New Year’s Eve afternoon, Rebecca Young laid down to take a nap before she went out for the evening.
That was the last time anyone spoke with her.
Rebecca Young, known as Becca, never woke up. She died of heart failure at the age of 19.
Becca had been born with a hole in her heart, but after several surgeries early on, she was declared healthy and had no indication that anything was wrong.
Friends and family are struggling to understand how this young woman, so full of life and promise, could be taken from them.
While many of Becca’s friends were scheduled to come together for a New Year’s Eve celebration, once the calls started going out, they spent the evening in shock and sadness.
The following week, Becca’s parents, Mike and Pat Young, expected around 75 people to come to her memorial service at Everly-Wheatley Funeral Home. They were overwhelmed when hundreds of her friends came to say goodbye.
Stephen Selman and Rebecca Lear, both friends of Becca’s, quickly put together a video to remember her. Selman had dated Becca for the past two years and played a guitar solo that Becca liked. Selman said that they sorted through over 300 photos, trying to capture the Becca everybody knew.
“What a great legacy she left behind,” Selman said. “We filled every room [in the funeral home] and there were still people in the parking lot. Even people who only met her once remembered her. It seemed like she had an impact on people who didn’t even know her.”
Selman said that even though she worked long hours, she was still the happiest person.
“She was so inspiring as an individual,” Selman said. “She had a great outlook on life and didn’t make excuses. Her life was something of a message to her friends to get along [with each other.]”
WHILE EVERYBODY may have known Becca at different times and in different ways, they all seemed to remember the same thing about her.
Her friend, Alex Smyth said Becca was the most genuine person she knew.
“She was the most kind person and right there for you. She would give you the shirt off her back,” Smyth said. “Becca was very helpful and nothing mean ever came out of her mouth.”
Smyth became friends with Becca in eighth grade and the two remained close throughout high school, both of them participating in theater.
“Theater was a big part of our lives,” Smyth said. “Even though she’s gone she’s brought even more people together. Because of her, our friends will stay together forever.”
Her friend Lear, a fellow theater student, also remembered her as friendly with everyone.
“She didn’t just belong to one group, she was friends with everyone. She was great to be around — funny and sweet,” Lear said. “Of all our friends she was the best, and the least deserving [of what happened].”
Becca was born at Alexandria Hospital. She attended Groveton Elementary School and Carl Sandburg Middle School. In 2004 she graduated from West Potomac. She would have turned 20 on July 23.
Becca’s mother, Pat Young, said that Becca had tried almost every form of art while she was growing up.
“She was always creating something. But when she discovered photography at West Potomac that art form really took hold,” Young said.
Accepted to Montserrat Art School in Beverly, Mass., Becca was finally going to pursue her goal of becoming a photographer.
After a semester at Virginia Commonwealth University, she decided that Richmond wasn’t for her and she returned to Mount Vernon. She spent the remainder of the year and this past semester working to save money for the new school.
“Becca was probably one of the kindest and truly gentlest souls I have known,” said Anne Dunn, Becca’s photography teacher at West Potomac. Dunn said Becca had a passion for photography, but would have excelled in any field she’d chosen.
“She also had a great sense of humor and her life was made so much richer by the wonderful friends she had in her life.” Dunn said. “She was always willing to help other students and aid in any way possible. She never said an unkind word about anyone.”
DEREK HAWKINS, one of Becca’s many friends, said, he was acquainted with her in high school, though mostly through other friends. He remembered her as a warm, familiar face, bright-eyed and constantly smiling.
“She worked at Old Town Coffee, Tea and Spice with my brother, Brent, and our close friend, Brendan Totten,” Hawkins said. “Whenever I went into the shop for coffee or to say ‘hi,’ she was there, greeting customers, making lattés, bagging teas. She’d pour me a cup of coffee and we’d talk about school, Boston, or work.”
Hawkins said from their first conversation Becca talked to him as though they’d known each other for a long time. Two years ago, Becca began dating Hawkins’ friend and fellow musician Selman.
“Last year Stephen started attending Berklee College of Music, which is literally blocks away from Northeastern University, where I go to school,” Hawkins said. He got to know Becca better when she visited Selman at school. “I have some great memories of Becca and our friends from last summer and fall. One I’ll remember fondly was Independence Day, when Becca, Stephen, Matt Meehan, Becca Lear, and I carried a cooler and a blanket down to the banks of the Charles River, had a picnic and watched the fireworks explode over Boston.”
Hawkins said most of his memories of Becca are simple — like the time she listened to him play guitar in his basement, or the conversations they had on the stoop at Selman’s apartment.
“That is part of why Becca was such an incredible presence in my life and her friends’ lives. She brought life to what would otherwise be normal, everyday situations with her
radiant, lovable personality,” Hawkins said. “She brought people together through her sincerity. And since she was never afraid to speak her mind or act out her feelings, she always made people laugh.”
Hawkins said although Becca won’t be attending college at Monteserrat, which is just outside Boston, she will certainly be there in spirit.
“I’m devastated that she won’t be able to become part of our Boston family,” Hawkins said.
FRANK POLAND, owner of Old Town Coffee, Tea and Spice, said Becca’s friends were tasked to deliver the news that he had lost one of his favorite employees. They asked him to sit down when they told him she had died.
“The kids thought of her as a linchpin,” Poland said. “Everybody could always talk to Becca. She had a tremendous talent of talking to people.”
Poland’s relationship with Becca went back further than the last few years she worked for him. Her grandfather and parents owned Olde Towne Gemstones around the corner and she had had been a frequent visitor to the store for years.
“Becca grew up in Gemstones,” Poland said. “When she started working here, she wanted to try every tea. She would try anything and was always anxious to learn something new.”
Poland said that she was unassuming, modest and wonderful with his customers.
“She was ready to blossom,” Poland said. “We’re going to miss her.”
Pat Young said that even though Becca was an only child, family always surrounded her. She had been coming to the store since she was a baby.
“She was part of a family unit and had the security of mom and dad."
The Young family is putting together a memorial fund that will help adopted animals. They plan to call it “Becca’s Ark.”
“She loved all things small and wonderful,” said Pat Young, recalling how Becca spent many hours with a neighbor who took care of feral cats. “She was always over there, helping out.”
In addition to working at Old Town, Coffee, Tea and Spice, Becca also worked at Birkenstock.
“The last time I saw her was in October,” Dunn said. “I needed to get a pair of Birkenstocks after foot surgery and stumbled into the Alexandria store.”
Dunn said they laughed because it was so odd having her former student fitting shoes to her feet.
“She was like that — you could talk about anything with her. I often felt like she was a daughter of mine and also a very good friend,” Dunn said. “The world is ever so much grayer without her — but then I think about her sunflowers … maybe she knew we would need them."