here are no words when it comes to a parent losing a child.
Especially when that loss arrives suddenly, and without warning.
For those attending the funeral of 8-year-old Newcastle lad Will Leeson this afternoon, they were there to show love and support to his parents, Will and Julie, to his big sister, Emily, and to his grandparents, Brendan and Mary, along with all his family and friends.
And as today’s huge turnout proved, from St. Francis National School to Newcastle GAA and beyond, the always-smiling Will Leeson clearly had a lot of friends.
There are no words though, and we’d be foolish to try and convey what those who knew and loved Will must be going through.
So instead, we’ll turn to the moving sermon delivered today by the Reverend Ross Styles…
We have come together this morning in this beautiful church to celebrate the life of Will Leeson and to say our farewells. Will was a much beloved member of this community, whose life touched so many. I have heard it said over the last few days that a dark cloud is hanging over this community and this is true. There has been an outpouring of grief and sadness. We need to support each other and it was so heartening to see how many people gathered for a candlelight vigil for Will as we need to support each other and Will’s family.
We are all shocked and broken hearted. The loss of such a young life poses so many questions to which I personally do not have the answers. Yet in the darkness of our grief and sadness, I do know one thing, that there is a bright light that shines, a bright light that cannot be extinguished, no matter how dark things may be. The bright light of Will’s love for his family, the bright light of their love for him, and the bright light of God’s love for them all. It is with loving memories and great sadness that we remember Will this morning. We keep him, his parents Andrew and Julie, his big sister Emily, and all of his family and friends in our hearts and in our prayers.
I was not fortunate enough to know Will very well but I will remember his beaming smile at assembly, Ava had just started in his class and has told us great stories of all the fun and adventure they had at playtime. It is to his family that we will have to turn to learn more about him. Very often at a funeral we describe someone living a full life, but that does not seem appropriate for someone gone from us so young. However they say that children live in the little moments and I know that Will filled every precious moment in an adventurous and active life and in his eight years he touched so many lives in so many ways.
Andrew and Brendan have given me some insights into this fun loving young man. Will was well named because he was strong willed. He almost always knew exactly what he wanted and was able to negotiate how to get it. One more packet of sweets or crisps, one more game or Netflix episode of Ninjago or How To Train Your Dragon, someone to jump on the trampoline with him.
Not everyone was quite like his grandparents, who supplied endless treats and unconditional love. His parents, teachers and GAA coaches all wanted him to do things and he was quite willing to oblige, occasionally. But the world was far too full of other interesting things, far more exciting than just doing stuff because other people wanted him to, although he would oblige them if they seemed to think it was important.
Obviously the stories and adventures that he had playing in his imagination were far more interesting! School, GAA and all the other places where he met other children and adults were almost always enjoyed to the full though – Will loved any kind word, reward sticker, or a smile and was surrounded by teachers, coaches and family who displayed immense patience and gave him positive reinforcement and love. His parents found the school and GAA went above and beyond to both teach him but more importantly to make his time there enjoyable.
Everything was endlessly fascinating for Will. Nature, toys, anything which caught his eye had to be examined, investigated and brought into his own world which was full of his own inventions. His pets were not just pets, His guinea pigs were secret “agent squeakers” who were preventing the evil Meowser from taking over the world, or the Guinea Pig Of Light who was battling the Guinea Pig Of Darkness. Every stick was a magic staff or a sword. He really enjoyed school – especially after lockdown ended and a few of his friends had a complex ever changing world where they fought dragons and evil and saved the universe. He loved his pets – his dogs, guinea pigs, chickens – indeed almost any animal brought him joy.
Everything was picked up and played with including, on one memorable occasion, his mothers ring. That was lost for weeks until it turned up under his sister’s bed. This was probably the worst period of his life as it led to a ban on computer games for more than a week. His cousin Lucy found the ring and he told her she had “saved his life”.
During the early stages of the Covid lockdown when children and grandparents couldn’t hug or come into direct contact with each other Mary and Brendan invited Emily and Will over to their house for Sunday breakfast. They set up a table and chairs for their grandchildren outside the front porch and they sat in the porch itself with the door open. Brendan and Mary brought out the food, which in Will’s case very importantly had to include plenty of rashers, and all seemed to be going very well when suddenly Will got very angry and started banging the table very hard. Emily said, “What’s the matter Will and why are you shouting and bashing the table?”. Will replied “I’m very angry because I can’t hug Nanny and Grandad”.
Emily paused for a moment and then said, “Well, come and hug me instead, and that will have to do for the time being”. All subsequent visits went very well. Many years ago an old friend said to Brendan “Say silly things to your grandchildren even if it sounds daft”. One day when Will was his grandparents house, Brendan said to him “I don’t know what happens to my face when I see you, it just breaks into a smile every time, every single time it sees you – it just happens, I can’t stop it.” Will looked at his grandad, said nothing and his face just broke into a huge smile. They often did this afterwards– just looked at each other and smiled and laughed. They didn’t have to say a word.
In our reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we hear that love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. Love is the shining light that can never be dimmed. Our love for each other shines bright, and the light of God’s love is always there with us, burning brighter in times when we are sad and in darkness.
This congregation here this morning, and all those gathered outside, share something very special, the great gift of the presence of Will Leeson in their lives and their precious memories of him. Though these memories are all different, they have a common thread, the gift of a special life, precious memories to be cherished for ever, of love that will never end. The words of Ellen Brennerman’s poem sum up how love transcends all loss:
Don’t think of him as gone away his journey’s just begun, life holds so many facets this is only one. Think of him resting from the sorrows and the tears in a place of warmth and comfort where there are no days and years. Think how he must be wishing that we could know today how nothing but our sadness can really pass away. And think of him as living in the hearts of those he touched for nothing loved is ever lost and he was loved so much.
For Will’s family and friends, words cannot convey the emotions of this very difficult time, however they can look back and celebrate knowing and loving Will and being loved by him and having him in their lives.
May they know the peace of Christ, as they bid farewell to you Will, till you meet again.
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