A Chandler family is in mourning after the death of one of its members during a trip to Hawaii earlier this month.
The woman, 42-year-old Wendi Van Briesen, died on July 19 a week after falling into a coma. Reports indicate Van Briesen was bodysurfing off a beach in Maui with her 13-year-old son Tanner, who was within arm’s length of her at the time, when a wave struck unexpectedly. Van Briesen cracked two vertebrae and suffered a serious head injury as a result of the accident, and never came out of her coma before her death.
“Who expects to go into the ocean and go bodysurfing and not come up?” said Lindsey Van Briesen, Wendi Van Briesen’s sister-in-law.
Wendi Van Briesen’s death came during a family vacation to Hawaii with her son Tanner, 11-year-old daughter McKenna and her husband Aaron, who teaches social studies at Greenfield Junior High School in Gilbert.
Lindsey Van Briesen described her sister-in-law as a strong and cheerful woman willing to keep things loose while serving as a flight attendant for Southwest Airlines for 17 years. She said Van Briesen would make jokes on the flight, sing songs about how to put on oxygen masks and just keep things loose during the travels.
“She was incredible. There are no words to describe her; she was always smiling and laughing,” she said, adding “you don’t come across those type of people that often.”
Deborah Edwards, Southwest’s Phoenix in-flight base manager, said in a statement the airline is saddened by Wendi Van Briesen’s death and lauded her for her personality and her contributions to the airline and its passengers.
“Throughout her career, she touched countless lives through her joyful heart, generosity and humor,” she said.
Lindsey Van Briesen said the family is working through the aftermath of the death. She said Tanner and McKenna have been “amazing” since their mother’s death, and she added the family has fallen back on its faith and church as means of support.
“We’re getting through it. It’s rough, but we’re a strong family,” she said.
The family has set up a page for donations to cover expenses related to the funeral and to assist the family. Visit www.gofundme.com/bmw3q8 for more information. A celebration of life ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. Aug. 2 at Sun Valley Church’s Tempe campus, located at 6101 S. River Drive.