More than a thousand friends and relatives said goodbye to Jaime Guttenberg Sunday, orange ribbons pinned to their black mourning clothes, rebellious sparks of life in a dark sea of grief.
“We don’t move on, we move forward,” Rabbi Jonathan Kaplan told the mourners. “We keep focused on how Jaime lived, not how she died.”
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But it wasn’t easy for anyone at her funeral to forget how Jaime died. She went down with a bullet in the back Wednesday, one of the 17 killed in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
“Nobody will tell me that gun violence does not exist!” shouted her father, Fred. He then furiously denounced President Donald Trump for sending out a tweet Saturday that suggested the FBI might have stopped the shooting if it wasn’t preoccupied with investigation allegations that his campaign colluded with Russia to rig the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
That moment of naked rage sent the crowd packed into a large meeting room at the Marriott Coral Springs Hotel into a standing ovation. But it was the only political moment in a ceremony otherwise devoted to sweet memories and shattered hearts.
“Close your eyes and think of a memory of Jaime,” Kaplan said. “More than likely, a big smile is going to come to your face. That’s what we need to remember. So long as we live, she, too, will live.”
And live she did as friends, teachers and relatives swapped reminiscences of Jaime, including her favorite song (“Rewrite The Stars”), favorite TV show (“Friends”), favorite pastime (conversation, or as her father put it, “your unbelievable ability to never stop talking”) and her favorite color — orange, course.
But for all the smiles, there were plenty of questions, too, especially from Jaime’s scores of black-clad classmates. Their tearful eyes brimmed with the knowledge that but for the most trifling whim of fate, they, too, might be bidding their farewells from the other side of the chasm between life and death.
Kaplan spoke it aloud: “Where was God that day? If there’s supposed to be a God, where was he? No one has the answer.”
But then he offered a possibility: “God is in the teachers who protected them. God is in the first responders who went in that day. God is in the police who raced to the school, and God is in the families who waited. … God is in the people, all over the world, who sent condolences.”
Jaime’s mother, too, spoke of the strength lent by condolences, even — or perhaps she meant especially — from strangers. “Mostly, people are good, very good,” she said.
And then she murmured to her daughter, lying nearby in a neatly polished coffin: “You will always be my Valentine.” The rest was all tears, everywhere, because Feb. 14 is the date that will be on the stone above Jaime’s grave.