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Jeff, Lexie and Lynn Divers. Candle light vigil. Photo by Tricia Johnson (Inset) Alyssa Divers.Jeff, Lynn, and Lexie Divers welcomed their community to a candle light vigil on New Year’s Eve to celebrate the memory of the girl they call their “Firework” –Alyssa Grace Divers.
Alyssa lost her battle with osteosarcoma – a bone cancer - one year earlier, on December 31, 2012. Family and friends gathered on the lawn of the Divers’ home to remember Alyssa and to support her family as they try to move forward in a way that honors the person Alyssa was.
As the crowd was gathering, Alyssa’s “Papa Hugh” Litchfield spoke of what it meant to have the community’s support. “It is a terrible thing that Alyssa is not here,” Alyssa’s grandfather said. “We don’t forget her – we can’t forget her - and to be here tonight with the community is so important…we just posted this vigil today and here all these people are to remember Alyssa.” Litchfield said that the service would reflect Alyssa’s personality. “We want to celebrate Alyssa and remember her. My remembrance of Alyssa would be that this is a time that she would want us to celebrate, not to mourn. That was her spirit, and tonight we might sing, maybe even dance, and I think she would like that.”
Shari Lascano was Alyssa’s second-grade teacher, and also tutored Alyssa when she was too ill to attend school. “It is still really, really hard,” Lascano said of coping with Alyssa’s death. “I pulled out some materials the other day and she had written her name on this stuff in her ‘fancy font’ – her best cursive handwriting.” Lascano appreciated that so many in this community had gathered to share comfort.
Joey Hagan is good friends with Alyssa’s little sister Lexie, and said she was there to show Lexie her support, “I am here tonight mainly because Alyssa’s sister Lexie is one of my greatest friends.”
She added, “I think it is actually a good way to celebrate New Year’s Eve because we are remembering a really great person.”
Lynn Divers, Alyssa’s mother, welcomed visitors to the vigil. “We gather to celebrate that we survived this year. It has not been easy, and there were times when we were not sure that we would survive.” Divers told the crowd, “Alyssa was a girl that loved to sing and dance and I believe that she would love for us to do the same.”
The service opened with music, then Alyssa’s parents lit a candle in an ornate holder, as Lynn explained its significance, “When Alyssa was born we lit this candle during a service of dedication for her held here at our home, recognizing that she was a gift of God and she came from God. We hope and pray that she is with God and returned to God. We have not lit this candle since that day.” Divers added, “We thank God for every second we had her.”
Tim Litchfield, Alyssa’s uncle, is a songwriter who performed two songs he had written for Alyssa. Litchfield encouraged everyone to sing along during the refrain of the second song he performed, written as Alyssa began to lose her hair while undergoing chemotherapy. In the cold air, under a blanket of stars, voices raised together to sing “You’re more beautiful than you’ll ever know.”
Alyssa’s sister Lexie sang their favorite song, “Firework”, a song that she and Alyssa used to sing together, to each other. Those gathered lit sparklers during this song and, at the very end, brilliant fireworks lit the clear night sky for a fleeting moment.
While this service was emotional, remembering a treasured child lost too soon to her family and this community, it was also truly a celebration of her life, and the sound of children’s laughter blended with quiet conversation as friends and family hugged, many smiling through their tears.
Chandra Jonkman is the mother of Shae-Lynn, who had been Alyssa’s close friend. She said that Shae-Lynn and Lexie still play together, because they have “a connection through Alyssa.” Asked how she helps her daughter deal with the loss of her best friend, Jonkman replied “…we talk about Alyssa…Shae visits with Lexie and Lynn and is still part of their family…they are very loving.” Of the vigil, Jonkman said, “it was good to see the support. It was good to see the affection Lynn and Jeff showed each other.”
When asked what it meant to her, that the vigil was so well attended, Lynn Divers said tearfully, “It means that Alyssa was remembered. That her life mattered - not just to us, but to other people too, and that we still matter to other people enough that they would come out tonight and stand with us in the freezing cold to help us cope.”
Divers also spoke of a grief that still overwhelms her at times, “We just miss her. The other night I had a meltdown - I was just screaming at God, ‘Bring her back, bring her back - I’m done - I can’t keep doing this! Please send her back!’ And I know it is not logical, but it doesn’t matter - I want her back anyway.”
Lexie Divers, with poise beyond her years, explained how she copes with the pain of losing her big sister, “It’s hard at some points, but usually I try to make it feel better than it is. I know that Alyssa is still with me and I know she would want me to have fun. I like to play with my friends so I can keep my mind off of things.” Asked about the vigil, Lexie said, “It felt really good that all of these people showed up to remember Alyssa and I feel really good about putting this together. I feel like I want to honor her.” She pointed to a small evergreen tree draped with lights, “Actually that tree Alyssa and I used to decorate with leaves around Christmas, and pretend the leaves were ornaments, so it is kind of nice to actually have the blue lights on it.” Bright blue was Alyssa’s favorite color, and many in the community now call it “Alyssa Blue.” Lexie added, “It was amazing how many people wanted to come and remember Alyssa.”
Jeff Divers describes his daughter Alyssa as an ‘old soul’, and says he knew from the moment she was born that she was different. “Just the way she looked at me when she was born, and she looked through me, and I immediately told Lynn she was an old soul. She just proved that over and over again, by the types of questions she asked, and the level of understanding she had about most things.”
Jeff Divers was grateful that so many attended the vigil: “It was very nice and meaningful – and it was representative of what the community has done for us during this time - our community here locally and all over the world, really.” When asked about the family’s decision to be open with Alyssa’s story – to share personal updates via the website Caring Bridge and social media, he said, “It was a decision we made early on - it was a difficult decision - whether to keep medical and personal things private or whether to go wide…and I’m glad we made the decision we did, and that Lynn has the wherewithal and the capacity to do that as well as she has.” Divers added, “I would never have known the kind of support that we could receive without it.” Divers said he is grateful for the people and the businesses that have been helpful and generous to them, and added that it is so meaningful when people talk to him about his daughter. “I love it when people stop me on the street and talk to me and remember Alyssa. I love whenever somebody remembers Alyssa…It is always great to know somebody remembers Alyssa. We always carry it, so it is not going to hurt our feelings to talk about her - just knowing that people remember us is what is so special.”
Divers looked at his wife Lynn and daughter Lexie and smiled, then said, “People haven’t forgotten Alyssa in this community. They remember her.”