August 29, 2023 at 6:30 a.m.
Do You Remember Me? Thinking About Danielle Renae Mills
As I am looking at Danielle Mills in the 1999-2000 Fifth Grade Hope Elementary School Picture, one of my 27 students that year, it is as if she is asking, “Do you remember me, Mr. Webster?”
I do as well as hundreds of others who attended her viewing and funeral at St. Louis Independent Church. She was an outstanding student and individual just as her brother, Jason, was several years before at the old Hope Elementary. I also remember the positive conferences with her parents, Marvin and Patty. Danielle cheered at Hauser with our daughter, Bethany. Her locker was next to my son-in- law, Bryce Mize. Danielle's death hit each of them extremely hard too, thinking in particular about their two young sons and Danielle's three young sons.
I felt a need to attend the viewing and the funeral while seeing a lot of familiar faces, including former students, faces strained and hearts hurting like mine trying to cope with the tragedy, trying to somehow be of help. I was one of the last going through the line, choosing to wait and to talk with others while gathering my thoughts. Once there, I could only find a few words but knew the importance of embracing her parents and brother. Marvin stated it best, “Your embrace is helping me stand.”
When attending Indiana State University, I wrote a paper on the subject of bibliotherapy. During Health in fifth grade, a subject I was allowed to present despite no questions on ISTEP+, we read “Bridge to Terabithia” by Katherine Paterson and “Taste of Blackberries” by Doris Buchanan Smith. Each author conveys the need for grieving and wading through the process.
Before coming to the viewing at St. Louis Crossing Church, I had reread several pages of books by outstanding authors who each shared about losing a child: Larry Perkinson (“Nudge Me Gently”) and Mo Gawdat (“Solve for Happy”). Following, you will find words from each author.
Larry Perkinson, former Columbus Educator: “You may not have known our April, but I think you would have loved her. … Love has great rewards and great costs. Life is about cherishing the rewards and enduring the costs and about growing from both. … I still read about grief because I still feel the effects. … The process remains a work in progress. ...”
Mo Gawdat, former Google Chief Business Officer: “... When Ali left our world so suddenly, we all felt profound grief. The pain of missing him still lingers, of course, and we regularly shed tears that he's no longer available for a hug, a chat, or a video game. The pain we feel drives us to honor his memory and wish him well. …”
There was much thought put in Danielle's service with Pastor Brad Douglas, Pastor Tim Dillingham, and Reverend Wesley Mills all sharing words of hope. Pastor Brad spoke about Psalm 23 and followed it with the song “Surely Goodness, Surely Mercy” while joined by the very capable accompaniment of Trevor Potts. It was an inspiring performance of a special song. Pastor Tim spoke about the three Gs: Grief, Gift from God, and Gospel. He ended with expressing how much Danielle loved her jeep and took us through a jeep trip of some scriptures in the Bible. Reverend Wesley mentioned his yellow shirt and its representation of life in Heaven. Julie Robertson masterfully led us through several songs.
But now is another day on this earth for all who attended either Danielle's viewing or funeral. What will we do? I think Danielle would want us to do something to help others smile as well as ourselves. (Pastor Tim mentioned that smile.) I'm glad to live in a community that recognizes the power of being there for one another, of caring, and of holding others up in difficult times.
Danielle Mills. Photo credit: Submitted.