Ana Grace Márquez-Greene was carried to her home-going service in a glass carriage pulled by two black-plumed horses. It was a ride meant for a princess, a pretty carriage topped with purple and white flowers. Her small, white casket was on heartbreaking display through the clear glass.
Eight police officers on motorcycles escorted the child's family and friends to The First Cathedral. Ana's was one of three funerals on Saturday, the final services for those lost in the Newtown massacre. Connecticut has grimly learned how to bury its innocents. The funeral directors, out-of-town police volunteers and civic leaders are now stunningly familiar with the routine. There is nothing rote about the thousands of mourners who have gathered or the millions of tears they have shed.
Mourners gathered in a circle of prayer around Ana Grace Marquez-Greene's casket Saturday before entering The First Cathedral in Bloomfield, Conn.
The First Cathedral, Jimmy Greene and Nelba Márquez-Greene's church before they moved to Winnipeg, seats 4,000. Two hours before the noon service, the main parking lot was full. Security guards directed mourners to overflow lots. Those quickly filled, too. Waves of people flowed into the church, many wearing purple, Ana's favourite colour. The family is well-known and well-loved here.
But you didn't have to know Ana, her brother Isaiah or her parents to mourn her. Christina Carmon stood across from the church with her three young children. She lives in neighbouring Windsor, she said, and wanted to bear witness. Carmon explained the murders to her six-year-old daughter and four-year-old twins by telling them a bad person hurt some children.
"Jesus must be mad today," six-year-old Catherine said solemnly as the twins twirled breezily on the grass.
The Márquez-Greene family won't hear of anger or recrimination. They want Ana to be remembered for her grace, energy and spirit. She is not a victim, they have said repeatedly. She's going home to Jesus and she will be waiting for them to join her. Outside the church, a man handed out purple "Remember Ana" rubber bracelets.
"Love wins!" the attached card read. "This is how we remember Ana Grace. Despite the sadness caused by recent events, the power of Ana's spirit and love will pull us together and guide us through these most difficult of circumstances. Love will overcome, Love will provide strength, and in the end Love Wins!"
A video released by the family shows Ana and Isaiah sitting at the piano, playing and singing and smiling. Isaiah is also a student at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He was physically unharmed during the rampage. Some of the eight-year-old's friends from Linden Christian School have flown in for the funeral.
He has lost his sister and misses his buddies, said a Winnipeg mom.
"He's in horrible circumstances," said family friend Karen Bergman. "He needs support and he's going to get it."
Terry Janke, the family's pastor at Whyte Ridge Baptist Church, said Thursday the family was the sort "that find their place easily." When they moved to Winnipeg three years ago, they joined a small-group Bible study at the church and blended right in, he said. The church released a CD last year and Jimmy Greene, a musician and teacher in the faculty of music at the University of Manitoba, was featured. The family moved back to Greene's home state of Connecticut in July. He's now a music professor at a college in Danbury, Conn.
Janke spoke to the family on Monday. They talked of the Book of Job, Janke said. God didn't tell Job why he lost his family, the pastor said. The family will rely on Scripture and belief to see them through. "We point to the Psalms as well. Every imaginable feeling is expressed there. It's really powerfully supportive for people with a strong faith in Jesus Christ."
Janke also flew to Connecticut for the funeral. The pastor said he told Nelba Márquez and Jimmy Greene people will always struggle with how God and an evil world can coexist.
It is a struggle, and time spent in Newtown can make it easy to fall into despair. But the messages in that hurting town aren't of anger, hatred or recrimination. The town is filled with angels -- silver ornaments hung on trees, pictures leaning against trees, cardboard cutouts carefully labelled with children's names. The signs speak of love and gratitude. Strangers from around the world have sent messages of support. Newtown chooses love, many signs defiantly say.
Ana Grace Márquez-Greene's family has chosen love. They believe their little girl, brought to God's house in her glass carriage, has gone to home to Jesus.
Reprinted from the Free Press Sunday Xtra