saw her life as the perfect embodiment of that now-familiar phrase, “It takes an entire village to raise a child.”

Morgan’s social charm didn’t excuse her from having other challenges. She was often frightened of new things she came across for the first time. If you were with her at those times, she let you know about it. She always found comfort in snuggling with her puppy Ashley, one of our two kittens who were born on her birthday, or caring for her pet rats, Nosey and Whiskers. After experiencing a major earthquake and the terrible Oakland fires that destroyed countless homes belonging to friends, she began to worry about her own safety. She had trouble falling asleep for many nights after that, no matter how often we tried to reassure her that everything was okay.

With Morgan, there were never any filter systems to mask what she felt. If she was scared, you heard about it and had to deal with it. If she had to get a shot or have blood drawn, it usually turned into a major trauma for all involved. And yet there was this core strength to her that we always admired. Morgan never considered herself to be limited by life’s unfairness, the world’s injustice or by others’ preconceived notions of how her life should be. As a result, she enjoyed many aspects of life that others in her situation might have missed. And although she had challenges and some difficult times, she seemed to have an ability to find her own happy place in the midst of it all.

Junior High found Morgan and her brother moving to live with their father, his wife and a new baby brother in Wilton, Connecticut. There she and Ian leaned on each other as they adjusted to a new life on the opposite coast. With her new best friend Alicia at her side, she had a very present soul mate who could help her adjust to a new role of being a big sister to Carl and, later, Christian. Together, she and Alicia experienced several important lifetime and middle school firsts: snow falling from the sky, playing in a softball league, and the strange yet exciting world of boys and junior high dances. Morgan enjoyed her studies in Wilton, made new lifelong friends, and with lots of at-home practice, became a babysitter extraordinaire.

During high school, Morgan attended Wilton High School for the first two years before giving returning to Oakland, California to live with her mother in what she referred to as “the Oakland apartment on Lake Merritt.” After all, there was a second puppy to be raised and an opportunity to be an only child. After returning to California, Morgan attended Holy Names High School in Oakland. These were exciting, yet challenging years: learning to drive a stick shift, managing schoolwork and a part-time job (first working in a health-food store and later a dentist’s office catering to local sports stars), finding new friendships and her first real boyfriend, Peter.

Morgan loved introducing her east coast friends to the beauty of the San Francisco Bay Area. And she loved to travel. Once Morgan and Alicia drove from Connecticut to central Virginia to attend a family reunion at Lake Anna, where they learned to waterski and bumper tube behind her uncle Doug’s boat. One lazy summer day they really surprised everyone by conquering their fear of heights and of having their toes nibbled by hungry fish. After letting out the most blood-curdling screams you’ve ever heard, they bravely jumped off the roof of the boat house into the lake. Yes, Morgan always was a screamer! I was told that everyone on Lake Anna heard the two of them scream that day.

Just as things were going so well, on the first day of a much-anticipated spring break, Morgan was thrown into a tailspin after her boyfriend Peter was killed in a car accident. He had just dropped her off and was on his way home. With one phone call, within a single moment, Morgan came face-to-face with what seemed at the time to be the end of everything in her world. No amount of holding could take away her pain, but as I watched her move forward through the grieving process, I saw great courage and conviction. I witnessed her making slow, but visible progress, one small step at a time. Morgan surrounded herself with loving family and friends, dove into her books on grief, began writing about her deepest thoughts and fears, and recorded precious memories of Peter in several journals and scrapbooks. She took pleasure in performing a number of simple rituals that helped bring her comfort and peace, while her friends focused on preparing for the prom and doing well on their college entrance exams.

Morgan’s highly-celebrated 1999 high school graduation took on special significance for those of us who’d watched her suffer and witnessed her great strength and determination in attempting to move on with her life. For her graduation, I rented her a car to drive for an entire week. She later told me that was one of the best gifts she ever received, even though she had to return it in seven days. Those moments, hours, and days spent enjoying the freedom and excitement of driving a brand new car – and making such a good impression in front of her friends – were remembered fondly for many years to come.

Morgan attended Sonoma State University, in Rohnert Park, California, where she squeezed herself into a tiny two-room suite with four other roomies. Only 90 minutes from home, Morgan benefited from weekend trips to Oakland for her much-needed doggie fix, home-cooked meals, movies with Mom and Ian, and easy access to laundry facilities…and to borrow or buy new clothes.

Feeling somewhat lonely and looking to meet new people on campus, Morgan pledged with the Alpha Gamma Delta sorority, where she was a member from 1999 to 2001.

But Morgan knew she would never be a country girl by any stretch of the imagination. Acknowledging how lost and restless she felt at college, she asked some tough questions about the direction her life was taking, decided to leave Sonoma, said goodbye to her roomies, and returned to Oakland to take a year off school. She “rented” a room from life-long friends in the Oakland Hills, bought her first car, and accepted a full-time position as a teller with the Bayer Federal Credit Union. After she deposited $25 into a new savings account on her first day of work, her name was drawn as the winner of the grand prize: an all-expenses-paid trip for two on any cruise she chose. Yes, she was glad to be out of school!

At Bayer, Morgan enjoyed frequent face-to-face contact with nearly all 2,500 employees who worked at Bayer. I’ve always thought this was one of the happiest times of her life. She was definitely “in her element.” Everyone there knew her, everyone cared about her, and she received plenty of positive attention from those who came to her office to deal with their financial matters.

Morgan had this uncanny ability to hook you into being interested in the things she was most interested in. During the six months preceding her 21st birthday, she managed to get everyone she knew at Bayer to participate in a major count down to HER BIG DAY. Everyone was talking about it, talking about her, talking about each passing day, week, and month leading up to June 6th. I was sure there would be some major fireworks display to mark the very moment she turned 21. And, after 10 years in the workplace, I had never seen anyone receive any more birthday cards from their colleagues at work.

Morgan did eventually take her (free) seven-day Caribbean cruise in June of 2002. After spending months researching the best of everything the Caribbean had to offer and properly preparing her base tan at the local tanning salon, she chose the Royal Caribbean Enchantment of the Seas, invited her mother to join her, and the two of them set off on the adventure of a lifetime.

Morgan was exuberant as the ship set sail and, later, as she stepped into the sparkling blue waters and explored the sights, sounds and shops of Key West. She faced her fears and with one hour of training, mastered scuba diving, snorkeling, and underwater photography in Cozumel. She learned the art of naming your own price, relaxed with a massage on the beach at Costa Maya, then pushed herself even further to swim with the stingrays and snorkel off the coast of Grand Cayman.

After returning from the cruise, desperate to find a new life by the ocean, Morgan followed her heart and moved to San Diego to attend San Diego State University. She attended college there for two years and graduated with a B.A. in sociology from San Diego State University in 2004. While attending college in San Diego, Morgan met her fiancé, John, at the credit union where they both worked. They shared four years together, adopted their two beloved Chihuahuas, Bella and Rocco, and were to be married September 22, 2007.

After graduation, Morgan accepted a position in the human resources department at Guild Mortgage Company in San Diego. She was soon promoted and put in charge of the company’s payroll. John and Morgan traveled together to Maui to attend a friend’s wedding, spent time with friends in Las Vegas, and participated in a number of weddings and celebrations.

Morgan was meticulous in planning their wedding. She and John found the ideal place overlooking the ocean. She found the perfect dress at a small bridal boutique in La Jolla, an experience forever memorialized in a group of incredible photos taken of Morgan squealing with delight as she found the dress she would wear on that special day she hoped would bring all members of both families together to celebrate their marriage and mark the occasion with lasting memories. In the last conversation she had with her sister, she said she was finally feeling settled about that year-and-a-half of wedding planning she had done. “I’m finally ready,” she said. “The wedding’s five months away and I feel ready for it.” But for whatever reason, it was not meant to be.

The same week the ‘save the date’ photo magnets of Morgan and John had been mailed to invited guests, they drove to the Colorado River to spend a long weekend with friends. This would be the last trip they would take together.

During a boat ride on Saturday, April 14, 2007, there was an accident in which Morgan sustained serious injuries. She was airlifted to the nearest trauma center in Phoenix, Banner Good Samaritan Hospital, where she later had a massive stroke. After six days in intensive care, Morgan passed away peacefully on April 20, 2007. She was surrounded by members of her family and friends, who had traveled around the world and across the country to spend those last few days at her side.

As I think back over Morgan’s short life, I remember how odd it seemed that she should be so familiar with death at such a young age. She saw more of her friends die than anyone I’ve known: her friend in junior high who died with her mother in an apartment fire because the smoke detector didn’t work; the classmate who had an asthma attack; her friend Jamie, who skied into a tree and broke every bone in her body; her beloved boyfriend Peter, who died at age 17 in a car crash after dropping her off at home; and her friend Jordan, who overdosed last fall, just when his life was heading in an exciting new direction.

I like to think that these people – along with Morgan’s many dogs: Ashley, Phoebe, Mike, Angus, Heath and Corky – were all there to help her transition to whatever it was that came next.

And although there’s a gaping hole in our lives where Morgan used to be, she’s still the first entry in “R” in many of our address books. She’s still number 5 on more than one cell phone speed dial. Even though I miss her more than can be expressed in words, she makes me smile when I think of her. Her swearing tirades at the drivers around her. The way she always made her sister and brother laugh. The way she and John looked at each other when they thought no one was watching. The regularity of her phone calls on so many long drives to and from work. The love she gave to her babies, Rocco and Bella. Her always-messy room. Her flip-flops for almost any occasion. Her bounciness and exuberance. Her recurring pinkeye. Her squeals. Her ability to keep on moving, keep on enjoying life, no matter what.

-- Laura Lindsay