Thursday, May 28, 2009

More than 500 at Mass say goodbye to couple

More than 500 at Mass say goodbye to couple

By Susan Olp - May 26, 2009

CROW AGENCY - Teddy Little Light and Juliet Toinetta-Little Light lost their lives on a bitterly cold night in late December.

On Saturday, the husband and wife were laid to rest on a green hillside in the Lodge Grass Cemetery, the warmth of the sun wrapping its arms around the mourners who came to say goodbye.

The couple, along with their 3-month-old son, Wyatt, were last seen Dec. 23. Law enforcement and family members remained vigilant in their search for the family, whose pickup was found Jan. 5 between Fort Smith and Highway 91.

Finally, last Monday, a ranch hand discovered scattered human remains, which were identified after an autopsy Wednesday as belonging to Teddy, 30, and Juliet, 25. Searchers also located adult and baby clothing at the scene, but no trace of Wyatt was found.

So, Saturday's funeral Mass at the multipurpose center in Crow Agency, and the interment that followed, included only Teddy and Juliet. Their obituaries, read during the Mass, referred to the infant as a member of the surviving family, along with his older brother, 2-year-old Teddy Jr.

At the time the family went missing, Teddy Jr. was staying with his grandmother, LaTonna Little Light Long Soldier, Teddy's mother, who was helping raise the child. The toddler attended the funeral Saturday, blissfully unaware of the sad occasion.

More than 500 mourners attended the two-hour funeral Mass. They filled chairs on the floor of the auditorium and the bleachers on either side of the room.

A single, dark-green casket sat at the front of the multipurpose center, draped in colorful Indian blankets, flowers and a photograph of Teddy. Flowers decorated the front of the stage, and white poster-boards placed on tables were filled with photos of Teddy and Juliet growing up, and as a family.

The Rev. Charles Robinson celebrated the Mass. He acknowledged the pain those listening to him had endured.

"There is certainly no one at the Crow Reservation who has suffered as much as you," Robinson said. "The tension, the anxiety in the last five months has become almost unbearable."

He encouraged the mourners to find peace in the midst of suffering, knowing that Teddy and Juliet have themselves found peace.

"This young couple stands in awe before their God with amazing peace and love in their hearts," Robinson said. "They wouldn't come back no matter how much they love you. For they were taking a step as husband and wife into something you and I could barely understand, into the heart of God, the way the truth and the life. They were taking the step to peace, to joy and to love."

Shobe Little Light eulogized Teddy. He remembered him as "a heck of a basketball player."

"You could see his passion out there for the sport and his wanting to win and wanting to be a leader," Little Light said. "That's one thing he was, he was a leader. He commanded respect in a humble way."

Little Light called Teddy noble, funny, serious and strong-willed. Teddy also loved to arm wrestle.

Little Light acknowledged that Teddy had recently gone through some tough times, but said he had hope for both Teddy and Juliet.

"The time I saw Teddy and Juliet last, I could see they were going through growing pains," he said. "They were growing together, and they were changing things."

Juliet was raised by her uncle and aunt, Crow Tribe Chairman Cedric Black Eagle and his wife, Audrey. Juliet had lots of friends, said Randall Black Eagle, who eulogized his cousin, and added that she had a good sense of humor.

"In any situation, she always had the ability to find the funny side of things, and she had a laugh none of us will ever forget," he said.

She was resilient, having endured tragedy at a young age, and she was filled with love for others.

"Her phone calls to Mom and Dad always ended with 'I love you,' " Black Eagle said. "She was never afraid to tell people that she loved them."

No one was ever as loyal as Juliet, he said, and her family always came first. She seldom missed a family gathering. That's why, when she didn't show up for Christmas, the family suspected that something was wrong. Christmas presents for her and her family would remain under the Christmas tree until February.

When she missed her grandmother's funeral, in early January, the family took action, notifying law enforcement and seeking help from the public.

"From that day until the present, our families would not stop looking for Juliet and her family," Black Eagle said.

He said his family believes God gives people no more than they can bear.

"And in his infinite wisdom, God must have known that it would take five months for our family to bear, to be strong enough, to accept Juliet's death," he said. "We draw comfort that she is with her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

But Black Eagle said his family will never stop looking for answers about why Juliet and Teddy would leave their truck half-full of gas on a below-zero, blizzard-filled night and walk up on a ridge more than 2' miles away with a 3-month-old baby.

"For this, we will honor their memories by finding answers to these questions," he said.

After two more people spoke, Celeste Tobacco sang an a cappella rendition of "Amazing Grace," and then the crowd viewed a slide show that portrayed the couple growing up and married.

After that, mourners drove to the Lodge Grass Cemetery for a second, brief ceremony. Temperatures were in the 70s, the sky was periwinkle blue, and it was filled with gauzy white clouds.

As is tradition, John Pretty On Top and Tilton Old Bull spoke in Crow, thanking everyone for coming to the funeral, and for the help rendered by so many people. Then the casket was lowered into the ground and men took turns with shovels, filling the grave, as women sitting nearby wept inconsolably.

After flowers were placed on top of the dirt mound, men knelt next to the grave and cried. A bird, possibly a hawk, wheeled in circles above the cemetery, as Old Bull spoke a few last words.

And then the bird flew away.

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