More than 150 people turned out last Saturday to celebrate the life of Rachel Elizabeth Carson, the 18-year-old Johnston High School senior who passed away on January 14 following a brief illness.
“This is not right, we should not be here, she was too young. But we are here,” said Rev. Tom Wintle, senior minister of the First Parish Church in Weston, Mass., during the memorial service held at the First Unitarian Church of Providence. “I don’t know who said it first but it’s true: We bury our parents in the ground. We bury our children in our hearts.”
Rachel’s sudden passing resulted from complications from acute leukemia. Her death was a complete shock to her family, friends and classmates.
“Please don’t try to be stoic, we don’t need to hold it in. What we do need is to hold each other,” said Rev. Wintle. “This is every parent’s nightmare, but we are here to remember a life well lived.”
The celebration service held in Rachel’s honor was filled with music, songs, hymns, stories and tears as the community came to grips with the loss of a talented and passionate soul. Rachel was a proud member of the high school band “A Capella” choral group, the Chemistry Club and the Tri-M Music Honor Society. She loved the arts and sciences and performing with the Rhode Island All-State Band. In the fall, she was to attend the University of Maine, where she planned to study wildlife ecology.
“The last three weeks have been the hardest days Rachel’s mother and I have ever experienced in our lives. It’s often said that losing a child is a parent’s worst nightmare, but I don’t think nightmare even begins to describe the depth of our sorrow,” said Kevin Carson, Rachel’s father. “I still have moments where my mind simply can’t comprehend this harsh reality.”
Kevin told the audience that he and his family have drawn strength and comfort in discovering how many lives Rachel touched and the outpouring of love and support the community has shown during this trial. Instead of focusing on overwhelming grief, Kevin instead chose to “celebrate the life of my beautiful and precious daughter in words and music.”
“I’m honored to have been her father, and I will always be her father,” said Kevin. “I will love and remember her to my last breath. It would take a lifetime to tell you about Rachel and do her memory justice.”
Kevin gave the community a glimpse of just how special Rachel was to him He said she possessed an independence and zest for life that made him proud. She said she had strong convictions and had little tolerance for hypocrisy or injustice. While Rachel often tried his patience, she used her talents to better the world around her.
He explained Rachel’s love of nature and the earth that he and his wife, Mardee, nurtured with camping trips, museum visits, aquariums, national park visits and climate change walks. Rachel was described as talented, self-assured, energetic, curious and a deep thinker. Her love of music, her dog, volunteering and commitment to family filled her life.
Abagail Heiser, a student at Johnston High and president of the Tri-M Music Honor Society, called Rachel sweet and that she had a huge heart that was ready for any challenge.
“All of us were extremely proud of her accomplishments. She was a huge part of our band and even our concert choir,” said Abagail. “I speak on behalf of our music department student body: she will be extremely missed and our department will never be the same without her.”
Abagail said that there will always be a seat available in band for Rachel and that the students have set up a memorial scholarship in her honor.
Music teacher and band director Ronald Lamoureux said that Rachel’s parents’ eloquence under such difficult circumstances was “awe-inspiring.” He said it was moving to see friends, family and classmates turn out in her memory. He said that he would miss Rachel’s sense of humor the most.
“The shock of this incredible loss is overwhelming for all of us. Regret is what so many of us are left with when we lose a friend and family member. When it’s so sudden like this, sometimes it’s compounded many times over,” said Lamoureux. “Regret is what we reap when we fail to connect with each other and share how we feel about each other. To hear of Rachel’s love, I’m inspired by her.”
Johnston High School principal Dennis Morrell said he had the good fortune of being Rachel’s principal at both the high school and middle school. He was honored to celebrate her life and, as a father himself, wondered aloud how Kevin and Mardee had the strength to carry on after such a devastating loss. He shared stories of how he and Rachel shared stories about their love of dogs and nature and called her an outstanding student.
“Rachel’s impact on the Johnston High School community will be remembered for some time. The senior class members and the faculty got together and we raised a substantial amount of money to be donated to Rachel’s family so that they can take care of expenses and things that they need,” he said. “I’m so very proud to be the principal of such a community of students, faculty and staff because everyone has come together to support the family.”
In Rachel’s honor, Dennis read from the Book of Ecclesiastes, beginning with “A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under Heaven. There’s a time for being born and a time for dying.”
More than half a dozen members of the audience then came forward to offer their thoughts and experiences that they shared with Rachel. Her bandmates in the clarinet section also performed “Amazing Grace.”
“Rachel loved her family and friends dearly, and she made deep, lasting friendships. She was an absolutely beautiful little girl who brought smiles to everyone she met,” said Kevin. “Rachel, it is impossible for me to say goodbye since you will never leave my thoughts and heart. Know that it was love that brought you into this world, and it is with love that you have returned.”