Penney Richards
November, 2009

Penney's Wake

Penney was waked at the Cota Family Funeral Home in North Reading on Monday, November 23, 2009. Over thirteen-hundred friends, relatives and acquaintances stood in line, some for over one and a half hours (in a misty rain), to pay their respects to our little girl. We were amazed at how many lives she touched in her twenty-five years on this earth. For those that we didn't get a chance to personally talk to - we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Your comforting words have helped to ease the pain of our loss.

Click Here to read words from friends and acquaintances in Penney's guestbook

Penney's Funeral

Penney's funeral was on Tuesday, November 24th, 2009. The funeral service took place at the Wilmington United Methodist Church. Remarks were by a number of different people. If you want to learn a bit about who Penney was, the words of her friends will surely give you some idea.

Click on the link to read the remarks given by that particular person.

Pastor Travis | Penny's cousin Peter | Penney's Aunt Kelly
Penney's Best Friend Sarah Hewitt | Penney's Friend Carmine Di Censo
Penney's Mom, Penny | Penney's Dad, Dave


Pastor Travis Bonnette-Kim (click here to view video)

Today we celebrate the life of PJ who was a remarkable person. PJ was kind and generous, one who gave of herself to others. She would have done anything for anyone. This care could be seen in her work with her cancer patients. She loved helping people and she was passionate about her work. For PJ it wasn’t just a job, it was a calling and there are many people who’s lives were touched through her work.

PJ loved her family. She was incredibly thoughtful and appreciative of everything her mom and dad did for her. When we met to discuss the service Dave showed me several texts he had received from PJ. They were all words of love and gratitude thanking her dad for little things such as shoveling out her car on a winter’s day. It is rare that someone takes the time to say thanks for such simple acts of kindness but that was the kind of person PJ was. This is the kind of relationship she had with her daddy-o. This is the kind of relationship she had with her mom. They were best friends.

As evidenced by the turnout last night and this morning, PJ had an amazing family and an amazing circle of friends. She was dearly loved by so many as she touched so many lives. Her family and friends were special to her and she was special to them.

The scripture passage that we read is one about friendship too. It talks about Jesus’ close friendship with Mary, Martha and Lazaurus. We don’t normally think about Jesus as having friends. We think of him as God’s son and somehow in our minds we remove him from the many things of humanity such as friendship. But Jesus was fully human just as he was fully God.. The scriptures tell us that he built close friendships. He was close to his disciples. At one point he even told them that he no longer called them servants but he called them friends because they followed God’s will. Mary, Martha and Lazaurus were also special friends of Jesus. In the passage that we read, Jesus had arrived at their house several days after Lazaurus died. He met Martha and Mary and went to the tomb. There he wept for Lazaurus – not cried, wept – deep sobs, gut-wrenching tears.

We know about such weeping, don’t we?

Now Jesus had the power to bring Lazaurus back. In fact the scriptures make it clear that Jesus intended to raise Lazaurus yet Jesus wept. Why? Because he loved Lazaurus. He wept for his loss. He wept also for the others that were gathered who felt the pain of his loss. Listen again to the words of the passage, “Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews that had come with her also weeping. He was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. He said, ‘where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus began to weep. Jesus was moved by their pain. He hurt with them. He hurt for them. Their tears were his tears. Their pain was his pain. Their loss was his loss.”

The same is true for us today. God hurts with us and God hurts for us. When an unspeakable tragedy like PJ’s accident happens, it’s natural for us to ask, “Where is God?” Where is God? God is here with us feeling our pain and our loss. God cries with us and for us. God weeps for the events that you will never get to share with PJ, for the events that PJ will never experience. God loves us and cares deeply for us and God is here in our pain. God’s presence with us is a presence which offers healing. God walks with us in this deep, dark valley of the shadow of death. God offers us healing. Lean on God and trust in God and God will go with you in this difficult time. Know, too, that God’s presence continues to be with PJ. The Christ who wept for Lazaurus is also the one who raised him from the dead. The Christ who weeps for PJ is also the one who rose from the grave. Through the power of Christ’s resurrection, PJ lives eternally. She is in God’s presence. She is in a place of eternal love, eternal care, eternal hope, eternal grace. The promise of our faith is that one day you will see her again.

Today is a day of tears for the loss of someone so special. It is a day when we may smile remembering special moments spent with PJ and as a celebration of her life, her love, her care. Share stories. Remember all of the things that made her so special. Know that in these stories there is healing. In these memories there is care. Know, too, that her love lives in you and will continue to live on through you just as she lives eternally through God. Take comfort in the love of God and the assurance that PJ, although gone from our presence, is not gone and through the blessings of our faith, one day you will see her again. Amen.

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Penny's cousin Peter (click here to view video)

Tao #8 h2o

Your true path like water flows, dissolves, dances, falls, rises, is one with everything.

Water is essential to life. It carries and supplies the essence within and life all around. Soft water breaks the hardest stone yet without it we would just be bones.

White water, black water, grey water. Water does not judge its use to serve, content to be, in truth.

Be as water as you are, flowing to where you go unafraid of high or low. Rise as steam and fall as rain, laugh with pleasure, accept the pain.

Shallow puddles are lifted by the wind but mighty lakes and oceans remain centered and still within their hidden depths, even though the winds whip up their surface. Vessels move upon the face of the Ocean, Sea, or Lake. The mighty waters hold them in totality, a wake that fades away soon leaving no trace. Water takes on all shapes within submerged embrace

Build your house on firm foundations. Let the depth of your heart be as the ocean. Be a friend who is caring and genuine. Speak sincerely, rooted in compassion.

Wise leaders are ethical and just, loving peace and competence skill, ability, effectiveness.

There is a time and season, for the success of every action. A time to sow, a time to reap, a time to wake, a time to sleep.

Let your way be as the way of water, running deep and filled with peace. Do not struggle or compete. Go with the flow and be serene.

Water is essential to life. Be essential in your life. Know you are always flowing to the source of your being.

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Penney's Mom, Penny (click here to view video)

My daughter knows that I never go out in public without mascara on and I haven’t been able to wear it for days.

There are some things I though you should know about my daughter:

  • She was supposed to change the cat’s litter box last week.
  • She liked calamari.
  • She didn’t like bacon.
  • I owe her $20.
  • She was a registered bone marrow donor. Her ID card arrived in the mail just days before she died.
  • She rarely remembered to turn off her bedroom light when she left the house.
  • She had 15 bottles of assorted shampoos, conditioners, and body washes along the railing of the bath tub.
  • She used cocoa butter with shea body lotion and always smelled like sugar cookies.
  • She was supposed to make me a mother of the bride and a grandmother.

The overwhelming kindness that I have felt, and I think I can speak for Dave and our family, that we have all felt from all of you and friends that cannot be here, that kind thoughtfulness is carrying us and will continue to carry us until we can put our feet on the ground again and try to start moving forward again on our own.

Someone commented to me on Facebook that Dave and I are being brave. I replied saying that what we have been is not brave. We have been operating on shock and autopilot, with other people carrying us along. We'll see about being brave when the ceremony of death is behind us and we are left in the quiet.

I don’t know whether it will be possible to ever see a day begin and believe it will be wonderful. I can't imagine my life without my PJ in it. I have to find my direction and see where she sends me, because I can’t believe she would step away like this without wanting me to do something that she couldn’t get to do herself.

If one person has asked me, it seems thousands have asked “If there is anything I can do…” Well there is something. Tell me a story about you and my daughter. Write me a letter, send me an email, or connect on Facebook. Share something that you did together. Send three lines, send three pages. Whatever you have to say is what I want and what I need. I made this same request when my dad died 15 years ago. I still have those notes and letters and I still pull them out now and again to read them. Your stories about my PJ will fill my heart for years to come.

Finally…

A friend sent me this Irish prayer. I understand it is supposed to be a message of comfort. It isn’t that for me at the moment, in fact I think it is asking much more than I have to give. I think right now, selfishly, that I have given enough. Still I’m grateful to have the words and I will hold onto them and visit them again, and I hope that a day will come when this gives me a measure of peace in my heart.

Death is nothing at all. It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Everything remains as it was. The old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no sorrow in your tone.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without effort.
Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner.
All is well. Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting, when we meet again.

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Penney's Aunt Kelly (click here to view video )

Hello.

I was going to say “good morning” but it’s not a good morning. It’s a shitty morning and I have permission to use that adjective Marcia.

I’ve threatened my mother for years with scraps that I’ve put away for her eulogy. She’ll ask me a dumb question or wear something hideous and I’ll screech, “that’s going in your eulogy” And we’ll laugh. And now it seems that I’ve been so busy writing Marcia’s in my head that I just never thought about this one. This has been so shocking and sudden. So I’ve been battling with this for three days so bear with me. I’m kind of winging it.

I’m Aunt Kelly. I’m the one that PJ feared a little bit and I think that’s great. I’m not the one who took her to the mall or for a manicure. I got no excitement over prom dresses. I’m not the one who burst into tears when she got her first period. I’m the one who taught her to make Jack Daniels meatballs and I bought her a gun and I taught her to steal Tampax from the ladies room at the Corinthian Yacht Club for me. I remember Penny calling me at college to tell me that she was pregnant how ever many years ago that was. I wasn’t too excited. Babies really just didn’t do it for me at that point. If PJ had arrived with four legs and a tail I probably would have been much more excited to meet her but my parents seemed thrilled and that’s, that’s fine.

I didn’t see a lot of her. She spent a lot of time with her other grandparents. I think my first crystal clear memory was on Halloween. She walked into the house dressed as a pumpkin. She didn’t have much hair, she had a big smile on her face, her ears stuck out and she was very, very pleased of herself that she made it over the thresholdy thing at my parent’s house. She was very pleasant and friendly and smiley.

Teddy arrived in ’85 and that made her very happy also. I remember Teddy lying in a cradle at my parent’s house, very helpless and PJ was leaning over him and she was closing his eyes for him so he could go to sleep repeatedly. She got barked at and she stopped doing that. I don’t think it helped, did it?

Manny arrived, I forget the year. I’m sorry Manny. What year? Eighty-eight? PJ was truly the alpha-male in that little triumpherate. I can still hear the squabbling over who had the most sprinkles on their piece of birthday cake.

And now we turn to Bill. One of my first dates with Bill, my husband, was PJ’s kindergarten graduation party and Bill got poison ivy putting up the tent at PJs high school graduation party. So they made a circle together. They got to be good friends. I remember when she was…..small. Bill and I went shopping for a birthday gift for PJ and I wanted to browse for myself and I said, “go into the little girl’s department and find something trampy and slutty and she will love it”. And he argued with me and of course I was right. It was black spandex with polka-dots. And I also taught Bill to go to Walgreens and buy the cheese-ball plastic brown case of a hundred eye shadows for ninety-nine cents. So maybe that’s why she liked you Bill ‘cause you knew her taste so perfectly.

But, she got to be a little too “chick-y” for me. She wanted to be in our wedding so much more than Bill or I did. No one could have opened someone else’s bridal gifts with such enthusiasm. But I think the BB gun was the best gift I ever gave her. She and Bill went out in the yard and shot squirrels.

She did get a little more than boy-crazy. Marcia and I secretly laughed behind her back about how she would change her clothes to go out and check the mail at the farm in case a man would drive by. She did. She changed her clothes to go out – go down to Jefferson.

It was great when she got her license – we could send her to Dunkin Donuts. I drove to Rockland with her once and I’d never seen anyone drive so aggressively into and intersection where the light had turned yellow or up to a stop sign. So I was happy to do the driving after that.

So very many dumb, ordinary days…just not enough. I won’t forgive her for using the word “awesome” so much or for rooting for the Red Sox – anybody tell me how they did this year – or for loving motorcycles or for weighing less than me. But despite it all, I know, I know she would have faithfully visited me in the nursing home bearing cigarettes and Sal’s pizza.

I’m thanking you for my mother and myself for looking out for my sister. I can’t bring her cranberry chicken or lasagna as easily as I’d like. I made a very specific request at my father’s funeral in the hopes of keeping my mother busy and I’m now turning that around and directing it at my sister. Please help Marcia and I with her…she’s fallen into a dark hole and I think that she had just been feeling at home in her world again. Penny I’m looking down in the dark hole at you again, and I’m putting my hands down to you, and I hope everyone in this room will do that for you. If anyone in this room ever needs a prom dress they’ll come pick you up.

I want to thank anyone who was there last night for being there. It was very nice for Bill and I to see people – to laugh. I remember having a conversation with Christa – I don’t think I made too much sense but it’s nice to just prattle onward. The line was incredible last night. Who knew PJ knew so many masons. I don’t know what she did in her spare time.

I’d just like to conclude by reading something and then I will sit down.

I shall go forth.
I shall traverse the world for awhile.
I cannot tell where or how long.
Perhaps soon, some day or night, while I am singing, my voice will suddenly cease.

Give it hell PJ.

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Penney's best friend Sarah ( click here to view video )

Well, of course like everyone, I had no idea what to say. There’s nothing to say that can be written down on paper so I am also winging it today. I took a couple of things from Penny’s Facebook and MySpace – they’re her, I mean, it’s Penney. They’re her words. They’re her thoughts. They’re her loves, and I want to share them with everyone. I mixed it up a little bit. The ending is actually the beginning because I thought it was more her from a friend perspective.

“I love laughing – I do a lot of that. I can’t wait for tomorrow because it’s going to be amazing. I believe in pink. I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner. I believe in kissing – kissing a lot. I believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong. I believe that the happiest girls are the prettiest girls. I believe that tomorrow is another day and I believe in miracles.

Well, after five years of college I was able to come up with a career that I absolutely love. I’ve been working as a nurse in a busy family practice for about two years now. I plan on going back to school in the fall to pursue radiation therapy. After my mom’s bout with breast cancer, the oncology field has really become an interest for me. Aside from work and school which keeps me busy, you’d most likely find me behind the hand of a Texas Hold ‘Em, relaxing with good friends or any outdoor activity. Two years ago I upgraded my Yamaha Route 66 to a 2006 Honda Shadow VT750. It’s black with red flames for now but this winter she’ll be getting a custom paint job.

As for general interests, I can find a good time doing anything. I love the Patriots. Sundays during football season are sacred.and are never interrupted.”

Which I’ll interrupt, that’s true. I mean, I’d ask her to go to the mall and she’s watching football. It was not interrupted.

“I love my boys and my girls and Jason Veritek. My life is much simpler and happier when filled with good people. I love whiskey, Sammy White and a good raw bar. Life for me is one day at a time – the older I get the more I realize there’s no other way to do it. Dogs make me happy and so does the ocean. Ketchup goes on everything and I really wish I could learn to play the guitar.”

It’s all so true about Penney. She introduced me to so many things in my life – pizza rolls being number one. I’m obsessed with pizza rolls now because she’d take me to Bill and Bob’s all the time. We have the same love for food, going out to eat, either cheap fun or expensive fun – we loved it all. We loved limo rides and we loved bike rides. And we did love our food. We loved the Melting Pot – anytime anyone goes there please think of us and our girls’ night out. The only difference being Penney smothered everything with ketchup and I didn’t. I never really understood it. I remember once Penney telling me that Big Dave, which was our name for Penney’s dad – he was always Big Dave, he also smothers things with ketchup so I realized at that point that it has to be genetic. It was something no one would understand but those two.

She really loved life. She loved anything. When I found out I was pregnant at a young age, she simply looked at me and said, “congratulations?” – kind of a question mark - but wanting me to be happy for what happened and I hadn’t thought about it yet. Penney was one of the first people I told and I sat back and looked at her and said, “yeah….congratulations….thank you.” I gave her a big hug and she helped me with my son, with my pregnancy, with going crazy about being a mom at just nineteen, and she helped me a ridiculous amount – babysitting, just loving him, teaching him how to chew bubble gum because I never wanted him to. Penney chewed bubble gum constantly and the smacking that she did I never got to learn how to do it. I always asked her and it was this hidden secret how she could pop her bubble gum so crazy like. But yeah, she gave my son his first piece of bubble gum and every time she walked the house he would say, “open your mouth, is there bubble gum in there? Can I have some?”

That was their little bond, their little bond was gum. She loved him. That was her little man and I love her for that. I love her for being there for me. Anytime I needed her it was always a smile. It was always if I had advice that was hard advice but I needed advice, it was always honest. It was from the heart. I can picture right now looking at me going, “keep it together buddy!”

She was so kind hearted. Everyone was her buddy. Everyone was her pal. She could get everywhere. She was at every party you could think of and I have no idea where she found the hours in the day. I’m still trying to master being everywhere and I don’t know how she mastered it. I feel like I can multitask well ‘cause I’m a mom now but she was just amazing. She really doubled the time of a day to get to see everyone and spend time with everyone.

She loved her friends. She loved doing anything. One of her joys was camping. Sledding. I brought her roller-blading once around the lake with me this past summer. Oh Penney I love you. She took such a spill. That girl thought maybe I’m on the street, let’s get on that curb but she forgot how to move her feet and she grabbed for a stop sign and she went parallel with the ground before she smashed right down and laughed. Never once cried. Never once cussed or anything. She just laughed and said, “I can’t believe I just did that! That hurt!” She had a huge bruise after and we laughed together. That’s one thing I loved about her most is that whenever we were together we could laugh. Doesn’t matter the time. One of our friends had passed away about four years ago. She was a bartender at Bugaboo Creek where we worked. We could sit there and laugh as we all did last night also and I could feel her comfort. She helped me and everyone get through this time – that time. It’s helping me now get through this time and I thank her for that also.

I could really go all day talking about my best friend – I really could because she was just that amazing person that you wonder how the hell could you be that way. How can you be so happy when everything’s going wrong and she believes the happiest girls are the prettiest girls and that’s so true.

Thank you all for being here – for supporting Penny and Dave. Thank you for having such a great little girl.

I just want to end. When I sat down and tried to write down what to say it was blank. The one thing that came to my head, and I don’t know how it came to my head, I don’t know if it was Penney throwing something at me up there saying, “you need something up there, you can’t just not say anything and smile ‘cause that doesn’t work.”

I can hear voice inside my head. I hope that never fades. I can see her vision in my head. I hope that never fades. I can feel her warmth inside my heart and I know that’ll never fade because I love my Penney Lane. I’ll love her every day.

Thank you.

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Penney's friend Carmine ( click here to view video )

I don’t know if many of you know me. My name is Carmine.

I met Penney about several years ago - maybe more. Just seeing all you people here galvanized my - the truth that there was no acquaintances in Penney’s life. Everybody that met Penney instantly, instantly loved her. She was just a great girl always full of vibrance and “take no prisoners” when she set her mind to something. She pretty much did it. I’m a little bit older than Penney but Penney taught me a lot about life and just how you have to realize what you want in life and you have to do it.

Mr and Mrs Richards, I’m just extremely sorry and I’m very thankful to you for raising such a wonderful daughter who was so loved and respected by everybody. I can only speak for a small ring of her friends – I know it was just a huge ring but – she’ll be severely missed and often thought of. I’d just like to thank you again and to tell Penney I love her and I miss her and I’ll think of her every time there is a meteor shower. Last good memory we spent a whole evening on the side of a mountain in lawn chairs just watching a meteor shower. How much she loved that…..and I’ll always have that with me.

I’d just like to say thank you everybody for coming. I know Penney, Penney would be smiling from ear to ear. I don’t know if you know but she was kind of a big thing – she told everybody.

God, she wasn’t lying.

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Penny's Dad Dave  ( click here to view video )

Thank you all so very much for being here to celebrate the life of our little girl PJ. No words can express the depth of our heartache nor can they come close to the pain we feel having had our only child taken from us. Moms and Dads aren’t supposed to spend Friday mornings in the rain choosing a gravesite. They aren’t supposed to have to meet with funeral directors to make preparations to say goodbye to children. Moms shouldn’t have to sit in their daughter’s room and choose clothes for them to wear. Dads shouldn’t lament that they couldn’t protect their child from danger and harm. Yet, here we find ourselves in those very places and with those very thoughts.

How different is this from the sadness we feel when an older person dies? If they had lived a full life and died naturally, we may miss them, reminisce about all they meant to us and perhaps wish that we had taken more time to appreciate them. We also come to acknowledge that life brings a series of losses, and we may even understand that they are somehow necessary or at least part of everyone’s experience. But the death of our only child is something I can’t understand. It is unmapped territory and disrupts everything about me.

When my little girl was born, her grandfather wrote these words:

"Those from the parish who recall the fuss I made when my shiny 1953 Penny was married are now advised that I have been presented with a shiny 1983 Penny.

I have become a grandfather.

My 1983 Penny was born at 7:24 p.m., Saturday, December 3. She weighed in at 6 lbs 14 oz., and from titian stem to diapered stern is quite the loveliest package ever delivered at Winchester Hospital.

Now, in all of the process, grandfathers are, at best, proctors… remote superintendents of a project at which they have no real business. A grandfather’s roll is to harrumph, nod his unnecessary approval, and remain alert enough in the hospital corridors to avoid eyeing run down by a flying gurney.

I ignored all of that Saturday night, and just stood around weeping.

Grandfathering, I have concluded, is a spectator thing. You come to be a grandfather by being a husband and father. But on nights like Saturday night the role played is that of Old Grad, sanctified only by the fact that you’ve “been there,” won your varsity letter, but so long ago that it has no 1983 relevance. In that context, weeping is accepted, even expected.

The modern father, however, is close part of the second part, constantly and entirely with the party of the first past as she accomplishes her miracle. The fact that I was assigned to wait several walls away is testimony to the new way of things and the fact that I did not know my breathing exercises, was not gowned or even sanitized to participate. They got along fine, they said, without me. That just made me weep some more.

So it is that my Penny Jean and her David Richards brought their PJ into the world on a day which the nations’ unemployment rate fell to 8.4 percent, workmen installed a concrete chicane in the White House driveway to deter the threat of terrorist truck bombing, and on the date that two separate Florida police department became so involved in separate drug investigations that they arranged undercover buys to one another’s undercover officers. It was also the day that Maine Governor Joe Brennan announced he was considering a run for the U.S. Senate in challenge to incumbent Bill Cohen; a man in Danville, N.H. made a fortune selling his lifetime collection of 15 million used tires to a Gahnian named Mashidialo Di’Nithelo; a man by the name of Bo Jackson ran 71 yards to help Auburn defeat Alabama; and the FBI revealed that left-wing anti-American groups are financing their operations here by robbing banks. And it was the day of the first snow of this gathering winter season.

But somehow December 3 will be reserved as the birthday of my 1983 Penney Jean Richards, mostly because a world of concrete White House chicanes and bank robbers needs new Pennys desperately.

Mark Twain out it another way: “Among the three or four million cradles now rocking in the land are some which this nation would preserve for the ages as sacred things, if we would only know which ones they were.”

Well, some’s better than others, of course, but they’re all good counters Noble. And right now Noble is basking in the glow from the cradle and lovely lady who rocks it, at 52 John Street.

Pass me a dray hanky, Mother!"

I will never forget the feeling I had on that cool, rainy Saturday night as I announced her arrival to the gathered family and friends. Nothing meant more to me than to present my mom and dad with a grandchild. I was voted into a fraternity that has so many great rewards: fatherhood.

So, let me tell you about my PJ. If I had the chance, this is what I would have said to her…

When you and I began our lives together, we were strangely new to each other. You were so very weak and helpless. The squeaks that emerged from you were unlike anything we had ever heard. You began to demand so much of us and we thought we’d weep from fatigue. You wanted to eat and eat and eat. If we were a few minutes late, your piercing, insistent screams were enough to shatter our skulls! Hunger wasn’t always the reason for your screams and our minds desperately raced over the countless reasons for your cries. It took us weeks to realize that we had come up with our own solutions, that sometimes you cried because you were as frustrated as we were with your inability to reach out and get into that world that was going on above your prone and clumsy little body. Little did we know then how much you would reach out and live your life full of new experiences.

All we were sure of was that ferociously strong, somehow reassuring grasp on our fingers from your incredibly tiny fist.

Soon, though, you was able to get around pretty much anywhere you wanted to. You were able to reach out and grab things and delight in the new discovery. You had a favorite friend, your “Baby Hug” that you slept with every single night – even at the end of your life. You began to relish certain tastes and detest others. Together, we learned to navigate the worlds of people, space and thought. Through such relentless curiosity, your sheer, exhuberent joy in learning and discovering delighted us constantly.

The one thing that always stopped you in your tracks and brought a huge smile to your face was when Mom would announce, “Daddy’s home”.

As you got older, you and I developed a special bond with each other. On the day of your birth, I worried about how I would ever teach you to drive and I bought you a dress that you were finally able to wear sometime around age 2. What did I know?? But together you and I mastered things like bicycle riding, skiing and softball skills. I cherish the time spent with you as I coached your softball team and spent time as a chaperone on middle school ski trips.

Even then, as you approached your teen age years, I noticed that you began to have your own circle of friends…people we didn’t know. I know you knew this later on, but I was having trouble realizing that someday I would have to let you try your own wings and fly.

I’m not sure you knew then how proud I was of you. When you began to succeed in efforts independent of us, the pride overflowed from my heart. Nobody’s kid was more special than you were to me. You took up a musical instrument – the clarinet. You learned to read music. You and I would play together – me on the piano or guitar and you on your clarinet. The beginner squeaks from your instrument became clear and bright.

High school came along and you continued with your love of music. How many wonderful holiday concerts and musicals did we attend just to hear you play. You left us for school field trips and we worried just like we did when you were a little girl.

Wait….you ARE my little girl. When did this happen??? Who said it was okay for me to be okay with this?

It was time for me to realize that you had become your own person. The world, other than your family, was taking from you the talents that you had developed as you grew and was sharing in the joy of your life. I wasn’t ready for all of this little girl. I fought with the emotions of this even as you left us.

Through all of this, I watched you and mom develop a wonderful friendship. You did girl things. You went shopping. You got your nails done. You talked to each other about all of those life things that only moms and little girls can understand. I sat back so proud of you – and that helped me deal with the fact that you were growing up and away from us. Mom shared some of those talks with me and swore me to secrecy.

Grudgingly, I accepted the fact that you had your own life. You chose to enter the law enforcement field following in my footsteps. Thankfully, I talked you out of that! You entered your two year college program on the five year plan. You did graduate, though, and realized that you wanted to do something in the medical field. You chose X-ray technology. You attained your medical assistant degree and became nationally certified. Again, you made your dad so proud of you. The day of your college graduation was another one of those sunny, warm days. We stood outside for pictures and I saw the sun shining through your hair as you stood talking with your friends.

It came to me at that moment that you had grown up. You didn’t look so small anymore. I saw a mature, capable young woman. The joy of your success and that realization caused me to cry for the first time in a very long time. I felt just like I did the day you were born. I was unsure about how to act. I didn’t know how to be a dad to a grown woman. I had been practicing the art of fatherhood for some twenty years and this was uncharted territory.

You turned and saw me. I think you knew I had been crying. You came over and wrapped your arms around me. I told you how proud I was of you.

You went to work for a private practice doctor’s office. You would tell us about the things you did – blood draws, intake processing and such. I didn’t know who this person was but it couldn’t be my little girl. How is it that you are being allowed to do things only grownups can do? I met your co-workers and they’d tell me how wonderful and capable you were. I was amazed at your tenacity. I should have remembered, though, this was exactly as you were when you were just a baby.

Something happened to change your path in life once again. Your mom – your best friend - developed breast cancer.

You were suddenly a partner in her recovery. You went with us to appointments, posing questions and offering suggestions. The knowledge that you had gained astounded me. I had no idea – my little girl was so competent and skilled. Together, the three of us walked this horrible path. During this time, you were given the opportunity for a career in oncology with the Mass General Cancer Center in Danvers. You knew this was what you were meant to do. You accepted the position and absolutely loved what you did. Your mom beat her cancer and you took all of that caring and love and gave it to every single patient you took care of. You saw the good in your work and your colleagues saw the good in you.

You wanted to do more, so you decided to further your education. You, your mom and I went to Portland just a few weeks ago to make plans for your career in the Radiological field – radiation therapy – for cancer patients. It was a wonderful, sunny day and we stood by Casco Bay and talked about how you would live with Grammy in Sanford and do your rotations at Maine Medical Center. Sadly, the world will never know what good you could have given.

When you weren’t working, you lived your life to the fullest. You had great friends and it was obvious how much they loved you. You traveled to many places: Florida, Aruba, Belieze, Texas, Washington, DC, London, France, Myrtle Beach, Canada and many places in between. You partied with your friends often and enjoyed time spent at concerts. You loved your Dave Matthews Band. You loved to go white water rafting in Maine with a ton of good friends. You had been making plans to go to Las Vegas. I was always in awe of your energy and enthusiasm. You and your dog Sam grew up together and you held him during the last moments of his life.

You also knew tragedy in your short life – some would say you knew more than your share. You lost close friends to unexplainable illnesses and to accidents much like the one that took you from us. You were always an inspiration – and helped to ease the pain of those who were left behind. Each of these tragedies I believe made you stronger and made you live your life instead of merely existing.

So, little girl, over the last few days, I have remembered so many good times with you. Each time you’d come home from work or from being out with friends, you’d come into the kitchen and see me and say, “hiya Daddy-O”. You used to love to go to the hardware store with me. You loved all of the things there. How many times did you and I jump on my motorcycle and take off for rides. You’d put your short arms around my waist and off we’d go. “Go faster Daddy” was all you’d say. Of course, I’d give the gas a little twist and you’d shriek with delight. Remember Sister Hazel on City Hall plaza in Boston? You and I climbed a tree so that we could see the band over the crowd. Remember the day that you came home and saw the big red bow on your new car? How about all of the times you and I snuggled together and laughed while we watched Home Improvement? There was that hike up Mount Monadnock when we didn’t start back soon enough and we were lost in the dark. How about Disney World. Six Flags. You and I built your clubhouse in the back yard and put up your swingset. I remember the huge smile on your face the day your training wheels came off your bike. There was the afternoon at Ward Hill ski area when I followed the ski patrol down as they took you into the medical building because you had injured your leg. I actually did teach you to drive a car. How many fun times did we have at the Topsfield Fair walking around and eating things that were totally bad for us? We spend a wonderful afternoon at Canobie Lake riding all of the scary rides together. As I lie awake these last few nights, my mind goes a million miles an hour with thoughts like this. I never realized how much you were the wind that forever kept my sails full.

Even though we made so many memories together, I’m just not ready to let you go. I know I must, but I can’t find the way to do that.

On the day you died, you were doing what you did best: being someone’s friend and a source of comfort. I called you on your cellphone that morning. You had stayed at a friend’s house that night. When I called, I told you that I was just making sure you were okay. You said you were and I told you to try and have a good day. I knew that you were going to have some sad moments but to try and remember the good times. I told you I loved you and you said, “love you too”. Those were the last words I would ever speak to you and hear from you. I’m so very grateful that I had those.

When you died, it was a bright and sunny early fall day. It was one week shy of Thanksgiving. It was three weeks shy of your 26th birthday. You were on your way to the funeral of another young man who died way too soon. Just like a bolt of lightening ripping through the sky, we were told by the doctor that he had “bad news”. It was like a stab in the heart with a razor sharp knife. How could it be that you would die before us with so much left to do? The pain was, and is, unbelievable.

It seems like only a breath ago when you and I began our lives together. It was, as I said before, strangely new. I didn’t have any idea how to be a dad. We both learned as the years went by. Once again, I find myself in the same position. I don’t know what to do, where to go or what to think. How could this have happened to you? You were so young and vibrant and interested in everything, in all the life around and within you. I think about all the love and nurturing that went into your life. We nursed you when you were sick and taught you all the things you needed to know to be safe in this crazy world. I couldn’t protect you from this one though. If only I could turn back the hands of time. I looked forward to you finding that special someone who you would marry. I would walk you down the aisle and dance with you at your wedding. I looked forward to the joy of seeing you create a new life as your mom and I did. I wanted to spend family holidays with you and your family, enjoying what we had brought to this world through you.

Everywhere I look, in the faces of all of the people here today and in the thirteen hundred people who came to honor your life last night, I see your influence and how you’ve touched them all. How am I supposed to go on? How will this sorrow ever stop and how will I ever be happy again?

I love you PJ. If you’re hearing me, please help us get through this. I miss you more than anyone can imagine. Your Baby Hug sleeps in our bed now. It was always a source of comfort to you and we desperately want it to be a source of comfort to us now. You left us too soon with so much left to give and with us having so much to give to you.

As I said, my little girl loved Dave Matthews. One of his songs, one of PJ’s favorites, has the following lyrics:
“Now you should never have to watch your only children lowered in the ground, I mean, you should never have to bury your babies”

Strange how much those words impact me now like they’ve never done before. I’ve lost my little girl. She was my friend. She was my fashion consultant. I’ve lost my barber. Who will I go to monster truck rallies with now? Who’s going to diagnose my various and sundry maladies? You were the only one that I relied on to tell me my cooking was “really good”.

I can’t say goodbye…but I’ll tell you to sleep well little girl. I hope that when you get to wherever you find yourself going that you find peace and comfort. Lift our hearts up in this the worst hour of sorrow we have ever known. This bond between us can’t be broken.

I will be here to remember you."

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