Rest in Peace

4 Apr

Last week my husband and I took a quick trip to Charlottesville, Virginia, home of the University of Virginia.  Unfortunately we weren’t there to visit the university or do a campus tour or take in an information session.  It was to attend a memorial service for our friends’ 19-year-old son who died suddenly in a freak accident.  Tommy was a freshman at the university and his family has long roots in the Charlottesville area.

Since reading the email almost a week ago about Tommy’s untimely passing, my heart has been gripped with intense sadness and anguish for his family.  We know the Gilliams from our time in Ireland.  They are an American missionary family who were instrumental in helping to establish the Maynooth Community Church, a small, vibrant Christian community, in County Kildare.  Last November we met for lunch with his parents, Tom and Vicki, when they were in the area.  During that lunch they were telling us about how Tommy was settling well into UVA and how he was enthusiastically embracing college life.  He was making lots of new friends, exploring new areas of academic interest and joining every club on campus.  His parents could not have been more delighted and proud of him and his adjustment to UVA.  In January when I came back from my visit to Dublin, I brought back a care package from his mother to mail to him.  I remember taking a peek inside and it was filled with all his favorite things, delicious goodies that had been carefully selected by loving hands.

My strongest memories of Tommy date back three years ago when his family invited my family over to lunch after church services.  It was a lazy Sunday afternoon and we lingered for a long while after the meal of baked ham and roasted vegetables and potatoes was over.  Our conversations touched many subjects, from the differences between Irish culture and Northern Irish culture, to faith matters, to European travels, to colleges.  Tommy and my daughter attended the same Irish school and he was two years ahead of her and getting ready to think about applying to colleges.  Throughout the lunch he sat with us, listened and participated in the conversation.  I remember being impressed with him then, thinking that he displayed great patience as he sat there with us because I couldn’t imagine that everything we talked about was all that interesting to a teenager.  Either he was obediently sitting there because his parents had told him to, or he was genuinely interested in our company.  Either way, at age 16, he comported himself with maturity.

The memorial service in Charlottesville was standing room only and the local news estimated that there were over 800 people in attendance, a testimony to how beloved Tommy and his family were.  At the very same time that the Charlottesville service was occurring, another memorial service was taking place simultaneously at Lucan Presbyterian Church in Dublin to remember Tommy.  I was told that that service was also standing room only too.

As friends and family members shared their memories of this funny, smart, talented young man who loved life and his God, the Charlottesville service was at once a celebration of his life and an expression of profound sorrow over his sudden death.  Even in his short life Tommy had managed to touch so many people.  We are grateful to have known him.

Rest in peace, Tommy.

 

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One Response to “Rest in Peace”

  1. Janet Holmes April 5, 2011 at 6:21 PM #

    Thank you Wanchee for this heartfelt tribute to Tommy and the Gilliam family.

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