BALDWINSVILLE – The Baldwinsville community came together Sunday night at St. Mary’s Church to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of Ava Wood.
Nearly every inch of the church was packed by classmates and friends, teachers and parents, and mourning members of the Baldwinsville community as they sought solace in each other’s company and the memories of a young woman who was a devoted friend, a fierce competitor on the athletic field, and a person whose confidence and sense of humor shined.
Father Clifford Auth said the family’s hope “is this night is a celebration of all those things that made her special.”
During the homily, Auth turned the microphone over to Wood’s teammates and friends who through tears and laughter told fond stories that displayed Wood’s sense of humor, her kindness and her leadership.
One girl said that in sixth grade, Wood would put a note in her locker every day, just as a pick-me-up. She kept the notes and brought one to the service. It read, “Stay Strong, and make them wonder why you’re smiling.”
A teammate of hers shared that when their coach lost a bet to the team, Ava decided the winners should paint his beard blue. So she painted his beard with spray paint and then turned the paint on her own face. “She looked like a smurf!” she said, bringing smiles to teary faces throughout the church.
Others shared how fiercely competitive she was on the soccer field and in other endeavors, including eating chicken wings at Taste of Baldwinsville and at the Easter egg hunts of her youth. Even though she got more of the eggs, one of the children in the audience said, she shared them when it was over.
“These stories,” Auth said, “are all about someone who acknowledges the value, and the worth, and the dignity of the other person.”
The value of those memories is that they guide those left behind to “live a life that acknowledges all those virtues that she lived,” he said. “She lives on in the way we live.”
Many of her classmates and friends had the number 19 painted on their cheeks, in honor of her soccer jersey number. Others wore sweatshirts with the number 19 and Woody on the nameplate in honor of their friend.
Following the stories from her teammates and friends, the lights in church dimmed and one of Wood’s favorite songs, “Rescue” by Lauren Daigle, was played. Most of those in attendance became emotional as the refrain of the ballad – ‘I will rescue you’ – was repeated.
Earlier in the service, Thomas Fraher, the principal at Durgee Middle School, where Wood was in the ninth grade, talked about how surreal the experience of the previous three days had been.
“We all have come together to support each other because of the love Ava had for life…She was a very special person.”
He said the most important thing we can do in a time of such unimaginable heartbreak is to “make sure we hug our loved ones.”