Kennedy's story: Family hopes to honor girl's wish to share story of love and faith
"Kennedy rarely opens her eyes anymore unless she is looking toward Heaven. The past few weeks, there have been several nights where Kennedy is seeing well beyond this life and into the next," said a message signed by Jason and Heather Hansen and posted to the Facebook page a few weeks before Kennedy's death.
'This is Kennedy's day'
More than 1,500 friends, family and strangers who had learned Kennedy's story in recent months attended her funeral at Weber State University on Thursday. Last fall the campus was the site of an Imagine Dragons concert where Kennedy met the band and had her favorite song dedicated to her, and a perfect Sweet 16 party with as many friends as she could invite.
Kennedy's parents stayed close together Thursday as they smiled at moments and let silent tears fall at others. They had planned for this moment.
They greeted the long line of visitors that passed by Kennedy's casket and admired beautiful paintings of her, dressed in white and looking heavenward, or kneeling at the feet of Jesus Christ.
"She'd be so happy you're here," they said. "Doesn't she look beautiful?"
The service was full of meticulous detail, from the pink and green balloons, ribbons and flowers that lined the room to the displays of Kennedy's pictures, cowgirl boots, favorite toys and a Fremont High cheerleading uniform. Each was placed as a celebration of her life rather than a memorial to her death.
"This is Kennedy's day," Jason Hansen said. "She gave so much that it was our time to give back to her."
Heather Hansen's voice was peaceful as she spoke during the memorial. Her message, she said, would focus on what Kennedy would want her friends far and wide to know.
She recalled her daughter's complete faith as a 4-year-old, holding a phone and asking, "How do I call Heavenly Father?" Prayer and study, no matter the religion, can be a powerful comfort, she said.
Heather Hansen also shared her daughter's deep trust in the LDS Church priesthood blessings she received throughout her illness, which offered comfort and direction as her days grew shorter.
Kennedy was constantly developing her special talent for loving others, being kind and sharing, the girl's mother said, holding up a sticker-covered paper labelled "Kennedy's Nice Chart."
"As I look out today, I can see she accomplished that," Heather Hansen said. "She loved, she prayed, she believed."
A legacy of love
When Kennedy passed through the halls at Fremont High School, her happiness was infectious, said Jaden Loftus, the love of 16-year-old Kennedy's life.
Anyone who came in contact with Kennedy at school was happy for the rest of the day, Loftus said at the funeral. He wasn't nervous as he looked out at the large crowd, thanks to Kennedy's kind and fearless example.
Kennedy called Loftus her boyfriend. It was a connection some people might not understand, the high school junior said. Loftus was dating a girl at school, but in her childlike state of mind, all Kennedy understood was that the boy who took her to dances, visited her at her house and accepted her love notes made her feel special.
"I was a friend to her and she was a friend to me, and at the end of the day we were both happy to spend time together," he said.
Loftus, who intends to serve an LDS Church mission after his senior year at Fremont High, said he will take Kennedy's example with him.
"She taught me to show true love in the simplest of ways," he said. "When I'm out on my mission or when I'm out and about just meeting new people, I'll be able to become friends with them because Kennedy taught me to be a good friend to everyone."
At the Ogden City Cemetery, Kris Neville signalled Kennedy's brother and sister closer and whispered to them, coaching them as they released a flock of doves.
Neville, a Hooper resident, had never met the Hansens, but she had seen Kennedy's story shared online and volunteered her birds for the service.
"When something really sad happens, we ask, 'What can I do?'" she said. "This was something I could do."
Kennedy's teammates from the Fremont High cheerleading squad hugged one another and joined those writing messages on the vault that would soon be lowered into the earth.
Along with everyone at the funeral, they had been challenged by their coach, Jill Schofield, to continue Kennedy's legacy of kindness that they'd shared in during a "dream year."
"Kennedy would want us all to learn something," Schofield said. "For someone who was supposed to have so many limitations, she had none."
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