Breonna Taylor's Family, Facing the 2-Year Anniversary of Her Death, Remember Her Spirit and Light

"She was the light to our family," says Taylor's cousin, reflecting on the bright young woman who became the face of a movement

Breonna Taylor.Photo: Breonna Taylor/instagram

Bianca Austin can't stop thinking about the evening of March 12, 2020. Her niece, Breonna Taylor, had called to ask if she wanted to go out for dinner and drinks. Austin adored Taylor — she called her niece "Mini-Me" because they were so close and alike — but that night Austin, at the time a 38-year-old nursing student, was too tired to go out. Now, she would give anything to go back in time and accept Taylor's invitation.

That night, shortly after midnight, police in Louisville, Ky., broke down Taylor's apartment door because they believed — erroneously — that a man had been selling drugs from her home. When Taylor and her boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, got up to see about the commotion, police fired several shots, hitting Taylor five times. She died approximately five minutes later.

As the second anniversary of Taylor's death approaches, she is remembered by people around the world as one of the sparks that light the fire of the racial justice movement, a 26-year-old emergency room technician and aspiring nurse who was shot in her own apartment by police who were never charged with the Black woman's death.

But for Breonna's family, she will forever be alive a bubbly, energetic, irrepressible force. "She was the light," her cousin, Trina Curry, 33, tells PEOPLE. "She was the life of the party. She was the light to our family."

Curry says that Taylor had a special knack for knowing when people were feeling down. When she didn't want to celebrate her 30th birthday, Taylor insisted she have a party.

"She made me have a whole photo shoot in the stairwell and she didn't stop until we had the perfect picture," says Curry. "She just made me feel good. 'You look beautiful, cousin. You're so beautiful. I'm so proud of you. You deserve this.' I mean, I'm a single mother of five and Breonna would just call and check up on me. 'Hey cousin, let's get out. Let's go have dinner.' She always made sure that her people were celebrated."

Breonna Taylor memorial.Jason Armond/Getty

Today, her relatives want to make sure that the world celebrates Taylor the person as well as Taylor the icon, the woman whose face and name — she is so famous, she is on a first-name-only basis with America — grace countless posters, murals, sweatshirts and award shows.

She loved shoes and margaritas, says Curry. And she loved looking nice, says Austin, who remembers that Taylor insisted on dying a bit of her hair purple for her first day of kindergarten. "She always loved getting her hair done and being girly and looking cute," she says. "That stuff just made her happy."

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Her family thinks of her every day, of course, but as March 13 approaches, their feelings are more complicated.

"It never gets easier," says Austin, "and the reality of her missing is it just gets worse actually because now we go through the holidays and the anniversary of the day she was killed and you don't realize your emotions until you get those triggers."

One way the family has tried to cope is that they all have shared Taylor's remains. "All of us have ashes, all of her friends, her mom, her sister, we all have ashes. Her mom has the big urn with butterflies on it and then we all have smaller ones. My daughters have ashes in their necklaces," says Curry.

In a way, sharing Taylor makes perfect sense. "Breonna was just the glue to the family," Austin says. "And she just inspired not just my family, but the world as you can see, just to unite and do better."

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