I just finished going through photos I took for a memorial service for a 16 year old, and I am a total mess.
I didn’t know Kaleigh very well, but I did know her, and I did know her parents; and, belonging to the same church, we are family (no matter how distantly “related”). One of my ‘jobs’ at church is to help out with events – usually I bring food, help set up or take down or whatever else is needed. This time I was asked to take photos of the service and graveside service so that they could be given to the family later and no one close to the family would need to worry about it. I’m glad I had that privilege, but it was tough.
My husband knew Dave (Kaleigh’s Dad) through men’s events, so we went over to their home for the Super Bowl this year. My daughter played with their son for a while, and I chatted with the family. I distinctly remember Kaleigh coming out and feeling awful, but bringing out one of her care kits that she got from the hospital for my daughter. Despite how awful she was feeling, she was concerned about my daughter being bored and feeling left out since she was younger than the other kids who were over. Kaleigh sat down with my daughter and colored with her quietly (coloring pages Kaleigh had taken the time to look for and print out before we got there so she could be prepared for my daughter). When we left, Kaleigh let her pick out a “prize”/present from her hospital box. My daughter grabbed a little cell phone lipstick thing, which she still has, carries around, and loves. From the moment Kaleigh sat down, my daughter was more calm than I have ever seen her with just about anyone. It didn’t last long, but it was undeniably peaceful, and it was all Kaleigh.
But that was who Kaleigh was. She was simply amazing, and I really didn’t know that until I went to her memorial. I was amazed to see so many people speak of her and hear the recurring phrase “she never complained about anything, even normal teenager stuff,” which is quite amazing, considering she suffered from a rare form of cancer for more than 6 years. She was a cheerleader, girlscout, sang in the choir, was an honor student, and still made time to attend church, and raise money for the kids at the hospital she was frequently hospitalized at. There were stories of how she got her girl scout troupe to knit hats for the cancer unit, how she sold cards to raise money for new movies for the pediatric unit, and on and on. She was a remarkable person who truly accomplished everything she needed to while she was here and now has a chance to rest with Jesus. One of the most touching parts of the service for me was the graveside service was at the conclusion – people were given the chance to take a flower from one of the bouquets and lay it on top of her casket. There was a ten minute line to do so. The flowers were stacked tall. She deserved it.
I spend the time remembering people like Kaleigh (and Jessica a few months ago) because their memories deserve to be honored, and their lives deserve to be celebrated. Kaleigh’s family asked everyone to wear bright colors to the memorial because that is what Kaleigh would have wanted, so that is what everyone did – pastels, Hawaiian shirts – anything but black. As much as we might miss them, we know where they are, and that is something to celebrate.