LOGAN — Jessica Whipple and Detrich Black held onto each other and the small, white casket adorned with colorfully painted butterflies as they listened to a lullaby they’d sung to their oldest daughter too many nights to count.
As the Logan High choir sang “Hush-A-Bye Mountain,” Whipple caressed the casket, a mother’s mournful act, reminding those crowded into the small chapel at Nyman Funeral Home in Logan that a wide-eyed, innocent life was stolen from her family without warning.
“I don’t think anybody really prepares you for the loss of a child,” Whipple said near the end of the hourlong service for Elizabeth “Lizzy” Shelley that paid tribute to a generous, fearless, beauty-seeking, bug-loving 5-year-old.
“I never had any thought of this happening. I’m so grateful that I tucked you in real good, that I said I loved you.”
It was a life measured in moments that might seem unremarkable — free supermarket apples, the wonder of the moon, the miracle of a ladybug infestation, the joy of carrying her younger cousin at a chaotic family gathering, the satisfaction of pointing out red lights to her dad while strapped in beside him, the responsibility of being a big sister, and the security of her mother’s arms.
In five years, she taught her family that weeds are just as beautiful as flowers and that love is meant to be shared.
“Some of the things that will always be imprinted on me,” Whipple said, “every time I see the moon. … Whenever she’d see the moon, she’d say, ‘Wow, the moon!’ And if I didn’t say anything, she’d say, ‘Mom, did you hear what I said?’”
She recalled watching, with some of the standard motherly trepidation, as her daughter rode her bike down a steep hill next to their Cache Valley home.
“It was so brave and beautiful,” she said, her voice softening almost to a whisper at the end of the sentence. “This week, we’ve had to be stronger than we’ve ever had to be.”
She recalled how people warned her that having a baby would be one of the most painful experiences of her life. She talked about how she prepared herself for it, and then she endured the fear and the pain.
“At the end of the day, it was hard and it hurt really bad, but you got to bring home this sweet angel,” she said, adding that the sacrifices parents make are a delightful mixture of challenge and beauty.
“You start to get that sense, it’s not about you anymore,” she said. “Any scratch or bump they get, you wish you could take away their pain.”
Whipple’s only mention of the horrific end to Lizzy’s life was in thanking those who searched for her daughter when she went missing from their home on May 26. Her uncle, Alex Whipple, has been charged with aggravated murder in her death. In a deal that allowed him to avoid the death penalty, he directed investigators to the area where Lizzy’s lifeless body had been buried under debris the night she was taken from her home.
Several of those who shared thoughts worked with the family through the Children’s Justice Center and the Family Place. The focus was not on the tragedy of Lizzy’s final moments but on all the ways in which she managed to bless the lives of those she loved in just five short years.
This was a little girl whose parents had to institute a limit of "one flower from each yard, each day" because there was no limit to her enthusiasm for gathering pretty things and giving them to those she loved.
“If you didn’t know her, then you missed out on one of the most kind-hearted, beautiful souls,” said her aunt Bonnie Black. “Lizzy loved playing with my children, but before running off with them, she’d always come and give me a hug. Lizzy shared her kindness with everyone who visited her home. She went so far as to giving the children some of her toys, insisting they take some home with them.”
Her real gift, those who loved her said, was seeing beauty in just about everything. She’d turn a rock or a stick into a treasured toy and create bouquets from weeds and flowers with equal enthusiasm.
“If you were walking with her and gave her a leaf, she would accept it as though she were accepting a beautiful bouquet of flowers,” Bonnie Black said. “It seemed like she was always smiling. She was always ready for the next adventure. … This little girls had so much love, and all she ever wanted was to share it. She loved everyone.”
The man she’d called dad all her life was Detrich “Deke” Black, Whipple’s fiance.
“She was my sidekick in a lot of ways, my co-pilot,” he said. “She loved to tell me how to drive, remind me of every red light, and tell me to watch out for pedestrians. She kept me careful on the road.”
He talked about their adventures — nature walks, playing in the toy aisle at Walmart during a snowstorm until her mother’s shift ended, chasing bugs, discovering unusual rocks, and buying the movie “Big Sister Dora" in the days after she became a big sister.
“I will never truly say goodbye to Lizzy,” he said, pausing briefly. “I can still feel her hand in mine. I can still feel her weight in my arms when I would pick her up. Lizzy, you will always be in my heart, you’ll always be my daughter, and I will always love you.”
As the family climbed into cars that followed the classic car that carried Lizzy’s casket to Babyland at the Logan City Cemetery, more than 250 bikers — many wearing rainbow ribbons — and half a dozen tow trucks waited to escort little Lizzy to her final resting place.