Date: Sunday, January 7, 2001 | Section: Metro | Page: B1
Source: David Waters | Memo: Faith Matters | Edition: Final

This child of God grasped the simplest faith

For Rebecca, it was clear: Love with all your heart

Saturday was Epiphany, the day many Christians celebrate the adoration of a child.

But at least one church in Memphis was filled with mourners of a child adored.

Rebecca Klyce, of blessed memory, died suddenly of a seizure one week ago this morning.

She was 7.

Saturday, Rebecca's family and hundreds of other folks gathered under the awe-inspiring arches inside Idlewild Presbyterian Church for her memorial service.

Together they recited a Jewish version of the 23rd Psalm.

They sang an Episcopalian hymn, Ye Holy Angels Bright.

They listened to a Unitarian minister talk about life and hope and death and sorrow.

When the service was over, they filed sadly out of the sanctuary and into the valley of the shadow of death.

"In a way, death is the test of the meaning of life. If death is devoid of meaning, then life is absurd," Abraham Joshua Heschel, the Jewish scholar, once wrote.

Nothing seems more meaningless and absurd than the death of a child.

-- -- --

Rebecca Meriwether Cooper Klyce was the third child born to Ellen Cooper Klyce and Brig Klyce.

Rebecca came into this world upside down, which is to say face up. Her eyes were wide open. She didn't cry.

"When they brought her to me, she was just looking around in wonder," her mother said.

"She looked at me and my first thought was, `Oh, my gosh, she knows me.' "

Rebecca told everyone that she chose her family before she was born. No one doubted her.

Ellen Cooper had a miscarriage between the births of her first child, Polly, now 17, and her second child, Walter, 12.

"That was you," Walter liked to tell his little sister, "but you were scared to be born, so you told God you wanted to come back."

He said she changed her mind after Walter kept telling her, "It's pretty fun here."

Rebecca couldn't have had more fun if she'd grown up at Disney World.

She played and ran and skipped and giggled. She made snowmen and flew kites and rode bikes. She played soccer and the piano. She swam in the ocean and skied on snowy hills and flew in airplanes and fished in rivers.

Rebecca liked to defy convention and gravity. She never was quite comfortable in clothes. And she loved to hang upside down, as if the world made more sense to her that way.

Rebecca spent a lot of time trying to make sense of religion.

One grandmother is Jewish, the other is Presbyterian. Her parents attend a Unitarian church; her mother says only that she is a child of God, her father has his doubts. Her caregiver is Baptist. She attended an Episcopalian school and had Muslim and Hindu friends.

Once she asked her minister how God made himself. Another time, she wondered, if Jesus was a Jew, and if Jews didn't believe in Jesus, did that mean Jesus didn't believe in himself? To Rebecca, religion seemed to be about the head. Faith, however, seemed to be about the heart.

Rebecca once asked her mother if she had received her prayer. Ellen said she didn't hear it.

"Just listen in your heart, mama," Rebecca said.

Rebecca was always listening in her heart.

When she went to a family friend's Bar Mitzvah, she came home saying, "Baruch atah Adonai." When she went to her caregiver's Baptist church, she came home saying, "Hallelujah."

"Rebecca came here to serve a purpose, God's purpose, and she did," said Sheila Griggs, Rebecca's caregiver.

"She brought people together. She showed us how to love unconditionally. She brought all of us light and joy."

-- -- --

Rebecca's parents aren't sure exactly why she died. She seemed to be as healthy as she was happy, until Saturday, Dec. 30, when she had a seizure.

They rushed her to the hospital. Tests revealed nothing wrong with her. She was allowed to go back home. The next morning, Sunday, Dec. 31, she was taking a bath and had another seizure.

This one killed her instantly. The autopsy was inconclusive. She didn't drown. The seizure killed her. It might have been an undetected heart defect. It might have been her lungs.

"Our pediatrician sat down with us and explained to us step by step how this might have happened," Ellen said.

"He told us that sometimes lightning strikes."

Not long ago, Rebecca's parents put up a sign on the wall of their home. It was an excerpt from a speech her brother Walter wrote when he was 11.

The subject of the speech: What makes life worth living.

"I find only one difference between life and death," Walter wrote.

"In life God is in your heart and home, while in death you are in His."

At Saturday's memorial, Rev. Burton Carley read that to the mourners. He called it the Gospel According to Walter.

Then he talked about portions of another gospel.

"Epiphany reminds us that it is through the human we witness the divine," said Carley.

"Through her simple hugs, words and joyful play, Rebecca showed us the divine power of love to heal, to uplift, to make the world glad in its presence."

At the end of Saturday's service, Rebecca's family and friends sat quietly and waited to hear the sound of her voice on tape, singing "God is with you today and every day."

Something happened to the tape. Rebecca's still small voice was inaudible, but only to the ears - not to the heart.

"I feel like we have an assignment now," said her father.

"We have to take the lessons she taught us and live them. We have to try to be more like her."

Nothing is more death-defying than the love of and the love for a child.

Rebecca upside down
Photo courtesy of Tom Gettelfinger
Rebecca Klyce was born upside down and never tired of seeing the world that way. With her in May 1999 is grandmother Polly Cooper.

David Waters's Faith Matters columns run on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. To contact him, call 529-2399 or E-mail | Keywords: PROFILE | Document Number: 0101080289

Rebecca Meriwether Cooper Klyce