Shoulders and heads hung low. Babies cried. Their parents did, too.
Feet scuffled through the glass doors as tears dripped past frowning lips. Ushers in white gloves followed trails of sniffs and moans up and down the aisles with boxes of white tissues.
Amid the sounds of an angelic gospel choir’s comforting lyrics, more than 300 people packed Passage Family Church Friday to mourn the loss of Denise Griffiths, a 21-year-old UF senior who died from brain and spinal injuries on Jan. 29, almost two days after she was struck by a car.
Friends and members from the UF Jamaican-American Student Association, SISTUHS Inc. and a member of the organization’s national board of directors, UF Black Student Union, Gatorship and Progressive Black Men Inc. sat in the outer two pews of the church, and family members crowded in the center set.
Griffiths rested at the front of the church in a casket hugged by bright flowers. A Jamaican flag hung next to the arrangements.
People sitting in pews clutched magazine-style memorial pamphlets with the headline “Celebration of Life.” Griffiths smiled on the cover next to the words poet, role model, activist, world’s greatest sister and “voted best smile.”
Members of the crowd raised their heads and hands in praise when performers and speakers preached of hope and remembrance.
During the service, Griffiths’ family, including her father, grandmother and some of her siblings read poems and spoke about their grief and love for her.
“Our hearts are filled with sadness, and our eyes are wet with tears. But we will remember you fondly and not despair. We will cherish the memory of your beautiful smile and the warmth of your spirit,” her father Phillip Griffiths said. “The love you had for everyone will be your legacy and give us the strength to carry on. Rest well, beautiful soul, until we meet again.”
Minister Ralph McKnight, Griffiths’ grandfather, recalled his thoughts when he got to the hospital after Griffiths was hit, and how he remembers her.
“I began to wrastle with what was goin’ on. I said, ‘God, this is — this is not. I don’t understand this. The granddaughter’s supposed to be burying the granddad, not the granddad burying the granddaughter,’” he said in her eulogy.
He called for the audience to seek comfort in the Lord, and that God told him this is part of a bigger picture.
“Denise said that she wanted to change the world, she wanted to impact the world,” he said. “So by connecting with each of you, look what God has done.”
Members of SISTUHS Inc. scooped up the flowers surrounding Griffiths’ casket in armfuls and surrounded the church at the end of the service. They sang songs of empowerment and unity before everyone exited to follow the funeral procession to the cemetery.
“She was a light to everyone she met,” SISTUHS member and UF alumna Floraldine Timothee, 21, said. “There’s a Denise-shaped hole in every org. I just hope now she’s at peace and sees the amount of care and love we had for her.”
Contact Chasity Maynard at [email protected]. Follow her at @chasitymaynard0.