Today I watched the small pink coffin of a child named Ava carried to the cemetery. It was a life that ended far too soon for the grieving parents, older sister, and other family members, not to mention the hundreds of mourners who came to say goodbye.
It was a memorable funeral in so many ways. The pastor reflected on the very personal way that Ava had impacted his own life with her laugh, smile, and her faith in a God who loved her. She amazed us all. She was only eleven-years-old, yet her positive impact was felt far and wide. It certainly made its mark on her small town here in Iowa.
When Ava was just a toddler, cancer threatened her life when doctors discovered a tumor lurking in her brain. Cancer treatments ensued and, for a few years, the battle seemed victorious for the spunky blond-haired child. But after having experience walking through the valley of the shadow of death at such a young age, Ava did not take life for granted. Instead she embraced every part of it with energy, excellence, and joy.
Ava sought beauty in every area of her life, decorating her world in pink, purple, and always-abundant glitter. She adorned a tiara at every opportunity, leading to her nickname of Princess Ava. She participated in fundraisers to help children’s cancer research and used her upcoming birthday as an opportunity to do a blood drive to help the need of so many cancer victims who need platelets during their medical treatments. Ava was a go-getter, a brave fighter, and she was adorable. Although she knew her time on earth was likely going to be shortened, she also knew that she had a forever home in eternity with her Savior. I can imagine her planning the décor for her room in the heavenly mansion, with pink and purple as her top color choices.
Ava got to meet her Lord and Savior, Jesus, Christ, last Monday, two days prior to her twelfth birthday. She died peacefully at home in the loving embrace of her parents and sister.
After the funeral this morning, the procession of mourners drove slowly through the streets of her small town. It turned into the most inspiring trip to the cemetery I have ever experienced. I burst into tears as we approached the local firehouse where over a dozen firefighters stood in attention with their helmets held over their hearts. Even the first responders knew Ava and they paused in their busy day to honor her. We drove past trees covered with pink and purple ribbons. One yard was filled with pink flamingos, Ava’s favorite decoration. Everywhere we went, townspeople stood in remembrance of the girl who inspired us all.
Just past the firehouse, I noticed a tall weeping willow tree, abundant with green leaves even though fall was approaching. The long fronds seemed to reflect the many tears shed that day, yet there was something else about that willow that caught my eye—the multitude of hanging branches bursting forth from the one tree. Ava was just one young girl, yet her impact on this life had spread to so many others. She inspired vitality and joy wherever she went.
True to Ava’s spirit of giving, the birthday blood drive will go on as planned next week. I’ll be there serving juice and cookies, and my husband and son will be donating blood. Ava inspired us all.