SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Joshua Seal’s life was so vibrant, his memory is embedded in everything and everyone he touched.
He is in the floors he laid by hand in his family’s Lisbon Falls home, near the fireplace in the playroom where he drank Earl Grey tea while his four children played, and in the yard, where he would blow leaves away and push his children in a wheelbarrow, his wife, Elizabeth, recounted in her eulogy at Seal’s funeral Wednesday.
He comes alive in pictures displayed, one slide after another, on a screen in the church hall hosting Seal’s funeral. The young father posing in front of a cactus on one of the family’s many road trips to national parks, snuggling a newborn baby alongside Elizabeth, dressed in a hospital gown in a maternity ward bed. He lounges in a dorm bed, toasts friends at a brewery, and dances with Elizabeth under a pale pink light.
And of course, there are hundreds of photos of Seal with his four beloved children, his “Seal pups.” He pulls them on a wake board on the beach, carries them on his back, sticks out his tongue for a silly photo while snuggling with them next to a campfire. They sign “I love you” in their shared language, American Sign Language.
Some of the photos were printed out and tied with twine to branches and trees in the church’s auditorium, dangling in a way that made them dance when a group of people walked past.
The line of well-wishers at the funeral never shrank, it only grew. At more than 700 people, it was most attended funeral Eastpoint Christian Church had ever seen.
The young father of four, who was widely recognized as a leader in Maine’s deaf community, was playing cornhole at Schemengees Bar and Grille with three friends, all deaf and certified ASL interpreters like him. Seal, Billy Brackett, Bryan MacFarlane, and Stephen Vozzella were all killed that night.
On Wednesday, Seal was eulogized by his wife; his colleagues and friends; and his two oldest children, Jason and Sephine; who described a loving father who attended every sports game, made camping trips feel like bold adventures, made every birthday more special than the last. He gave them “Pancake Sundays” and secret handshakes, shared a love for horror movies, and played school (he was always the student).
“I will always remember his laughter and smile. I will remember his facial expressions,” Sephine, 9, signed in ASL. “I will remember his love for me.”
Seal served as director of interpreting services at the Pine Tree Society, a nonprofit for people with disabilities with a location in Auburn, Maine, and was an official ASL interpreter during briefings from the governor’s office and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He also created the Dirigo Experience, an overnight summer camp program for deaf youth named after the Maine state motto, “Dirigo,” or, “I lead,” in Latin.
Friends and colleagues said he had long been a role model for deaf children, and was passionate about making their lives less isolated and giving them confidence.
Anticipating the many children who attended the service, the family hired chaperones who were bilingual English and ASL speakers to staff a playroom complete with a playscape and arts and crafts table.
Friends remembered him as someone who found ways to remove any barriers for the deaf to access the hearing world, starting at a young age. His childhood interpreter, Susan Brown, recalled a young Seal motivating his hearing classmates to join him in a history project about deaf culture, which won competitions at the local, state, and national level. He played wide receiver on his high school’s football team, wearing a vibrating device so he knew when to look to the sideline for a timeout.
“He had a gift for navigating his world,” said Brown, who said Seal became a close friend to her and a mentor for students who were interested in becoming certified ASL interpreters. “It was amazing to watch.”
One of the last speeches was from Kevin Bohlin, a longtime friend and colleague who helped Seal launch the camp. He paraphrased Peter Pan.
“Never say goodbye because goodbye means going away and going away means forgetting,” Bohlin said. “Tonight, we are not saying goodbye to Josh. We will never doubt that Josh will ever stop flying.”
After each speech, each touching story about Seal’s confidence, laughter, and inspiration to the community, hundreds of attendees raised their hands, extending their pinky finger and pointing their thumbs and index finger to form an “L.”
In ASL, the sea of hands spoke over and over: “I love you.”