When Beth Braithwaite's friends talk about the memory of their friend, laughter takes over and the sadness over her death temporarily fades away.
Braithwaite could bring a smile to anyone's face, according to those who knew her well. A description of her kindness and loyalty was impossible for anyone to sum up, because her caring heart had no limits.
"I can't hardly fathom life without her," said Dan Lawson, a close friend of Braithwaite's for more than 10 years. "She was a wonderful person."
Braithwaite was killed in a car crash on the night of June 20. She was riding in the passenger seat of 2005 Hyundai coupe, when it struck a tree at the intersection of Burrows and Howerton avenues in the City of Fairfax. Both Braithwaite and the driver, her co-worker at OMNISEC International Investigations, Inc., Patrick Redmond, were pronounced dead at the scene. Braithwaite had recently gone back to working for the company, doing investigative, analyst-type work, while she took some time off from her studies at George Mason University.
ACCORDING TO FRIENDS, Braithwaite, 24, was doing what she loved on the evening of her death. She was hanging out with friends and enjoying her life. She had been bowling and then went to a local bar, something Braithwaite frequently did with friends. One of her favorite hobbies, according to her father and stepmother, Michael and Pam Braithwaite, was socializing. She loved spending time with friends. Whether she was hanging out around the house, watching movies, going out to dinner, concerts, Redskins or Wizards games, Beth Braithwaite loved to have fun.
"She loved to laugh," said Lena Bonanno, Beth Braithwaite's friend since middle school. "Everyday she would ask me to tell her more funny stories."
"Awesome and rock 'n' roll," said Lawson. "That was Beth."
"She always would like to joke around," said Mel Grubmeyer, one of Beth's closest friends. "Sometimes it was a little crude, but that was Beth."
Beth Braithwaite wrote in a June 6 comment on Bonanno's MySpace.com page: "Oh yeah ... I was supposed to remind you to tell me something funny that happened today! tell me tomorrow."
While she like to have fun, she never forgot to take great care of her Miniature Dachshund, Gwen. Lawson said whenever Beth went out or was away from her house for long periods of time, she always made sure Gwen would be OK. Sometimes she would go home to let her outside, and other times she would arrange for a friend or family member to come by the house to take care of her.
"Gwen was her daughter," said Bonanno.
"It's hard for that little brain to understand [what happened to Beth]," said Pam Braithwaite. "Not that we do any better."
BETH BRAITHWAITE had a handful of close friends, said Michael Braithwaite, but they were extremely close friends. Lawson remembered her favorite restaurants and what she liked to eat there. She loved crab Rangoon, but only from a specific restaurant on Route 236. Her favorite fast food place was Wendy's, and she always got the "Classic Single" combo meal. Bonanno remembers how Beth Braithwaite would always want to get dessert when they went out to eat.
"She had a sweet tooth," said Bonanno.
These were the people she accepted into her home with open arms. Bonanno remembered calling Beth Braithwaite to talk about anything in the world, and Beth would always be there for her.
"She was a very good listener," said Bonanno.
"She actually cared about my well-being, and where I was going in life," said Lawson.
When Beth Braithwaite's mother, Bonnie L. Dillard, died of cancer on what would have been Beth's first day of eighth grade, Beth took it hard. Pam Braithwaite said the day Bonnie died was the first time Beth hugged her, and it showed the grief she was feeling. Lawson said Beth Braithwaite based her decision to be cremated solely on the fact that her mother had done the same. Her mother's death prompted various conversations about death and dealing with it, said Michael Braithwaite. Because of their conversations, Michael Braithwaite knew exactly what to do with his daughter if she were to ever die before him. Beth Braithwaite was cremated Thursday, June 22, and her ashes will be placed in an urn and kept next to the urn containing her mother's ashes. The family also chose not to have a funeral, since Beth Braithwaite made it known to many she did not want one. Instead, they will have a gathering at her home, July 1, to celebrate her life among close friends and family.
"I'm grateful that she's with her mother," said Lawson. "She was very attached to her mother. She would still get broken up about her death."
BETH BRAITHWAITE was in the process of taking a big step in her life. She was in the final stages of purchasing the house left to her in her mother's trust. She had been living in it for years, and in the weeks before her death had been finalizing the loan and other details. Michael Braithwaite managed the Bonnie L. Dillard family trust, and said it helped pay for Beth's education and for part of her car. Buying the house, said Michael Braithwaite, was allowing Beth to make a permanent mark in Fairfax, a city he said his daughter truly loved.
"This was a major event in her life," said Michael Braithwaite. "She was ready to grow in this community."
Lawson and Bonanno both said that purchasing the home was a huge accomplishment for Beth, and she had been talking about it a lot recently. It was the home she shared with her mother for many years, after her parents divorced, and it meant a lot to Beth Braithwaite to continue living there.
"She was thrilled about the house," said Lawson. "A lot of it was this driving need to be independent."
Beth Braithwaite had been living in the house by herself for the last four or five years. She kept the place immaculate, but it still had a welcoming charm. Her office was neat, from the chronologically organized photo albums on a shelf, to the binders of bills and paperwork, categorized and chronologically organized as well. The living room and dining area are lined with paintings of French cafes. According to her friends, Beth's home was the most comfortable place in the world.
"She had this way of just making you feel at home," said Lawson. "You could call her at two or three in the morning and just come to her house."
HER MANY PHOTOGRAPHS include a lifetime of memories. Michael Braithwaite said his daughter always took photographs of everything. On their trip to Europe together a few years ago, he said Beth recorded nearly the entire trip with her camera.
"She was our photographer," said Michael Braithwaite. "She really liked capturing these images."
The pictures represent Beth's favorite pastimes, both traveling and socializing. The shelves of photo albums in her home office were filled with pictures that captured either a beautiful place, or a great moment between friends and family.
"She loved pictures," said Bonanno. "She had so many pictures of everything."
Michael Braithwaite came across one photograph of Beth as a young girl. They were on a family trip to Hawaii, and Michael remembers driving around curvy roads, just so he and his family could see the entire island. He smiled as he remembered having to walk Beth down to a stream to clean her off, since she had vomited all over herself from motion sickness.
"Here was this little girl with orange hair and green skin, and vomit all over the car," said Michael Braithwaite.
Michael Braithwaite found another photograph of his daughter he remembered fondly as he thumbed through a couple of her albums. It was taken during their trip to Italy when Beth Braithwaite was about 14. The photo shows Beth having a rather passionate kiss with an Italian waiter. Michael Braithwaite laughed as he remembered the waiter handing her a rose and then going in for this big kiss, when he had only lightly kissed the cheeks of the other women to whom he gave roses. Beth Braithwaite smiled and blushed, and everyone in the restaurant was "hooting and hollering."
"She was one of the most awesome people you could ever know," said Lawson.
"She would always be there for you," said Bonanno. "She kept secrets for you."