Monday, December 24, 2012

Caskets Shouldn't Be So Small

Tragedy struck the nation on December 14 in Connecticut, and the nation pulled together to rally around the families in Newtown. I had the honor of knowing Emilie Parker in life, and was able to attend her funeral this past weekend. She is very kind, loving, helpful, and at least every time I saw her, an extremely happy little six year old girl.

I don't believe I will ever forget entering into Utah. Emilie's favorite color was pink, and the residents of Utah decorated their state with Emilie in mind. Driving down the highway, everywhere I looked, I would find pink accents. Bows attached to telephone poles, ribbons tied to the fences, along bridges, and garnishing trees. Windows of residential homes were decorated with signs expressing love for a little girl who they didn't really know, other than they felt the acute loss of a life robbed of so many years. Maybe the people of Utah felt so much for Emilie because they felt like she was one of their own, having been born in that great state. Whatever the reason, they poured out their love for the Parker family in whatever way they could, and at every opportunity that presented itself.

Thursday evening a public memorial service was held in honor of Emilie, at the high school Robbie attended. Gratitude flowed from Robbie for all the support so many were lending to his family during this very difficult time. He spoke about how wonderful Emilie was, and how she had managed to get in a life time of talking in only six short years. We were all blessed as we watched a slideshow of Emilie's life set to music. Some people broke down and began uncontrollable sobbing, while others would softly wipe away unfettered tears. Following the speakers and slideshow, we all made our way to the fifty yard line, where twenty sky lanterns were released in memory of each of the children.

Friday evening was the viewing for family and close friends. As I rounded the corner and saw Robbie and Alissa Parker standing next to a tiny casket, I could not retain the emotions bottled up inside me. The wrongness of the scene screamed at me. Parents should never have to bury their children, and to top it all off, caskets should never have to be made that small. I fell to pieces, and all I could do was hold each of them and cry. Words fail you at that point, and I could only hope that a hug, and my feeble expression of love might bring some measure of comfort and relief to them.

Saturday morning the funeral services were held. Quentin Cook, an Apostle of Jesus Christ presided over the services. We heard from the Parker's bishop from Connecticut, some close family to the Parkers, Robbie himself, and Elder Cook. Robbie and Alissa were given a letter from the First Presidency of our church expressing their sorrow, as well as the hope and joy which comes from the Atonement of Jesus Christ, that their family will be reunited again in heaven. Services concluded with a hymn, Silent Night, which was one of the songs Emilie was practicing for her performance which was to be given in church. Everyone exited the building to be confronted by an indignant media armed with cameras. I do not understand the need to relentlessly pry into the lives of a family mourning the loss of a child, a little respect seems to be in order. This was one of the reasons a public memorial was held on Thursday. A pleasant surprise on the other hand, was found in the presence of the Bikers Against Child Abuse. They showed up to protect little Emilie and her family, just in case a particular religious group decided to protest.

Lining the street, from the church to the graveside, were hundreds of people dressed in pink, holding pink balloons, reverently tossing pink flowers before the funeral procession, and holding pink ribbons. A solemn dedicatory prayers was offered graveside, and each person slowly left a tiny casket to be lowered into its resting place.

That evening a family dinner was held where we all joined together and found strength and comfort one with another. As a surprise to most of us, Jon Schmidt had been in contact with Robbie, and wanted to do what he could, by way of offering his talent, to offer some sort of reprieve from pain with an evening of music. He played Waterfall, which was a song often played in the Parker home as they all would dance. The evening continued with Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer being played upside down with all the children gathered around the piano, Can't Help Falling in Love with You, Charlie Brown theme song, Chopsticks with his feet, All of Me, a variation of the hymn All Creatures of our God and King, two hymns which we all sang as he played Away in a Manger, and O Little Town of Bethlehem. This was followed by a special song which he wrote for his brother and sister's funeral, Tribute. This song he explained always makes him think of the resurrection, and a time of reunion upon that glorious day. He concluded with all of us singing Silent Night. The whole evening of music brought a brief respite from pain. As Jon played, Madeline was dancing the entire time, enfolded in the music, and we all found some rest.

Time is what is needed now. Robbie and Alissa expressed their gratitude on the Emilie Parker Fund page on Facebook for everything that the nation has done:

"I am sorry it has taken so long for me to share something here. There has been so much support, love and prayers offered and it has given my family such strength. I even hesitate to post because I feel so inadequate to be able to articulate my sincere appreciation for what everyone has done to support the families of every victim in this horrible tragedy. Thank not enough. To all who reached out, your support was felt and it has touched our lives in a very personal way. I hope that brings you comfort and continues to inspire you to do good in this world.
-With much love-
Robbie Parker

I am grateful to know Emilie, and the whole Parker family. My heart goes out to them. I love them. It is my prayer that our loving Heavenly Father will continue to heal and bless that precious family.

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