Hundreds gather in Eagle to celebrate the life of Millie Collier
Dressed in bright colors, friends and family share memories of how local 7-year-old lived, and loved, big
EAGLE — It was standing room only Sunday as hundreds gathered at the Eagle River Center dressed in bright colors, particularly pink, sporting cat ear headbands and cowboy boots to celebrate the bright, sparkly, love-filled life of Millie Campbell Collier.
“Love like Millie” was the slogan of the celebratory memorial. Each speaker shared lessons they had learned from the 7-year-old about how to live life to the fullest. In his message of hope, family friend Jesse Meryhew shared that Millie “knew how to live big, and love big.”
“That little girl did more than most people do in a lifetime,” Meryhew said. “No question about it, she lived.”
Millie, an Eagle resident and Vail Christian Academy student, died Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023.
Attendees of the memorial service were asked to celebrate Millie’s life by wearing bright colors, cowboy boots, and clothes with rainbows, kittens, and unicorns, designs that would delight Millie, who loved pink and sparkles. The room was decorated with giant unicorn balloons, banners bearing the phrase “love like Millie” between a pair of rainbow wings, and other brightly colored balloons.
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“The reason why we’re wearing bright colors, and the reason this is a celebration, is because the testimony of Millie’s life, the testimony of her actual words, the testimony of her family, her friends, and so many of you, know that Millie chose to make Jesus her hope,” said Amy Alexander, worship leader and teacher at Vail Christian Academy.
Along one wall was an arts and crafts station with numerous activities, including wooden butterflies to decorate with glitter, picture frames to create out of popsicle sticks to hold a picture of Millie, and beads and string to make beaded bracelets. There was also a station where attendees could decorate rocks with messages for Millie.
Learning from Millie’s example
“There are lessons to be learned from Millie. You see it right up there — ‘Love like Millie.’ Live big, love bigger. If you spread the kind of grace that Millie has, you are going to love everybody that comes in your path,” Meryhew said.
Millie bestowed an abundance of love onto everyone she encountered, from her parents and siblings, extended family, and friends that became family, to the many animals in her orbit.
Family friend Jen Liffick, “Aunt Jen” to Millie, described Millie’s impact on those around her as being as bright as the colors she loved to wear.
“My Millie was the glitter glue always holding our perfectly imperfect family together,” Liffick said. “She’d give without hesitation. A teacher, a mentor, at only 7 years old.”
Meryhew spoke about how Millie taught everyone in her life, young and old, to live more compassionately, and with more laughter.
“She brought happiness to everyone she was in contact with. She had a smile that would light up the room,” Meryhew said.
A friend of the family’s since before Millie was born, Meryhew also spoke to the experience of watching Millie grow up.
“Millie would become the perfect mix of both her parents. She was so much like Kelley — always on the move, making sure everybody was taken care of, beautiful inside and out, and her greatest gift, a love of people,” he said. “Millie was like Mitch because she loved to laugh and tease you in the form of one-liners, just like Mitch. I’ve been the victim of a few, believe me. One of her favorite times to laugh was right after she’d shoot a little wisecrack in your direction, as if to say, ‘Hey, lighten up, that was fun.'”
Finding grace through faith
Faith was fundamental to Millie’s life, and informed the way she interacted with the world. “You’d hear her say, ‘I know my Jesus,’ with a smile on her face. She knew God’s grace,” Meryhew said.
“The more I thought about Millie’s life, the more I realized, grace is Millie’s greatest gift. You’ve got to understand, Millie knows God’s grace, she knew God’s grace, but she lived it every single day. That’s why you saw a smile on her, that’s why she was the first one to give you a hug, that’s why she was the first one to tell you (that) you looked amazing,” Meryhew said.
Millie and her family found community in the families and teachers of Vail Christian Academy. Vail Christian Academy’s worship team led worship throughout the memorial, including many of Millie’s favorite worship songs. Toward the end of the ceremony, Vail Christian Academy students joined the worship team onstage to perform the dance moves accompanying “My Feet Are on the Rock,” and “Undignified,” and were instructed to “sing like Millie,” by Alexander.
Nearly every speaker paid homage to Millie’s love for music and connecting through song. Millie herself sang one of her favorite songs, “This Little Light of Mine,” in a video played during the memorial.
“The prayer I know that Millie has for all of us in this room is to be present with each other,” said Allison Hansen, a friend of the Collier family and the principal of Vail Christian Academy. “Put your friends’ needs before your own, love each other with no judgment, forgive, and let go. Try to be the best version of yourself, take that trip with your family, read together every single night, make memories over buying each other things, do more of those things that make you happy, dance violently when the song speaks to you, wear your boots on the wrong feet, because who cares, and open your hearts to learn the hope of Jesus, because that is how you love like Millie Collier.”
“Although we are missing Millie here on Earth, we know that she was greeted with open, loving arms, and will forever be loved by her Jesus in heaven,” Liffick said.
Scott Leonard, a fellow parent at Vail Christian Academy, spoke about the vision of heaven, sharing stories of those who believed they had encountered it. Leonard ended his speech by describing the next time that Millie’s friends and family will see her again, in heaven.
“I have no doubt that Millie will be there, grabbing many of your hands, singing loudly, because, apparently, music in heaven is in abundance,” Leonard said.
Letters from friends
Several of Millie’s friends wrote letters to their beloved playmate, carpool buddy, and classmate. Approaching the stage with their siblings and parents, some read their own letters, while others had their words shared with the gathering by their parents.
The letters spoke to the unique relationships Millie had with each of her friends and the joy she brought to their lives. One friend wrote about how Millie tirelessly helped her find her lost Barbie doll. Another friend shared about feeding bread to the chickens with Millie. Another wrote about her silly side.
“We used to put stuffed animals into the American girl doll car, and drive it into your parents’ closet,” wrote Penelope Trujillo in her letter, which was read by her father.
Millie and her carpool buddies, Makayla and Savannah, made up names for the drivers they passed on the road. Coffee drinkers became “coffee-drinker-bo-binkers,” people who looked upset were “grump-bumps,” and nose pickers became “nose-picker-bickers.”
For her friend Hayley, Millie traded in her own prize that she won at a game at Eagle County Fair & Rodeo for a unicorn stuffed animal after noticing that her friend was sad.
“Millie is with us, but in our heart,” Hayley said.
“And she taught her how to do a cartwheel,” Hayley’s mother added.
“We should all strive to be as forgiving as Millie. Even though Millie lost her favorite chicken, Tiny, to a white fluffy dog, she told Maya (the dog), ‘I may not like you, but I do forgive you,'” read Elizabeth Geiser from her son’s letter.
“Love like Millie, love your family like Millie, love your friends like Millie, love your everything like Millie, and love Jesus like Millie,” read Hadley Skinner, a soccer teammate of Millie’s who wore her Purple Panthers soccer uniform onstage.
As the ceremony came to a close, attendees lingered, holding tightly to the closeness to Millie and to others in the room that was created over the course of the celebration. Perhaps some were remembering the following words from Jesse Meryhew’s message.
“I don’t know how she would do it, but I know she would manage to give everyone in this room a hug,” Meryhew said. “She wouldn’t let you leave until you’d gotten one, trust me. She’d probably stand right at that door, in the box out position, and make sure she got a hug.”