As he struggled for words and his voice broke, Scott Griffith spoke of the wedding toast he’d given for his brother, Christopher, and sister-in-law, Kimberly, at their wedding about 22 years ago.
He said he and Chris had been best friends growing up. But something changed, and Chris had become best friends with his wife-to-be. So the toast at the wedding acknowledged that.
“We wished that he and Kim would remain best friends throughout their lives,” Scott recalled.
That changed on Friday, Aug. 19, when Kimberly Griffith, 45, and her daughters Brenna, 12, and Mikaela, 8, were found dead inside a vehicle along Washington Boulevard after water rose up to nine feet on the road following several rain storms. They were unable to escape their vehicle, which was completely submerged and pinned to a tree.
“Last Friday,” Scott Griffith said, completely breaking down with emotion, “I was the first person Chris called when he heard about the accident—because he couldn’t call his best friend anymore.”
His story elicited tears and silenced sobs from the hundreds packed in the sanctuary and overflow rooms at Murrysville Community Church Wednesday morning as loved ones, friends, co-workers, church members, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts gathered to mourn the untimely deaths of the mother and daughters from Plum.
Before the service began, memories of a happy family skipped across a projection screen—scenes at a beach, a lake, with family members, a bride and groom, a birthday—smiling faces in photo after photo as soft piano hymns played, including the children’s song, “Jesus Loves Me.”
Then two caskets came down the aisle of the sanctuary. One with Kim, one with Brenna and Mikaela, together.
The Rev. Kevin Labby, pastor of Murrysville Community Church, where the Griffiths are members, spoke little of what he called a "shocking and horrifying" tragedy itself, other than to say it has left the family and others “hurting and confused.”
"In a humble and mysterious way, we're here to celebrate," he said.
Labby remembered seeing the girls in Bible and Sunday schools.
"I would see their smiles. In their smiles, you could see their mother's smile."
Labby said a neighbor of the Griffiths told him Mikaela always asked him to play "Go Fish" with oversized cards—and that she'd always win. He said, in a lighter moment, Brenna was once mad at a bride because she had wanted to marry the groom herself.
Kim was the kind who would offer visitors a drink or make a meal for unexpected guests. She went on a church mission trip to Belize, where she shared her skills as a nurse.
With her, she had brought 96 Frisbees to make sure every child there would get a toy—and exactly 96 children showed up.
"We could go on and on and that's what makes this day so utterly painful," Labby said.
"God is not done here. This is Kim's faith and the faith of her children. They know that tragedy is only one chapter in a much bigger story—redemption."
Scott Griffith said when he was asked to speak at the service, he wanted to find one thing for Kim, Brenna and Mikaela that would make them stand apart as individuals. While Kim has had time to create a legacy, he wondered what Brenna and Mikaela would be able to leave behind in their short lives.
As mourners gathered with the family in the days after their deaths, Scott said there were hundreds who shared the stories of the impact the girls had on their lives.
“I realized that’s their legacy,” he said. “When you love someone, that changes your life. I think that’s their legacy.”
Despite the fact that Kim and Chris had four active children and were both working parents, Scott said, “they still delighted in one another … never lost sight of each other.”
Megan Frantz, Kim’s younger sister, spoke lovingly about her sister and nieces.
“She was the most caring and compassionate soul I’ve ever known,” Megan said of Kim, who she described as a “devoted wife and mother.”
She was involved in Scouts and church and was “beautiful, smart, reliable, affectionate, caring, giving and a servant of the Lord,” Megan continued.
Brenna, according to her aunt, was fun-loving, mischievous, kind and an animal lover. Mikaela, she said, was “sweet, innocent, caring, cute and adorable.”
“We all have had wonderful memories of our times together … I know they are smiling down on us from heaven.”
Megan shared a poem she found in Kim’s Bible after she asked Chris to borrow it to find words to share at the service. That poem, "I'm Free," starts: “Don't grieve for me, for now I'm free. I'm following the path God has chosen for me.”
Labby took a moment to ask those gathered to remember Mary Saflin of Oakmont, who also died in Friday's flash flood.
"We have become forever united with them in grief," Labby said, and also comfort.
With words of faith, he urged those gathered not to ask the "what if" questions as they mourn nor think of vengence for what caused the tragedy.
"Our human limitations are not sinful," Labby said. "They are natural. They are by God's design. There is only so much you can do or say. We can't do it all.
"Tragedies happen in this fallen world, despite our greatest efforts. There are always matters and situations beyond our control."
Kim, Brenna and Mikaela were buried in Plum Creek Cemetery following the church service. About 112 cars were in the procession along the windy back roads to their final resting place.
As Labby concluded the funeral service, he shared a story that, within the last few weeks, a family member had asked Kim what the best day of her life had been.
“Kim’s response was, in so many words, ‘It hasn’t happened yet. My best day will be when I go to be with my Savior.'”
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