Remembering Children: Obituaries Full of Accomplishment and Optimism

Five Danbury, CT residents tie balloons to an overpass up the road from the Sandy Hook Elementary School (AP Photo/David Goldman)Obituaries for children should never have to be written. Of course they are – every day, all over, for countless reasons – but perhaps never more heartbreakingly than this week, in the wake of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. That it is the holiday season just highlights the tragic timing, a period of celebration, peace and joy for children who look forward to this time of year with such wonder and anticipation.

 

When I come across obits for children who have died, I am constantly struck by the accomplishments achieved in these young lives that may be short on earth but long in impact.

 

An obituary that ran earlier this year in the Atlanta Journal Constitution stopped me in my tracks. The photo of a young boy seemed incongruous with the list of accomplishments achieved in his nine short years:

 

Humanitarian, skydiver, astronaut, paleontologist, aircraft pilot, tractor operator, fireman, Jeopardy expert, Pokemon champion, Nintendo Boy, inquisitive genius, scooter enthusiast, soccer star, astronomer, Southern gentleman with California flare…

 

And that’s not all. There was more about his spirit, his goodness, his generosity, sense of humor and the vast array of friends and family who had nursed him through his battle with cancer.

 

Of course parents and family would want to dwell on the upbeat accomplishments of these youngsters’ incomplete lives, but it is awe inspiring and admirable how many they racked up in so little time. “Southern gentleman with California flare?” Can’t you just picture that?

 

It also is beyond admirable how the parents and loved ones are able to shed such a positive light on a life so precious to them – and so tragically cut down before it’s barely begun.

 

As one obituary of a 16-year-old girl who died of cancer stated simply and compellingly: “We mourn the great loss of our beautiful girl while at the same time relish the joy she brought into all of our lives during the short time we had the privilege of being with her.”

 

It is hard to imagine parents of the Newtown first graders being able to even comprehend what has happened even as they place these loving words in The Newtown Bee.

  • Daniel Gerard Barden, 7 …was the light of his family’s life. …He loved spending time with his family…riding waves at the beach, playing the drums in a band with his brother James and sister Natalie, foosball, reading, and making s’mores around the bonfire with his cousins at his “Papa’s” house … Daniel was on the Newtown soccer team and the Newtown Torpedoes swim team.

 

  • Jack Armistead Pinto, 6…was an avid participant in a wide variety of activities including flag football, baseball, basketball, wrestling, and snow skiing. Jack was an incredibly loving and vivacious young boy, appreciated by all who knew him for his lively and giving spirit and steely determination. In life and in death, Jack will forever be remembered for the immeasurable joy he brought to all who had the pleasure of knowing him, a joy whose wide reach belied his six short years.

 

  • Jessica Adrienne Rekos, 6, loved horseback riding, learning about orcas, writing, and playing with her little brothers.

 

  • Charlotte Helen Bacon, 6, … filled her family each day with joy and love. The family will forever remember her beautiful smile, her energy for life, and the unique way she expressed her individuality, usually with the color pink. Charlotte never met an animal she didn’t love, and since the age of 2 wanted to be a veterinarian. She also enjoyed practicing Tae Kwon Do weekly with her dad and brother, where she relished kicking and throwing punches.

 

Here are samplings of other obituaries that resonate with the life paths already taking shape as well as personalities and quirks in different degrees of development. They illustrate so well that contributions to this world can be made at any age and that displays of love and friendship take root early on.

 

  • A 2-year-old was remembered for being “a boy of many interests…the aquarium and all things aquatic. He nearly fell into a stingray tank trying to pet the slippery fish. He was a big fan of turtles, passing by the big cats and even the monkeys at the zoo. He liked the night sky. Among his favorite songs were I See the Moon, the Moon Sees Me and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star."

 

  • As an aspiring musician, 8, he “played the piano, drums and guitar… Whether it was the music of Beethoven or Warren Zevon, his piano skills touched many lives including playing drums for the Fairy Tale Princess Ball at school… He loved the kitchen and learned to grind coffee beans and make coffee and scramble eggs for his mom and dad when he was 6 years old. He was his mom’s biggest helper always setting the table for supper and helping her cook. For his 6th birthday, he asked for a leaf blower which he mastered.”

 

  • An 11-year old “loved to organize, whether it was the food in the refrigerator or closets or cabinets…Her absolute first love was the family dog, Buddy, a white Labrador. She would go to sleep on the floor using Buddy as a pillow. She would take him into her room to teach him new tricks or make an obstacle course for him around the house. She was the only one who could get Buddy into the bathroom and into the tub and give him a bath despite Buddy outweighing her by 20 pounds."

 

  • “She wore her socks inside out because they were softer that way…She loved to run errands with her mom so she could check things off. When she went to a sleepover, she was usually the first one asleep."

 

  • At 16, “she leaves a major legacy in the nonprofit organization she founded to raise funds to help other kids with cancer. She surprised children she met in hospitals and waiting rooms with special gifts to make their cancer journeys easier: a computer for a teenage boy so he could stay in touch with his friends from the hospital, gasoline gift cards for a boy to spare him a seven-hour bus ride after chemotherapy and a fashion shoot for a girl who lost her self-esteem when she lost her hair. There were many other gifts and each one filled her heart with the joy of giving and the recognition of the power of love... Her mission will continue."

 

At this time of year, many of us have empty seats at our holiday tables. Some of them we could have guessed would be empty. And we will toast those who had long, productive lives whose time had run out for one reason or another.

 

Those smaller seats – even highchairs – are without a doubt the hardest to reckon. But they should be toasted, too, for whatever they were able to do with their scant years and perhaps more than anything for the love they brought into this world, even if it was just a glimpse.

 

***

Susan Soper is the founder and author of ObitKit™, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she was formerly the Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called "Living with Grief" shortly after her father died. Susan lives in Atlanta with her husband.

 

Image: Suada Likovic, 24, from left, Chelsea Crain, 23, Kristin Hoyt, 18, Jeffrey Hoyt, 16, and Linda Hoyt, all of Danbury, Conn., tie balloons to an overpass up the road from the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in Newtown, Conn. The massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

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Comment by Jayne Brooks on December 17, 2012 at 11:21am

Hearts in peices over recent tragidy. Bless the families of the children, teachers, and bless the medics and police involved.

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