As more than 600 people gathered at the Red Robinson Show theatre in Coquitlam Sunday to mark a final farewell to Amanda Todd, Christmas lights twinkled on every house on the in Port Coquitlam where she had lived.
It was a poignant commemoration of the life of a teen who would have turned 16 on Nov. 27.
Notes on the computer she left behind showed she was planning her birthday before she died and this year, like every other year - she wanted to have her Port Coquitlam home lit with Christmas lights in time for the party.
Sunday, the entire cul-de-sac was glowing with Christmas lights.
But instead of a birthday party, Amanda's family, friends, neighbours, teachers, coaches, and others whose lives she touched gathered for a memorial service to honour the teen.
Amanda, a former Maple Ridge student who attended both Maple Ridge and Westview secondary schools, documented on YouTube the horrific bullying and online abuse that she endured for years before taking own life on Oct. 10.
"Amanda, you will be happy to know this year, most of the neighbourhood friends - I think all of them now - have already put up their lights in honour of you," her mother Carol Todd said in a letter she wrote to her daughter and read at the service.
Carol told the gathering that while her daughter is gone, Amanda has left behind "a larger-than-life message that has sparked the world and has made it open its eyes, its ears and its hearts."
Carol said after her daughter's death she read on Amanda's computer of her wish to comfort other children who are the victims of bullies: "I hope that some day I can write a song about bullying so when kids are alone staring out their windows crying, they can listen to my song and know that it's not your fault and things will get better."
To her mother Carol, Amanda was 'Princess Snowflake,' a pet name Amanda loved - and one she insisted her mother use after Carol called her that once, referring to Amanda's love for snow.
"Three weeks ago, I looked up the definitions to the word snowflake," Carol said. "Most were pretty standard meanings, ... then in the Urban Dictionary online I found this: 'Snowflake - A very unique girl that no one else can duplicate because she is one of a kind.'
"That was you my Princess Snowflake - you were indeed a unique individual who I don't think can ever be duplicated. You have been an amazing daughter, a sister, and a friend."
Carol, Amanda's father Norm Todd, longtime friends, her cheerleading coach, a principal from a school she attended, and Leah Pells - a teacher at the Coquitlam high school Amanda was attending when she died - all talked of a young girl with a compassion and love for others that never left her - even as she struggled with her own problems.
"Her tenderness was always with her, no matter what things were going on in her life," said Pells.
Pells said Amanda taught her patience and a better understanding of the struggles that teens face.
"The individuals she touched will always be better for having loved her," she said. "She was surrounded in love but it was not enough for what she was dealing with."
While speakers didn't dwell on the torment Amanda suffered, both online and off at the hands of bullies, it was an unspoken theme and carried out in performances by singers Cole Armour, Michaela Slinger and Elise Estrada, who sang tributes to the teen.
"As I started to think about a 'what next?' question, the Northern Lights song Tears Are Not Enough popped into my head and it struck a chord," said Remi Collins, who was principal at Kilmer Elementary when Amanda was in Grade 5.
"Crying over something but not doing anything about it unfortunately accomplishes very little. What are you going to do differently. If we do not learn as a society, and more importantly as individuals from this, then unfortunately we risk to have it continue," Collins said.
As she grew up, if she wasn't talking or laughing, Amanda was singing, her friends said. In a video shown at the memorial from her Grade 7 talent show, Amanda sang Someone's Watching Over Me.
In a slideshow that chronicled Amanda's growing up, from a first photo of her as a baby in her christening gown, hers was a smile of pure joy - hugging her parents, getting a piggyback ride from her older brother Christopher, jumping on the trampoline and clowning around with friends in her backyard.
- Gillian Shaw is a reporter with the Vancouver Sun
@ Copyright 2013