BY COREY ROBINSON Sunday Observer staff reporter email@example.com
THE pianist's rendition of Great Is Thy Faithfulness engulfed the Heritage Independence Baptist Church yesterday as if comforting those mourning the untimely death of Mellissa Thompson — the 18-year-old who was last month mowed down by a Coaster bus in Half-Way-Tree, St Andrew.
At intervals, however, the notes dissipated in a cacophony of sniffles, prayers, and wails of agony. It was at these times that the magnitude of the loss seemed most gripping.
Person after person — relatives, friends, church brothers and sisters — all sobbed openly at the sight of Mellissa's body lying motionless in a pink and white glass casket at the altar. Some, like the pastor's wife, Joan Mason, were too grief-stricken to contemplate the contents of the casket.
She wept heavily behind her handkerchief.
Mellissa — a Christian for roughly seven years — had ascended into glory. But the thanksgiving ceremony for her life was far from joyful.
Every tribute to her was delivered with tears.
"I was looking at your pictures hours before you died, and when I heard the news my heart stopped beating, my body became numb. I can't believe you're gone," a female relative cried as she read a tribute penned by Mellissa's brother, Al.
"Mellissa was always calm, always pleasant. She was always at church, a loving person," she added before sobbing through a musical tribute with other relatives.
Students of the Institute of Academic Excellence (IAE), and members of the Heritage Baptist Youth Group also offered tributes to their classmate and church sister, respectively, in song.
Members of both groups broke down in tears as screams from members of the congregation pierced the mournful atmosphere. At one point, the congregation had to continue the song Lean On Me on their own, after almost all the IAE students at the altar started crying.
"I heard about the accident and at first I didn't pay it any mind. A few minutes after, I got a call from the hospital saying that one of the persons had on an IAE shirt, and that I should come now," reflected one female teacher. "As I reached into the hospital the nurse said to me 'she is gone'. And I immediately screamed out to God. I wanted to pray for her, but it was too late."
The group offered Mellissa's parents, Marcia Coke and Dave Thompson, a book of reflections from students and staff. The two were encouraged to read it whenever they felt dejected.
Thompson, throughout the ceremony, cried openly for his only child, his "everything".
"She is my heart. You ever heard of an empty space? Well, that is my heart, and there is nothing that can fill that space," the father told the Jamaica Observer, his eyelashes pasted together by tears. "I have never done anything without the knowledge of my daughter; that's how it has been from she young. We did everything together, we eat and drink the same things," continued Thompson.
"I never had a father; I only met my father when I was in my 30s. So I always tried to be the world's best father. Now everything, my investment, just gone. Believe me, I wish they could just bury me with her," he continued.
For much of the service, Thompson stood rubbing his daughter's casket and crying.
Meanwhile, a frail-looking Coke recounted the last three weeks with her daughter. Coke said that during the time she was sick, and that it was Mellissa who had taken care of her.
"The only thing keeping me is that she was a child of God," said Coke. "Through the rough times, tough times, whether food or no food, Mellissa never complained. I think she was too sweet.
"The Sunday before she died she never went to church because she was there with me. That Sunday she didn't talk much, she was very quiet, and she put down a big washing," the mother said of her second of three children — her only daughter.
"The only thing keeping me is that she was a child of God. I am glad that she gave her life to the Lord. I am happy with that," she repeated.
Mellissa — who earned seven CSEC passes at Jonathan Grant High School, and who was pursuing CAPE subjects at IAE — was among three persons mowed down by the Coaster on September 24.
Investigators said the bus that hit her was being driven by an unauthorised person. The other persons hit received minor injuries and were treated at hospital.
According to the cops, the bus' official driver and the conductor were also travelling in the vehicle at the time of the incident. All three of them fled the scene.
Yesterday, Mellissa was eulogised by her cousin Andre White as "an excellent narrator who could hold your attention in the most exciting way when relaying a story. Though reserved, if you had a relationship with Mellissa you would have experienced the jovial, fun-loving, considerate, and warm side of a very special person. She loved life, and saw an opportunity in every bad situation as a moment to shine," he said, his voice cracking.
Mellissa's death not only brought her father closer to God, but also other members of the congregation who ventured to the altar for prayer after a stirring call from Pastor Paul Mason.
"What is your status? Can you say that you are saved? That is what Mellissa wants of you this morning. Don't disappoint her," he said.
Mellissa, a member of the Heritage Independence Baptist Church, was buried on a family plot in Darliston, Westmoreland.