Heart of gold: Young Lillie Edwards lived each day as a gift

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 11, 2013

SALISBURY — Robert Jones, one of Lillie Edwards’ pallbearers, smiled Thursday afternoon, remembering a time when Lillie was in trouble with her mother.
Elizabeth Edwards decided the punishment would have to be removing toys from Lillie’s bedroom. It made her sick to do it, but Elizabeth asked Lillie to leave while she followed through on the task.
She finally allowed Lillie to return, and upon entering the less crowded bedroom, Lillie rejoiced.
“Oh, boy,” she said, “more room to dance.”
Seldom does a death affect a community the way Lillie’s has.
Scattered throughout the 1,000 people at her funeral Thursday, grown men wore pink shirts and dabbed at their eyes.
Pink and purple were Lillie’s favorite colors.
So many people knew the brave 6-year-old and her backstory. Born with congenital heart disease, Lillie had undergone three open-heart operations, the most recent one last fall in Houston, Texas.
Lillie’s surgery went better than expected. She did not need the valve replacement surgeons had planned on and recently had received even more encouraging medical reports.
Lillie enjoyed a great Christmas, and the new year promised plenty more adventures, plenty more dancing.
Not long before she passed out at the Chick-fil-A playground last Saturday and not long before her little heart stopped, Lillie delivered a line many Salisburians cannot get out of their heads.
Flashing that dimpled smile, she announced several times she was having the best day of her life.
Friends stopped each other in grocery stores or at church and spoke of it. The loss of the little girl and grief for her family had slugged people in the stomach and left them feeling helpless.
What could they do? What should they say? How could their own grief even compare with what Lillie’s family was going through?
Many children were hugged and held in Salisbury this past week.
The casket bearing Lillie Edwards rolled through Sacred Heart Catholic Church Thursday morning with a white cover, or pall, decorated with a homemade cross and the handprints of her friends and kindergarten classmates.
The service’s songs ranged from “Amazing Grace” to “Be Not Afraid” to “On Eagle’s Wings.”
The church was full of children — Lillie’s death had led to the Catholic school’s closing for a day. And children also participated in the service, sending out prayers.
Sacred Heart’s magnificent altar still had Christmas trees on each side and pink flowers given by all of her aunts, uncles and cousins.
One of those aunts, Betty Lou Echerd, wore a necklace Lillie had made and a charm bracelet that meant the most to her.
The charm on Echerd’s wrist said “Friend.” Lillie had kept the other charm, which said “Best.”
All week, friends were sending each other videos on Facebook that replayed the song Tripp Edwards had written for daughter Lillie not so long ago. At the post-funeral reception, display boards showed many of the family photographs and Lillie’s drawings, one of which was her dad with a guitar.
On the board, Elizabeth Goodman had written an open letter to Lillie, one of her kindergarten students.
The teacher reminded Lillie how she wore the biggest and best hair bows. Goodman wrote she could never draw palm trees as well as Lillie. There also was mention of a big ball of blue tape.
During periods when Lillie couldn’t participate in gym class with her classmates, she would help Goodman take down old bulletin boards, which employed the generous use of blue tape.
The teacher and student would roll all the old tape into a big ball. As it grew in size, Lillie decided they should keep adding to it through the year, to make it the biggest ball of blue tape ever.
That was Lillie. She had a flair, an opinion, maybe even an old soul.
After her first day of school last fall, Lillie reported back to her parents that kindergarten had three problems:
There were too many rules, you weren’t allowed to talk when you wanted to, and the day was too long.
Goodman said her class keeps a prayer list and because of her pending operation in the fall, Lillie had been on the list every week. After she returned from Texas and had received a good report, Lillie asked Goodman to take her off the list.
But Goodman suggested they keep her name on just a little longer. Goodman said she and her students agreed this past Monday to grant Lillie’s wish to come off the list.
She was in heaven now.
How could a 6-year-old pack so much into her short life?
Thursday’s pictures, homilies and conversations described a girl who went fishing, swimming and swinging. There she is playing a fiddle while her father plays guitar.
Or she might be wearing funny, purple glasses and trying to eat a hot dog in one bite.
Lillie was a star in a big, big family. That family included the First Methodist Church pre-school where she had attended and her grandmother is a teacher, her Sacred Heart friends, her peeps at Trinity Oaks where her great-grandmother lives and all those doctors and nurses she had touched.
She was an amazing little girl, the kind who could make people hug and write songs for her, lead men to wear pink shirts, have teachers aspire to building the world’s largest ball of tape — and one more thing.
Show us the importance of dancing.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263,or mwineka@salisburypost.com.