George Korpita on Monday morning bravely did something most of us never imagine we would ever have to do. He stood at a podium flanked by his mother on his right and his son on the left — well, flanked by their pictures on a poster board. Giving their remembrance.
His son and mother, while driving to Louisiana last Thursday, both died in a car crash. He spent time talking about both of them during their funeral Monday at First Baptist Church in Navasota. And he didn’t mince words.
“This sucks,” he told the overflowing crowd, some of who had to watch the ceremony on close-circuit TV in another building.
Yes, George and wife Sarah Korpita. It sucks. Bad.
It wasn’t just George who braved getting up before throngs of people, many he probably didn’t even know. Sarah led it off by reading something she wrote about her 3-year-old son, Eli Korpita.
“Over the years I wrote things down about Eli, and I wanted to share some of them with you,” she told the crowd. Sarah, our parks and recreation director in Navasota, elegantly delivered a speech from a paper she had written sometime between Thursday evening and Monday morning.
No matter how many times you go to funerals and memorials, it never gets any easier — especially when someone so young like Eli has their life taken from them. I can’t imagine their pain, as I’ve never had a child of my own.
George, who’s a volunteer firefighter in Navasota, said that no matter how they appeared on the surface, “Don’t think we suffer well. Don’t think we suffer well.”
Dear George and Sarah: We won’t think you will. We were all there suffering for you, and suffering with you. Every row in that church filled with people of all races and religion wept with you, and wept for you. It shows how much your family means to this town and this community, and it shows how much compassion our community has.
Not everyone there knew Eli. You both gave descriptions of his life. Of how he liked to laugh, smile, dance and be mischievous. He was a fun-living kid who played hard and, like George said, he slept hard.
I only met Eli a couple of times and he was definitely a kid who loved to have fun. By virtue of my job requiring me to carry a camera almost everywhere I go, I was able to sift through old photos of him on Friday. There was one of a then 2-year-old Eli last summer at the city’s Fourth of July fun day at the Navasota Center splashing on the big, bouncy water feature toy. And just like typical Eli, he was only wearing a pair of shorts — no shirt, no shoes. Moments later at the Navasota Center where his mom’s office is, Eli got his face painted. He rode in parades with his dad on the fire truck, hung out at the fire station and went from truck to truck with George.
The last time I saw Eli was March 3. Saw him twice that day. The first time was that morning at the inaugural Rattler Run at August Horst Park. Sarah gave up her usual 5K race to run the 1-miler with her son. And as they got close to the finish line, little Eli — all decked out in a red and white striped hoodie on that chilly and damp morning — had a smile that stretched all the way across Texas as he crossed the finish line with that bib number of 033. And while waiting for the list of winners to be brought in, mischievous Eli grabbed the microphone like he was going to start the ceremony without everyone else.
I saw him later that day again at the Navasota Center during the citywide Trash-Off with one of his buddies playing with a new toy Sarah had just bought them. Eli once again grinned and had that fun-loving spirit. His smile was so infectious that even the sourest person could be in a good mood once they saw him.
Sadly, and inexplicably, he and his grandmother Lynette Kelly Korpita — known as “Mama K” and described as the most loving person in the world — left this world hand-in-hand last week. The two were described as being so much alike. I’m not related to them and barely ever met Eli, but it hurts me like it hurts us all.
George and Sarah, a whole town and community have your back and please come to us for anything. Your ceremony touched us all. Both of you were very brave in what you did Monday and how you handled it.
Brighter days will come we’re sure. You said that Monday when you said Jesus was speaking through you. And I think everyone in attendance believes it.
And the day brightened up before the ceremony ended. What started off as a dark, gloomy morning got brighter as the ceremony started and ended.
Or maybe that was little Eli’s smile shining down from above.