Of Dragonflies, Butterflies and Angels: In honor of Sarah Tomm
These are the words that I spoke at Sarah's funeral. They represent both therapy and the most difficult words I've ever spoken. . .
I always felt a special connection to Sarah. We were kindred spirits in many ways. We shared a profound love for animals, insects, and the sacredness of all living creatures which, in my life, manifested itself through vegetarianism and in hers through her desire to one day become a veterinarian to care for the weak and wounded. I loved being outside with Sarah. On hikes she’d notice the smallest details, pointing out a dragonfly that fluttered on the edge of leaf, a lizard that blended in with its surroundings or a flower that she could easily identify and call by name after having been told just once what it was.
Sarah was always a unique and very special little girl. I remember there were times in my life when I used to wonder if she could talk to angels. She would sit quietly and seemingly enter another world. In one of her journal entries she wrote, “I see things that others don’t – I see love.” She had a serenity, a tranquility, a spirituality about her far beyond her 11 years. Though the little girl in her shone brightly at times, her mature strength of conviction was unparalleled among children (and even many adults). Sarah possessed an unusual combination of great inner strength and extreme sensitivity. Her sense of justice, of justness, her compassion and her ability to empathize were all highly developed characteristics rooted deep inside her.
For many different reasons, my husband and I chose not to have children. Even so, on more than one occasion I have said to my husband and my parents that if I could have been assured I would have had a daughter like Sarah, I would have tried to get pregnant. But that was too big of a risk. Sarahs don’t come along often in this life. After years of working with hundreds of children in different countries, of this I am sure.
And since you may be tempted to think these are all words from an aunt who sees her niece through rose-colored glasses, I’d like to present Sarah as seen through the eyes of her classmates, and in her own words from diaries and journals she’s written over the years.
Across the walls we have hung the beautiful notes sent to the family from Sarah’s friends and schoolmates. I went through the group of cards from her homeroom and selected comments that reflect personal views of Sarah. I would like to share some of them with you now:
Karlie: I remember when I had no one to play with at recess and Sarah saw me and she didn’t even know me, [and] she invited me to play tag with her. She was the kindest person I had ever known! Sarah was kind and respectful to everyone.
Suzzanne: She was a good friend that was always there when you needed her. She was the nicest person I knew and always thought of others. She was always smiling. . .
Mariah: Sarah was the nicest person that I knew. She always thought of others before herself. She was respectful as a student and a friend.
Hunter: I will never forget her big smile from the first day I walked through the door. . . Sarah was the most trustworthy and helpful friend. . . anyone could ever have. I will always have a picture of her beautiful smile and face in my heart.
Justin: She was always quiet and respectful to the teachers and to every student in the class. She was always smiling when you say hi or even looked at her. . . She was the nicest person I ever met.
Lindsay: She never said anything mean about anyone. Sarah was the nicest person I knew. . . . She was willing to be anyone’s friend.
Jake: We all miss her very, very much because she was a good friend to everyone.
Susan: She was always there when you needed her. She always thought of others. [Her] heart was always in the right place.
Allison: Sarah was the nicest person I ever knew. She was a good friend with a good heart.
Hailey: I remember when I saw her smiling through the bus window one day. Sarah was always smiling. It was nice how she could be everyone’s friend.
Krista: She could always cheer people up when they weren’t having a good day. She was always willing to be everyone’s friend.
And apparently she COULD be everyone’s friend. The other day we found a list she had written recently. It was titled, My Best Friends. She had 16 names listed! That’s a lot of best friends, a lot of love, from one young lady.
Sarah was not only part of the school team called the Champions, she was also a Champion in life.
I believe that if Sarah were here today, she would ask her classmates to remember all those things that were said about her and to keep the spirit of kindness and helping others to continue. She’d probably say, “It’s simple; be kind, be thoughtful of others, include those who may feel excluded, be a special friend to everyone and smile all the time and I will feel honored in school.” Another classmate wrote, “Sarah was always herself and never tried to be anyone else”, and so I would add, be genuine in all you do and true to yourself.
And one final reflection from the students comes from David who offers this piece of advice to us (the family) that we share with you. . . “If you want to talk to Sarah, pray and remember she lies in your heart.”
Over the years Sarah wrote in many diaries. We are fortunate to have a view of Sarah as she saw herself and are also able to get a glimpse into her innermost private thoughts I think she would be happy for us to share with you. Sarah was a songwriter and singer. An entry preceding one of the songs she composed in her journal is her own introduction to herself. She wrote, “Meet the singer who wrote the song. . . She is good, nice and kind.” Later she wrote, “I sing of good things not bad.”
Sarah also created a list of Rules to Live By. They are rules we all should follow. They include the following: love, care, be thankful, peace, be happy, faith, truth . . . be strong (and ever the naturalist, she included), don’t pollute. Then she wrote in big letters, SMILE, SMILE, SMILE. These were the values she held strong. They weren’t just words, they represented Sarah’s life.
Finally she offers us some wisdom when she writes, “I think sometimes the world should be more careful of their carelessness.” Sarah, I think so too.
I feel a profound sense of loss not just for myself, but for my family and for the world.
I ache for my sister and her husband who birthed her, nurtured her, and helped guide her into being that very special and loving person she was. I ache for Joshua and Hannah too, who must figure out how to go on without an integral part of their family unit. I ache for the grandparents who are suffering the deepest pain in their lives and wonder why they weren’t taken from this Earth first. I ache for Sarah’s classmates who have lost a close friend and wonder why, as we all do.
Life can be so cruel, so dark on some days and yet so beautiful and joyous on others. In these dark moments we can bring back Sarah’s enchanting smile, her sparkling eyes, and her illuminating personality and see sparks of her light shining through the darkness that for now seems to envelop us all. And we can remember Sarah’s great inner strength and try to emulate it now.
Many people believe (and I am among them) that we are here on Earth to learn life lessons. I also believe that some among us are here to teach them and that one of those teachers was Sarah. If this is so, I hope we were good students.
I’ll never know if Sarah really could talk to angels at those times I saw her alone yet seemingly accompanied in her own little world of peace. But I’m confident that today, for sure, she is talking to angels, for she is among them now.
Throughout Sarah’s life, we were often compared to each other --- my family would say she was a lot like me, to the extent that some would even inadvertently call her by my name. I always felt honored when I would hear those words; they filled me with delight. It may be normal to wonder what Sarah would have been like as an adult. As I reflect back on all of Sarah’s qualities and strengths, I ask myself not whether Sarah would have one day grown up to be like me (she wouldn’t have, she was too independent) but rather, I wonder whether or not one day I’ll grow up to be like her.
Sarah, thank you for blessing us with your life. I’ll miss you terribly, but I’ll see you in every dragonfly, every butterfly, and every creature you loved and adored in nature. You’ll forever live in all our hearts.