Eliza Farrell: A Life Lived in All Caps By Erica scHmidt

The yellow came after. Yellow sunflowers, yellow cards, sunshine, brightness and light began showing up in the mailbox, on the doorstep, and in text messages for weeks after the funeral. Eliza Farrell’s closest friends and family puzzled over why the color yellow kept appearing — the 15-year-old’s favorite color was maroon — but gradually the reason became clear. Every card and letter told stories and memories of the bubbly redheaded teenager.

“Eliza, you were a ray of sunshine.”

“She always knew how to brighten the hearts of those around her.”

“Her smile lit up the room, it was the most beautiful thing ever.”

Eliza’s friends began sending photos and videos to her family. In one video, she stands in the back seat of her friend’s parked car in the driveway of her family’s home in Suwanee, Georgia, popping in and out of the open sunroof, waggling her head back and forth and waving her arms to the beat of the music as she sings along to a song by her favorite band, 21 Pilots. In another, she lies on her back on the floor, her red mane of hair pooling around her head, holding a package of M+M’s in her mouth and saying in a silly voice, “You want some Easter candy?” as her friends laugh in the background. In every one of the dozens of photos of Eliza, she sports a toothy grin or sticks her tongue out at the camera, her brown eyes sparkling as she casually drapes her arm around the shoulder of a friend or family member. The photos and videos of Eliza, with her huge smile and infectious laugh, are what her friends and family have left to remember her by.

Like all moms and teenage daughters, Eliza and her mother Caren had their disagreements, but they had a very close relationship all the same. They would talk and joke with one another, and even in the middle of an argument Eliza would crack a joke and they would both laugh in the midst of being angry with one another. Whenever Eliza needed to go somewhere her mom would drive her, and the two had fun on their car rides together.

One cool, clear Wednesday night in December of 2016, Eliza and her mom were on their way home from church when they noticed how full the moon was. They had gotten colorful sunset photos from the steps of their church only two months earlier, so they decided to try to get the perfect photograph of the moon as well. They chased the moon with their camera phones at the ready, driving the car down all the wooded side streets of the neighborhood, past rows of houses, and even down to the lake in the middle of their subdivision, where the full moon in the northeast filtered light down through the treetops onto the surface of the water. They laughed together and attempted photo after photo until they finally gave up, returning home without the picture but instead with the memory of the time spent in the car together.

Eliza was raised in the Catholic church all of her life, and as she grew older she began growing deeper in her own faith.

In a 2016 essay for her tenth grade honors literature class, Eliza wrote that: “Ever since I could remember I knew that your decisions would affect you later on in life. It was not until I was around ten that I finally realized that those decisions would also affect you in achieving the greatest thing after death, to reach Heaven.” Throughout her essay, Eliza went on to detail what her faith meant to her and how her goal was to grow deeper in this faith.

The last week in June of 2017, Eliza went on a mission trip. She and a few of her friends traveled to the Florida Gulf Coast with an organization called Lighthouse Family Retreat. The organization provides an opportunity for families of children with cancer to get away to the beach and reconnect with one another. Eliza and the rest of the volunteers played with and built relationships with the children attending the retreat. One of the little girls had red hair and glasses just like Eliza had when she was younger, and Eliza texted her mom asking for pictures of herself at the same age to show to her new friend. Eliza returned from the mission trip late at night on July 1, exhausted but at the same time excited to tell her parents about the trip and eager to convince her mom to go with her on the same mission trip the next year.

On July 2, the day after she returned from her trip, Eliza went in to work at BB’s Bagels, where she had been working for about three months. Eliza was scheduled to have a day off on July 3 but the business was so crowded that her boss called her begging her to come in. Eliza was still tired from her trip and had plans that evening to go watch fireworks with a friend, but after much debate she did decide to go in to work. When she walked through the door at work, one of her coworkers exclaimed, “Our savior is here!”, an exclamation that had such an effect on Eliza that she came rushing out to the car the second she got off work to tell her mom about it.

Only a day later, on July 4 of 2017, Eliza died. She was riding in the back seat of her friend’s car when a drunk driver ran a stop sign and hit the car she was in at full speed. Eliza was killed instantly, only 16 days before her 16th birthday.

Eliza played soccer for much of her life. During one big game in the fall of 2016, the score was tied between Eliza’s team, United Futbol Academy, and Lanier Soccer Academy. Eliza’s team needed to win the game in order to tie the results for the season, and the score was tied 1-1.

Eliza was a defender and was on the left side of the net when the ball came flying towards the goal. As Eliza attempted to kick the ball away from the net, it instead bounced off of her leg and into the goal. This was the first and only time in all her seasons playing club soccer that Eliza had scored a goal on her own team, and she stood frozen in the middle of the field with shoulders slumped forward, staring open-mouthed at her mom on the sidelines. She was rendered useless for a good eight to 10 minutes of the game after that goal, and while she eventually managed to get back into the game, in the end her team lost.

Parents of her teammates and even parents from the other team came up to Eliza to tell her that it wasn’t her fault, but her coach teased her for the mistake, and Eliza’s silence made her disappointment evident to her mom on the car ride home. But by the next game the following day, Eliza had recovered and was back with a vengeance, more determined than ever to play well for the sake of her team.

Eliza was always the one to lead the chant for her team, and she would scream at the top of her lungs, “WHO ARE WE? UFA! WHAT ARE WE? FAMILY!” as she put her arms around the teammates on either side of her and bounced up and down on the balls of her feet. Her enthusiasm was infectious, getting the rest of the girls on the team excited to play the game and to follow her example by doing their best on the field.

Eliza was training extra hard to try to increase her speed and agility on the soccer field, and she was beginning to see those efforts pay off in her practices and games. She was planning on continuing to play soccer in college, which was yet another reason the extra training was so important to her.

On the same day as her funeral, Eliza’s friends held a memorial at her school, Lambert High. Students sang songs and spoke about Eliza, recounting how much she meant to each of them. In their speeches about her and in the cards and letters they gave to her family, her friends brought up memory after memory of Eliza.

Students recounted how Eliza always strove to make everyone feel included. During her sophomore year of high school, she took the new freshman students under her wing, calling them her “little freshies” as she showed them around the school and made a point of always going up and talking to the younger students. In the hallways at school, she would always greet other students with an excited hug and a smile.

Eliza and her friends would ride in the car, blasting music and singing at the top of their lungs, going to The Collection, Dress Up, and Chick-Fil-A, which Eliza would call “Chick-Fil-AH” in a dramatic English accent.

Eliza was loud when she spoke, and her laugh was just as loud. She would text her friends in all capital letters, not because she was screaming but because she was excited. Message after message to her friends would be in all caps, her joy at corresponding with her friends slipping out through the excited words. She also loved to FaceTime her friends, even when they were in class. Once she FaceTimed her friend Rachel when she was in the middle of a test at school and when told Rachel couldn’t talk at the moment simply exclaimed, “Okay well then call me back!” Even without Eliza in their midst, her friends still text one another in all capital letters and FaceTime one another — even in class — two practices that Eliza started and her friends haven’t been able to give up.

At the end of the memorial service, the group released balloons into the air, standing and watching the bright yellow cloud rise into the blue sky and grow smaller and smaller until finally disappearing into the heavens.

Created By
Erica Schmidt

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