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Posted August 2, 2012 | comments 4 Comments

Young cancer warrior laid to rest in Strasburg

By Sally Voth -- svoth@nvdaily.com
On Thursday, Strasburg bled blue.

The town's trademark purple was swapped for a sea of blues -- aqua, turquoise, navy, teal, cornflower, royal -- as the community and the wider region buried 8-year-old Trent Williams on a day blessed with clear-blue skies.

The boy whose favorite color was blue died Sunday after a nearly two-year battle with medulloblastoma, a form of brain cancer. Mourners were asked to wear blue to his celebration of life at Strasburg High School and interment at the adjacent Riverview Cemetery. The ceremonies were both highly symbolic and heart-breakingly emotional.

Trent leaves behind his twin brother, Logan, 11-year-old brother Caden, parents Eric and Jennifer, and a large extended family.

But, his battle and his spirit reached much further -- the high school gymnasium was needed to hold the hundreds of people who attended his funeral. The Praying For Trent Facebook page drew thousands of people from around the country and the world, who rallied and prayed for the youngster as he fought through treatments and illness.

"We're here today to celebrate the life that has touched so many," said Trent's uncle, the Rev. Rodney Vickers, who led the service along with the Rev. Darrell Waller. "The reason why you're here today is because of love, because of your love for this family and love for Trent.

"That's why we have a gymnasium filled with people today."

Among those in the gym were the University of Virginia wrestling team, and dozens of firefighters, emergency medical technicians and police officers.

The wrestlers, along with members of the basketball, football, swimming and volleyball teams became fierce friends with the boy. When Trent died on Sunday at the U.Va. Medical Center in Charlottesville, two wrestlers were with him, his mother said earlier this week.

John Petza, Trent's maternal grandfather, was one of several family members and friends who eulogized him. Petza told his grandson's life story as seen through the boy's eyes, paying tribute to the many people who loved him.

"I knew right away I would have a special love," Petza said, explaining Trent was lucky to be born to loving parents, with a twin and special older brother, and three sets of grandparents.

He paid tribute to three groups of people who entered Trent's life following his diagnosis. Firstly, there were the medical staff and athletes at U.Va., Petza said. "They were always there when I needed them."

Secondly, there was the Strasburg community.

"As soon as the news of my cancer came out, people from everywhere showed up at my house," Petza said, speaking for Trent.

Community members paid for dinners, donated money and held fundraisers for the child who loved panda bears and the Star Wars movies.

Strasburg Fire Co. 51 made Trent an honorary fire chief and gave him a fire hat, his grandfather said, and the police department made him an honorary policeman, presenting him with a badge.

"I had real medals real U.S. soldiers gave me," Petza said.

The third group who came into Trent's life, his grandfather said, were supporters from churches and across the Internet who prayed for him and his family everyday. They described Trent using words like "brave," "strong," "determined," "warrior," "angel."

"So, if you look at my life and hear my story, you know it's all good. I had the best parents, wonderful family..." Petza said.

Jamie Tornow may have been Trent's kindergarten teacher and later his tutor, but she learned from the child she called a deep thinker.

As others have said, Trent was often more concerned with people besides himself, she said. On their last car ride together, Tornow said she thinks Trent may have known it'd be their final trip.

"He simply said, 'You work too hard,'" she recalled. "'You're always doing a hundred things. Slow down, go camping and have a 'Smore. You like those.'"

"Slow down and do something you love. Trent would want us all to do that. Have a 'Smore."

Grandmother Ethel Dill paid tearful tribute to her "grandbaby boy Trent."

"From the day you were born, you've had a special place in my heart," she said in a breaking voice. "You were so tiny, but so very special. I knew...that you were an angel. You must've been sent to do special things on Earth, and you certainly have fulfilled those duties.

"I loved to hold you in my arms, but I know God has that privilege now."

Waller said that while those who responded to Trent's plight felt sorrow for him and his family, there was more to why he touched so many.

"...Because this little boy became an example of courage and tenacity and hope, and hope against hope," he said. "It was as if God gave us some special gift for just a little while to one more time say to us, one more time remind us that life is precious. And, because life is precious, then the message today is this: don't waste a moment. Because life is precious, don't take things for granted. Because life is precious, hug your children. Because life is precious, hug each other, and because life is precious, take time to play.

"Never underestimate the power of your influence. How could anyone have ever dreamed that an 8-year-old would impact that many people?"

Those in the gym applauded when Waller praised Trent's parents for their class and dignity, and again when he reminded Logan and Caden that they were special and cared for.

To the surprised delight of those in the gym, Trent's casket -- blue, of course, and adorned with U.Va. emblems as well as angels on the corners -- was carried out of the gym to the Star Wars theme song.

Outside, it was placed on a Strasburg fire engine. Pallbearers and Trent's brothers accompanied him on his last ride. A fire department color guard followed the engine, as did a Marine in dress uniform and more firefighters and EMTs from the area, as it passed under a U.S. flag hoisted between two fire ladders. A Strasburg police car led the procession, with a Strasburg Rescue Squad ambulance at the end.

Beside her son's grave, Mrs. Williams was presented with a flag by a kneeling member of the color guard. In the heavens, the sun broke free of a few puffy white clouds, its beams radiating out of them.

Near the end of his graveside service, the radios of the emergency services providers toned.

"Last call for Co. 51 honorary Fire Chief Trent Alan Williams," said the dispatcher as many mourners broke into sobs. "Your strength, bravery and courage will never be forgotten."

Trent's last call was immediately followed by the siren at the fire station going off and a flyover by four planes with the North East Bonanza Group, which made another pass to do a missing-man formation. After that, doves were released and mourners kept their gazes heavenward as a biplane released several smoke trails in front of Signal Knob Mountain.

4 Comments | Leave a comment

    Beautiful, just beautiful. What an awesome tribute to this little boy. I bet he loved it.

    What a heartwarming tribute to an amazing young man!

    What a heart wrenching story of a brave young hero! So many of us follow his battle and his family struggling to keep his hopes high. His funeral was a true hero's funeral with glory and respect for this boy who bought so many strangers together and they became friends. He taught us so much about being brave and keeping faith. I have learned from him and his family that each day counts and to never take a day for granted But the main thing I won't forget is to say "I love you " everyday. Thank you, NVD for bringing his final ceremonies to us who could not attend and you did it with grace and respect.

    beautiful,i know from heaven above trent was whatching,and he was a warrior,an angal and a hero but his family is also an angel they stood beside him and never let him down and for his brothers stand tall because you two also are little worrior's and verry special, thank's for letting every one part of your family, god bless your family,and lot's of love from our family to you all

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