Several hundred people attended a Celebration of Life for Zach Larsen on Saturday at the Pentecostal New Life Assembly Church.
I wouldn't normally write a story like this in the first person – it's not about me, after all – but I tried and tried to write it as an impartial observer and just couldn't ... it felt dishonest.
At the end of the day, I'm not impartial, and I don't think most members of this community are, either.
For hundreds, if not thousands, of locals, this stopped being just 'a story' ages ago ...in fact, I think it got people where they live in ways we're just beginning to understand.
One of the aspects of it that haunted me more and more as the story unfolded is that many, like me, never knew Zach – we were first introduced to him through the tragic circumstances of his death ...so we associate him with tragedy.
The more people I spoke to about Zach; the more I learned about who he was and what he stood for; the more I understood that the true tragedy would be if people remembered him that way – if they heard his name and felt that stomach lurch that comes from remembered pain and loss.
By all accounts, little would horrify Zach more than that.
His family didn't hold a funeral – instead, it was a Celebration of Life – and few people wore black. Instead, there was a sea of purple ....Zach's favourite colour.
When I noted that there was more laughter than tears, one of Zach's friends said he wouldn't have it any other way – in fact, she said, he'd come back and haunt them if they dared remember him with anything but joy.
“He was the life of the party,” said another friend, Alana Henne. “He always had a smile, always had a story to tell, always made everyone smile.”
It wasn't always that way, though – Zach's step-dad, Steve, said Zach was a very quiet, solitary boy.
“He'd sit in his room and play with his action figures or whatever,” Steve said.
Both Steve and Marlene, Zach's mom, agree that it wasn't until near the end of Grade 11 that Zach really began to, in Steve's words, “come out of his shell”.
“He just came into himself ...with this amazing personality, and funny ... he was full of humour,” Marlene said.
Zach had graduated high school and was working a delivery job at Chopsticks, which Marlene said he really enjoyed, and he had just started tossing around ideas with his folks regarding college or university.
Despite having moved into his own place, Zach spent much of his time at his family home.
“We saw him at least every day,” said his sister Emorie.
Everyone I spoke to said Zach deeply valued the people in his life, and had a huge range of friends.
“He liked everybody – he didn't care about race or colour or sexual preference,” Marlene said. “He was so loving and so full of life.”
Alana Henne added, “He was absolutely one-of-a-kind ... and he always made sure everyone knew he was one-of-a-kind.”
Long-time friend Phillip Johnson agreed.
“What word would I use to describe him? Exuberant,” he said. “He'd run around naked all the time – he would literally take his pants off in any scenario.”
Phillip described an ebulant, spirited young man – child-like in the delight and wonder with which he approached the world.
“He was just overflowing, and the people around him would benefit from that overflow.
“He didn't have an ounce of malice – he was totally unjaded,” Phillip added.
Of course, he wasn't a saint – sometimes his in-your-face humour could be too much for people – as one person put it, “He wasn't afraid to push his own boundaries or your boundaries,” - and by all accounts, he spent an inordinate amount of time on his hair. ...although his hair obsession inspires laughter, not annoyance, from family and friends. Besides, it paid off ...he had great hair.
But, also by all accounts, he was a joy to be around, always smiling and making others do likewise. He lived in the moment, loved to laugh, and his affectionate nature gave his mom a powerful talisman to hold on to through her grief.
“The last thing he said to me was, 'Love you, Momma,'” Marlene said.