“Everything happens for a reason.” That was one of Gwyn’s favorite sayings. Everything happens for a reason but for us it is too much to understand, to comprehend the reason that Gwyn died at such a young age. “Why God?” we ask and struggle because there is no answer. So we have to trust. Gwyn believed that everything happens for a reason and we have to believe it also. C.S. Lewis, known by most of you for writing the Chronicles of Narnia, was also a renowned philosopher and Christian apologist. He wrote beautifully about the problem a Christian faces of reconciling human pain and suffering with a good and loving God. How can an all-powerful God allow such suffering if He loved us? One explanation C. S. Lewis proposed for why God permits devastating suffering in the world involved diamonds. If you have ever gone to a jeweler’s to purchase a diamond, you known that the jeweler doesn’t just show you the diamond but places it on a black velvet cloth, so that the light can shine through the diamond and the beauty and the brilliance of the diamond can be more fully appreciated in contrast to the black cloth. Suffering of this world, unbearable losses such as losing Gwyn act to magnify the beauty of His creation, the glory of heaven and the unspeakable joy He has waiting for us.
Gwyn’s aunt Gina gave me the lyrics from the song “Dancing in the Sky,” which reflect some of the things going through our minds “Tell me what does it look like in heaven. Is it peaceful and free like they say. Does the sun shine bright forever? … Cause here on earth it feels like everything good is missing, since you left…I hope you are dancing in the sky. I hope you are singing in the angels’ choir. I hope the angels know what they have . I bet its so nice up in heaven since you arrived….So tell me what do you do up in heaven? Are your days filled with love and light? Is there music? Is there art and invention? Tell me are you happy? Are you more alive?”
Gwyn is one of God’s most beautiful creations! I say “is” because though her body is dead, she is more fully alive now than ever before. Gwyn says “everything happens for a reason.” And I agree. The day after Gwyn’s death the Sunday mass readings were incredible messages from God. The first reading was from the Book of Wisdom and said, “God did not make death, nor does He rejoice in the destruction of the living. For he fashioned all things that they may have being…For God formed man to be imperishable.” Imperishable! He made us to be immortal! Then the gospel from Mark was the story of the synagogue official, Jairus whose young daughter was dying. Jairus sought out Jesus and begged him to save his daughter’s life. Jesus went with Jairus to his home where there was wailing and weeping because the little girl was already dead. Jesus told the grieving father, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” He said to the crowd, “Why this commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but asleep.” Jesus touched the child and she awoke. Why would this be the gospel the very day after Gwyn’s death? A coincidence? I call it a God-incidence. Remember, everything happens for a reason. God wanted us to know that Gwyn’s body is only asleep, that it will rise on the last day and that now she is alive and well with Him.
Though I knew Gwyn from birth, I am her grandmother, Daryl’s sister I live in another state and was not fortunate enough to spend time with her daily. Many of you knew her much better than I did. The many stories that have been shared with me over the last week have helped me to realize what a truly special and incredible girl she was. She was loved deeply by so many for a reason. I have come to believe that Gwyneth Rivells packed more love, joy, and life into her too- short 17 years than most of do with 4 times the number of years.
Gwyneth was the perfect combination of her mother, Sue and father, Joe. She had Sue’s good looks and sweet disposition. From her father she inherited a fierce strength and determination, an unfailing sense of humor and a love for Disney Princesses. (Joe has a soft, sensitive side.) It is funny how she loved Disney Princesses because she was like a real-life Princess. She reigned like a benevolent, kind princess not with a harsh hand but with love and a sunny disposition. She drew people to herself and they willingly sought to do her bidding because they wanted to please her. People wanted to be around her and to be like her. She was a natural leader because she could inspire and motivate. She had the gift of making people smile.
Her role as reigning princess in the family was secure. She was the first- born grandchild on both sides of the family. She was adored by her Mema and Pepa on the Rivells side and by her Mom-mom and Pop-pop on the Seabridge side. She had the all of them wrapped around her finger. Because she was so sweet and so appreciative , they all wanted to do for her. Her two younger brothers, Joey and Ryan and her three male Rivells cousins never questioned she was number 1 with Mema and Pepa; they only wondered who was number 2! On the Seabridge side she has the oldest of the cousins, with three boy cousins and two girl cousins who all idolized their beautiful big cousin. Her grandmother, Fran told me a story. Fran was arranging pictures of her grandchildren in a frame. As she arranged the pictures in the frame from the back, she placed Gwyn’s picture in first on the left and then all the others. When she flipped the frame over to the right side, Gwyn’s photo was on the right after her cousin Harry. Gwyn was horrified! “Wait a minute,” she said. “That’s wrong. Harry can’t be first. I’m first. You know you need to change that.” Of course, Fran changed it.
Gwyn’s ability to get people to do for her was quite remarkable. Her grandparents and aunts and uncles were never reluctant to answer a call for help. “I forgot my lunch money.” “Can you pick me up from school?” (often that entailed driving all around town dropping off the other four or five kids who also needed a ride.) After she turned 16 and could drive to school there was a call for help about her car. A parking pass for school cost $100 and since her birthday was in April, she thought it was ridiculous to pay $100 for one month. So when she was ticketed and her car was going to be towed, she couldn’t leave school so she called her grandparents. Of course, they went and she threw them the car keys from a top floor window. They never minded because she was always so loving and appreciative.
She brought joy to her entire family. In 17 years, her grandparents never remember her ever saying anything mean to them. She was the sunshine and sometimes the glue in the family. She was all light and her light attracted others to her like fireflies around a light bulb. The really amazing thing was how even strangers were drawn to her and wanted to please her. One time, the family was at Giggleberry Farm for a cousin’s birthday party. They were having a shooting war with nerf type guns. They would shoot at each other from an elevated platform, then they had to run down to the pit in the center to get the nerf balls to reload. Somehow a group of young boys started retrieving balls for Gwyn. While everyone else had to stop, run and get balls and reload, she kept shooting with her unlimited supply of balls from her adoring fans!
Gwyn had a lively sense of humor. Once when the family went to Disney World, she purchased a sweatshirt for herself that said LIFEGUARD. Her Uncle Mike said, “You can’t wear that. You’re not a lifeguard.” He was wearing a Phillies jersey at the time, so she quickly replied, “Well, you are wearing a Phillies jersey and you’re not a Philly.” Sometime later, Gwyn did become a lifeguard at Sesame Place. She reminded her uncle of the incident. “Well, now I am a lifeguard! But you’re still not a Philly.”
She was resourceful and honest. If she was low on cash, she would take money from her Dad’s wallet but she always left an IOU. Her Aunt Jessica remembers when she was little and they were trying to potty train her. She was giving everyone a hard time with the potty training, but she really wanted a “Life- size Barbie” doll. So the adults thinking they were smarter than she was, tried to bribe her. “If we get you a life-size Barbie, will you go on the potty?” She happily agreed. They all pitched in and bought the Barbie. She was so excited. However, she still would not use the potty. When they asked her why, since she had agreed to go on the potty, she said, “I just wanted the Barbie.” I guess that time she was more resourceful than honest.
Gwyn was humble. With all this adoration and admiration you might expect her to be self-centered and conceited. Not at all. To the contrary. She was confident about whom she was but she was also humble. She was a cheer-leader for a season but stopped because she did not like being the center-of-attention. Gwyn was fiercely loyal. Though her entire extended family were die-hard Eagles fans, her beloved Pepa was a Giants fan and she managed to stick by him. When she was in New York City, she went to a wax museum and had her picture taken with a very life-like Eli Manning, just for Pepa. Gwyn made a t-shirt for her grandfather that said Pepa’s Giants. Below those words was a heart that said Gwyn and below the heart a row of footballs with the name of her brothers and cousins. Pepa says, “She was the quarterback. They were the linemen.”
Gwyn was very persuasive. I already mentioned how good she was at getting people to do what she wanted. People wanted to please her and she was a very convincing salesperson. When she briefly played volleyball (she was Captain of the JV Volley Ball Team), her family went and bought a professional volleyball net. She was so persuasive, she even convinced my sister and her husband to start using horse shampoo because it was good for your hair!
She was active, creative and interested in everything! There was always something new to learn or create. She played soccer, volleyball, even archery. She loved creating things and was very artistic from an early age, always wanting to do a craft or make a gift or put together a calendar or photo album. In school, she excelled in Chemistry. Because she enjoyed it and was passionate about it, it was natural for her to try to teach it to her fellow students who were struggling. One day as she attempted without success to explain the Periodic Table to her friends during lunch, she had a brainstorm. Think of it like Candyland, she instructed them! Then they got it.
Her special combination of talents led her to consider a future career in the medical field. With her intelligence and winning personality, success was inevitable. But recently she had the idea of going to study in Florida and becoming a Disney Princess. Disney would pay for her education while she lived the dream of being a real Disney Princess. She also dreamed of going to Paris and Italy one day. She wanted to see and do everything.
It’s pretty clear that Gwyneth loved life. She loved celebrations and holidays. She loved family traditions like baking cookies with her aunts and cousins. She loved her friends. She loved decorating lockers with them and going to the beach with them and taking selfies with them and bending spoons with them. She loved spending time at the shore with her family during the summer. She loved change. She constantly was rearranging her bedroom. Moving the bed, putting another hole in the wall for her mirror, painting and repainting! Drove her father crazy. Gwyn’s cousin, Julianna, shared another interesting fact about Gwyn’s bedroom. She always had food in her room! Like oreos or ‘smores. Once when she had her drawers next to her vanity, in between her drawers and some flowers, she had a piece of pizza. Julianna said it was so funny because it was like she filed it and so Julianna took a picture of it!
Her father says one of her most endearing qualities was her ability to come home after a bad day and describe the day in detail, all the while smiling. One day she recounted a particularly difficult shift as lifeguard at Sesame Place. Her exzema was acting up, she had sunburn under her bathing suit strap, a little kid stole her whistle and name tag, then took off down the water slide blowing her whistle the whole time, when she went to get a new whistle, they were out of pink whistles, so she had to get a yellow whistle (apparently a occurrence of tragic proportions), and then they spelled her name wrong on the new name tag, a little kid did a “snuffy” in the pool (is that the right code word?), another kid took his suit off in the pool and another lifeguard took the location that she wanted to work!! A lesser person might have been angry or at least a little upset. But not Gwyn. She laughed and smiled the whole time because she is a sweetheart!
Gwyneth is amazing. She is genuinely loved and admired by more people than we can count. In her 17 years she has touched the lives of so many and they are all better people for it. It feels as if nothing will ever be the same without her. It won’t. But she is with us all and she would want everyone to live life as she did – fully, joyfully, with passion. So you will go to celebrations, to birthday parties, and graduations and weddings and you will remember how beautiful Gwyn was at her Sweet Sixteenth, and how happy she would be at this new celebration. You will continue family traditions and remember how she loved family dinner night and baking cookies with her cousins. You will go to Paris and Rome and think how much Gwyn loved the thought of traveling to these places. You will go to the beach and remember how she loved it and how she wrote in the sand. You will go to Disneyworld with your children and grandchildren and look at the Disney Princesses and say, “Nice princess, but not as beautiful or sweet as Gwyn.” The way you will be able to do all this, is with Gwyn’s help.
In the last week, Gwyn’s family has been overwhelmed by the signs of God’s love and Gwyn’s help. Every difficult decision that had to be made was made clear. It was as if she was directing the entire thing. The first miraculous occurrence was the incredible candlelight vigil. Thank you, to all the friends that organized it. You will never know how much strength and comfort that gave to Gwyn’s family. Hearing your stories about her was a tremendous blessing. Thank you. There was one story that particularly touched Gwyn’s dad. One boy who had been friends with Gwyn relayed how he had been in New Jersey with his football team when he learned of Gwyn’s death. He and another boy, also a friend of hers, met on the football field crying when the coaches and other team members came over and the boys told them what had happened. Then as the boy, very upset, walked through the gates to his car, a man approached him. Seeing the boy in tears the man asked him how he was doing as he had overheard him telling the coach what happened. The boy said, “I’ve been best friends with this girl for 5 years.” The man patted him on the shoulder and said to him, “Jesus had 12 apostles. He loved them dearly. Jesus told them He was going on a quest. As He was leaving, one of the apostles asked, “Messiah where are you going?” Jesus said I want to go and find a daughter.” The man said, “Jesus walked and walked for years, for decades and centuries. I think today is the day he brought her home.” No one knows who the man telling the story was. Maybe he was an angel.
When the family went to look at different cemeteries, the first one was closed or locked and when they got to the next one, the first thing they saw upon entering was a huge monument that said GWYNN. It was the last name of a family but for them it was a sign from Gwyn – this is the place. When visiting funeral homes, Joe asked for another sign. He walked out of one and there was a flag pole. He asked Gwyn, if this is the place, make the flag wave. There was not a hint of breeze but then the flag fluttered. “Come on, Gwyn,” he said, “You can do better than that.” Suddenly the whole flag went swoosh. That was a done deal. When he finished making the arrangements he walked outside and there was a beautiful full rainbow which helped to confirm the decision. When they looked at caterers for last night for the family, the first 2 places were closed on Sunday. Joe knew that the third place was a winner when he found out the owners were Fran and Dave (they have the same name as Gwyn’s grandparents.) It’s been like that all week. She is gently guiding things.
At the end of the Apostle’s Creed we express our faith in “the Communion of Saints, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.” The communion of saints is a beautiful truth. It teaches us that there are 3 parts of the church that can communicate with each other through prayer. It includes the Church Militant (those of us still fighting the good fight on earth), the Church Suffering (those souls in purgatory who are being purified and joyfully awaiting entrance into heaven), and the Church Triumphant ( those souls who have reached heaven.) We all can pray for each other and help each other. Those who have died are our friends and pray constantly for us. Pray to Gwyn. Ask her to intercede on our behalf. She will give you signs. She will pray for you. Gwyn’s Dad asked me to tell you, “Believe and look for the signs. Gwyn is with us and she will help to make us better people.”