Momma sat upstairs today, as all my closest and dearest friends arrived. She was listening to the sound of the children - the greetings, the laughter, the sound of happy chatter... She asked me, "Saskia, can you see them all? All the people who love you so, they're here baby. They are all here for YOU. Can you hear them? I wish you could just give me a sign..." There was a pause, and a little bird outside began to sing... And then, more little birds began to sing... And then, there was a whole choir of birds that chirped in, singing from the trees momma and I had planted in the backyard together... And for a few moments, Momma sat crying and listened as I answered her.
Thank you, all of you, for being there today. Thank you for filling the house with laughter, and happy memories, and love. Thank you for being the best of friends, both old and new. I love you all, always.
The last, best thing we will ever do for Saskia…
How do you say goodbye, when you open your mouth and words fail you… How can you possibly make the necessary decisions, in the midst of so much chaos… And in the moment when you absolutely cannot breathe, because the pain IS TOO MUCH – how do you touch those things that will cause this pain to soar?
When I was little, I had a dog named Lucky. Upon his death, I had him cremated and placed his ashes in a decorative bottle that has always sat on the shelf, with his collar lovingly encircling the base. My father’s ashes joined Lucky’s in a beautifully decorative sculpture in 1999. When our family dog, a Siberian Husky, died – we had him cremated too and placed his ashes along side.
My girls and I, used to joke about how someday mom and dad’s ashes would be added to the collection. About how this collection would be added to as each of us grew old and died, and how this collection would be handed forth generation after generation, until one day in the far future, my great-great-great-great granddaughter would hold our entire family tree…
So, the decision to have Saskia cremated, we knew, is what she wanted. In those first few weeks, people kept asking about a memorial, about a service, about a celebration of her life. And I honestly could not begin to touch that right then…
But all the children, who kept coming to the house every day were grieving so desperately, and I realized we needed to do something. They needed to say goodbye. Find, some sense of closure. But a somber memorial service just is not Saskia’s style. And so, when the principal from MVHS offered to us putting together a ‘celebration of life’ in the Performing Arts Center, I gratefully accepted.
I invited all the children to come to the house, and help put this together. We sat in the living room – surrounded by boxes and steam trunks filled with photos. As we discussed what Saskia would want, what she liked, we quickly filled a 3-page list. Saskia’s friends, old and new, met for the first time in this way. They shared stories of her – how they had met, the wonderful things she had done, what a truly beautiful person she was!
And these children who were assembled in my living room spoke VOLUMES to the young woman my Saskia was. There were the popular ones, and Saskia would have felt honored by their presence. And the academically brilliant ones, the side of herself she always tried to hide from everyone because she was so humble, and yet among this group she was at the top of the class. Her ‘nerdy’ friends, as she so fondly called them – the ones who were always up for playing a game, or holding an intriguingly beguiling conversation. And the loners, those children she had ‘collected’ in school, and pulled in to her circle of friends, the quiet lonely ones she had helped most of all by helping them become accepted somewhere. All these children were sharing their thoughts and feelings and stories of my Saskia, chattering and laughing…
And that was the inspiration to me – for “HOW” we could put together something that would really celebrate HER… NOT something that would make everyone sadder, but would in fact represent HER LIFE – AND THE PERSON SHE WAS! We called it The Celebration of Saskia Show… I approached it, not as a memorial – but more, as a ‘Musical’ performance. We could play her favorite songs and show pictures with them of the people, places and things represented in her life by each song, have some moments to speak of her, dance to her favorite – The Time Warp. We would toast to her, with her favorite drink of Mountain Dew.
You see, Saskia grew up the child of two creative artists. There was nothing ordinary about her family, her home – or herself! My children, had wonderful imaginations! And since they were very small, they have always donned costumes to play in. Even when we cleaned house, we would dress up in our favorite costumes, because let’s face it – Spiderman would do a much better job of dusting than Ian ever would! Music too, was such a huge part of our life - at home, in the car, camping in the woods, even in public. I remember one time when my children were very small and I had taken their three friends with us to the mall to see a movie. As we got out of the car, I spread my arms out and began to sing. All six small children lined up with me and began to sing too. As we walked into the mall singing and waving our arms like the wings of a butterfly, people stopped and smiled and stared. Someone yelled out to us, “you sound like the Von Trapps!” We were just the ‘Burke’s’, but thank you for the compliment.
The Saskia Show changed and evolved. It was added to, and then upon running through it and discovering how LONG it had become, some things were removed. Everyone, and they were oh-so-many in number, wanted to speak. We could have spent 4 hours alone reading their prepared statements. So we had to break it down into sections, and limit the speakers. This was very difficult, because we wanted to let each person who wanted to say something have the opportunity. Yet I think in the end, those who did speak – spoke for them all!
Each person involved was put in charge of handling something. Paul used his artistic talent to put together the program, taking doodles Saskia had drawn over the years and incorporating them into the design and border of her program. Ian’s best friend Derek, volunteered to perform our chosen songs live. Some of the children were in charge of decorations and setting up, others in charge of running the sound system. Paul’s paintball team came to help with all the details, running here and there at the last minute to make sure the Show ran smoothly. Ian’s band was going to play at the end, and just before the programs were printed, Ian agreed to sing. This inspired Kessa to want to sing too, but she was afraid of being too emotional. And so I told her, “I’ll sing too. That way, even if your voice cracks or you forget the words, you’ll still be better than me! And I’ll go first, so it takes the pressure off you.”
So, I re-wrote the words to my song, more befitting of my Saskia. And I, took on the task NO ONE ELSE COULD… It was my job, to go through the myriad of pictures. Any parent, who has lost a child, will tell you this is a most excruciating thing to do. To touch those precious moments of something that is lost to you FOREVER… And it was this job, that pushed the date for her Show into February. I tried to go through the pictures, but the tears wouldn’t let me see anything, and I was forced to stop too many times... My task was not just to go through the pictures, but also to download them onto the computer, and arrange them in sequences for the songs. Oh, how difficult this was. How many times over the sleepless weeks, I had to take a break, go outside, drop to my knees and weep… How hard it was to look at each picture, THE AGONY OF HER BEING GONE, not being able to look at a single one without seeing the image of her decimated body lying so cold on that table…
As inspiration often comes in the most unexpected moments, the music and the ideology of the pictures evolved too. It all started, when we were putting the final program together. It was decided, that I would be the first on stage, and give the Introduction.
I resolved, that for this – I was going to wear my witch’s dress and hat. After all, it was Saskia’s favorite and most treasured childhood memory, me reading to her wrapped up together in my witch’s dress! It was this dress, that represented so much of me, to Saskia. How I was defiant of the schools decision to eliminate celebrating Halloween, our families FAVORITE holiday of the year, and so I would wear this dress and hat EACH TIME I VOLUNTEERED TO READ TO A CLASS, and made my own personal statement about how I felt in doing so! How I wore this dress proudly to town each October 31, to get groceries or pick up pizza, how Saskia wanted to one day be as confident as me about herself, and be so fearless in life so she could fully enjoy it! How fun I had made her childhood wearing that dress, and quoting witch’s. Be it for serious rest, “Poppies... Poppies. Poppies will put them to sleep. Sleeeeep.” Unloading the dishwasher, “And you, my dear, what an unexpected pleasure. It's so kind of you to want to visit me in my loneliness.” Or be it in jest, “I’ll get you my pretty! And your little sister too!” as I waggled my outstretched fingers like the wicked witch, which would bring my girls laughter before the tickles that followed my words…
But it was Michelle, who had just become my companion, my friend in the aftermath – who was also the voice of political reason. She wasn’t sure, how our little community and Saskia’s fellow students would receive such a thing. Michelle understood why I wanted to do this, but she didn’t think anyone else could, nor would they think it appropriate for such a thing. This caused me great turmoil for a few days. But then, late one night, inspiration struck again! The conversation taking place in the kitchen had centered on how some people would come expecting a memorial service. But we had no minister or reverend speaking. And everyone was laughing at the thought that I would walk out on stage alone in my witch’s outfit – how it was too bad, we didn’t have some kind of music that would sound more ‘memorial-ish’… And that was when Paul and I looked at each other, and both thought of the same song! “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to get through this thing called LIFE…!” we spoke the words out loud together. Yes, the perfect words to start off the Saskia Show! And so, the beginning actually became a ‘video’ Michelle and I put together with this song. That song, became our statement to her classmates and our community, and it led the way for what we were going to do! LET’S GO CRAZY!
And I am proud to say, we did – CELEBRATE SASKIA! In all her crazy glory! For her beautiful, wonderfully crazy life! For her special, crazy ways! For her love and admiration, of so many crazy things! And in the end, for her INCREDIBLY CRAZY DEATH!
And staying true to Saskia, we did it in our own crazy way! I’m sure, we did her proud! I think it’s everything she would have wanted. And I think we managed to give to her so much more, than she could have ever expected! Because we truly CELEBRATED her – and we did it with smiles and laughter, not just tears…
It all started with the words, “Dearly beloved…” Just as everyone would have expected. And we played her crazy video. I, wore my witch’s dress and hat that day. And gave this introduction:
“Thank you all for coming today, to help celebrate with us
the most precious life of
Saskia Savana Burke.
It has been incredibly difficult to make it to this moment. Going through all of her pictures, each with their own special memory. We wanted to put together a celebration that represented Saskia, and it is too overwhelming at times to celebrate when we are so tormented over her loss. But this is the last, best thing we ever get to do for her. So we approached it from this perspective. Because this is the only way we could get through this… So please bear with us, we needed to make this as unique as Saskia was…
As the daughter of two overly creative artists,
Saskia’s childhood was filled
with fairy tales and magic,
beauty and wonderment.
Saskia was raised by the witch’s creed from her favorite book:
"Whatever you say,
whatever you DO,
sooner or later,
comes back to you"...
Which simply means - never hurt someone’s feelings, it’s truly the worst thing you can do a person. This creed was the foundation for most of her friendships - she always reached out
to the unwanted,
and the outcasts
and touched their lives in such a unique way that it made the world a better place for all!
When Saskia was seven, she wrote in her journal: MY FAMILY
“My family is very weird.
One reason my family is weird is because they like to be weird.
Another reason is because my dad has long hair.
I am also weird because I love lettuce and cheese.
My mom is weird, because she is a witch. Even my cat is weird, because when he was little, and my mom had the dishes on the counter to dry, he crawled in a pot on the counter and went to sleep.
That is why my family is weird.”
The spirit of who she was,
how she loved,
and who she touched –
lives on in us all!
Each and every day of her life,
Saskia made the world a happier place!
And so, where ever you may be, Saskia,
your happiness is still the most important thing to me!
My love for you is endless,
and so immense,
that I WOULD DO ANYTHING FOR YOU!
Oh – and Saskia - you’re right,
your family is weird!
this is for you, baby!”
Though no show runs flawlessly, the imperfections in the Saskia Show only added to the atmosphere of her show! No, the music did not start on cue as Kessa took the stage, yet Kessa sang perfectly! When Derek forgot the words to one song, and was reminded of them by Paul who shouted them out from off stage – this evoked the element of ‘laughter’ for many, a simple moment of ‘comedy’ that surprisingly lightened the mood. We managed to catch everyone off guard in the middle, by putting on our sunglasses and making everyone in the audience stand for a moment of silence, then interrupting this moment by starting the music and having them dance to the Time Warp! The children all managed to speak their lovingly precious words, without falling apart! By the end, even Ian and Connor managed to speak from the heart, and laughed a little. And when Ian and the band took the stage, and Ian sang “Scientist” – the tears that fell from all listening weren’t so much from deep despair as much as they were admiration at this beautiful tribute Ian was giving to his sister…
Yes, we toasted our Saskia with Mountain Dew, and removed ourselves to the parking lot, where an open mike was available to everyone else who wanted to speak…
It was - THE LAST, BEST THING we ever got to do for Saskia!
I love you baby girl!