FRANKLIN — Words spilling out in fits and starts as he choked back tears, Chris Munroe addressed his reflections in St. Mary Church Monday morning to his niece and nephew, Lexi and Sean Munroe, who died together inside a hope chest after apparently hiding during a game of hide-and-seek in their Franklin home.
He recalled dancing with Lexi, an 8-year-old whose smile could fill a room, and said, “Now I will dance our dance every day in my heart” until that day when they can “dance together again.”
Every fishing trip with 7-year-old Sean is now “a day I will cherish,” he said.
“You taught me how to catch the uncatchable fish,” Munroe said.
As Michelle French, a soprano, and Mark Nemeskal, a tenor, sang introit music that included “Ave Maria” and “Abide With Me,” hundreds of mourners filed into St. Mary Church just before 10 a.m.
They gathered to celebrate the brief lives of Lexi Jane Munroe and Sean Allen Munroe II, who were born 21 months apart and died Jan. 12. Sean was fond of Mohawk haircuts, which were much in evidence, from his relatives to pallbearers to others in the church.
When organist Terrence Kerr played Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring,” the children’s parents, Sean A. Munroe and the former Gillian E. Barnes, and their three sisters, Cailin Bryce Munroe, Eva Madeline Munroe, and Lilli Paige Munroe, walked up the center aisle to take their place at the front.
“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs,’ ” the Rev. Canon Robert Edmunds read from the service’s opening sentences as he helped lead the pallbearers and two small caskets down the aisle.
“Gracious God, we come before you this day in pain and sorrow,” the Rev. Paula Toland said in an early prayer. “We grieve the loss of Lexi and Sean. Give your grace to those who grieve, especially Gillian and Sean, Cailin, Eva, and Lilli, that they may find comfort in your presence and be strengthened by your spirit.”
Lexi and Sean died in what authorities say was a “tragic accident” while playing in their family’s home. The Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating their deaths.
Officials have said that the siblings climbed into a wooden storage chest that investigators estimate was constructed about 75 years ago and was recalled in 1996 because of safety hazards. When the chest closed, authorities say, it latched shut automatically and couldn’t be opened from the inside.
The Norfolk district attorney’s office has urged anyone who owns a similar chest, made by made by Lane Furniture of Virginia, to remove or replace the locks.
“We are helpless in the face of accidents,” Edmunds said in his homily Monday, and even explanations offer no solace.
“Lexi and Sean did nothing wrong,” Edmunds said at the service, reminding the expansive gathering that among the joys of childhood are using God’s gifts of playing and imagination and exploration.
Edmunds, the priest in charge of St. John’s Episcopal Church, a half-mile away in Franklin, officiated with Toland, priest in charge-elect at St. John’s, and the Rev. Brian Manning, pastor of St. Mary.
“Some will say God wanted two more angels in heaven,” Edmunds said, adding that “our grief is overwhelming . . . our sense of loss is beyond words.”
And while tragedy has claimed their lives, he said, “let us remember that Lexi and Sean are OK. They’re fine. Our Lord has welcomed them into heaven. We hurt, but the kids are fine.”
Edmunds called on those gathered in St. Mary Church to bear witness to the lives of Lexi and Sean, perhaps more so now that they are gone.
“Tell the stories of these beautiful children,” he said. “We all thank God for their lives.”
Near the end of his homily, Edmunds spoke from the pulpit directly to Lexi and Sean’s parents and the children’s three sisters.
Gesturing toward the pews filled with their relatives, Edmunds reminded the Munroes that their already large family “has expanded to include a whole town and beyond.”
An entire community of mourners “walks with you,” Edmunds said in the moments before the children’s parents and siblings followed the caskets up the aisle and outside to two hearses that awaited for the drive to Franklin’s Union Street Cemetery.