By Marjorie Nesin
---- — Anthony Harrison carried his daughter Lizzie out through the towering blue doors of Our Lady Good Voyage Monday night, her head resting on his shoulder and her legs, clad in white tights, hanging almost to his knees.
Harrison sniffed, and Lizzie lifted her head, moving a hand to run her fingers across the top of her dad’s buzzed hair.
Then, patting her hand on his back as she laid her head down again, she consoled her father who had, at a church Mass, memorialized his other daughter, Caleigh Harrison, now presumed dead after the then-21/2-year-old disappeared from Rockport’s Long Beach a year ago this Friday.
”Your smile could light up a room, and your personality could make everyone laugh,” Harrison said, as he read aloud from a letter he wrote to Caleigh.
A photo of Caleigh propped in a white basket of flowers and decorated with a bow split the space between two rows of pews to Harrison’s left. The mourning father spoke about how Lizzie misses her sister, and said he encourages the now 5-year-old Elizabeth to talk more about Caleigh as he works, too, on improving himself.
”I must strive to be a better person,” Harrison read, again addressing Caleigh. “A big part of me is missing, and I won’t be whole again until I see you in heaven.”
Those throughout the church slipped out handkerchiefs to wipe stray tears as Harrison folded up the letter.
“Love, Dad,” he concluded.
Anthony Harrison’s parents had arranged the Mass of the Angels for their granddaughter, Caleigh, as the one-year anniversary of her tragic disappearance approached. Antonette and David Harrison Sr. said the service that drew residents to nearly fill the church aimed to celebrate the life of Caleigh, who disappeared while playing on the beach with her mother, Allison Hammond, and sister Elizabeth, then 4, last April 19.
“This is not a sad occasion, but a celebration of her life,” said David Harrison Sr. “I get by every day knowing she’s in heaven with God and chasing butterflies.”
David Harrison thanked those who had supported him and his family, including his boss at CATA, Mayor Carolyn Kirk, who attended the ceremony, and the group Mission for the Missing that had assisted the Harrison family in searches for lost Caleigh.
The elder Harrison also thanked those who had organized a community vigil held in the little girl’s honor at the Fishermen’s Memorial last May.
On Friday’s anniversary date, the family will hold a private remembrance on Stacy Boulevard at the tree they planted last year in memory of Caleigh near the ice cream shop.
The Rev. Eugene L. Alves, longtime pastor at Our Lady of Good Voyage, said during the Mass’s homily that the family “should feel privileged” that Caleigh was gone before having sinned and assured family members they would reunite with Caleigh in heaven.
“She now lives in a state of extended happiness,” Alves said. “She’s there in heaven to help you get through this.”
As the service wrapped up, family friend and musician Chelsea Berry sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from an overhead balcony at the back of the church as the family exited the church.
The attendees stood facing forward, the music wrapping around them from behind. One woman, rocking a toddler, tucked a tuft of the small child’s blonde hair behind her ear as the girl focused her big brown eyes on Chelsea singing and strumming her guitar to some of “The Wizard of Oz” song’s classic lines.
”Someday, I’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far behind me,” she sang. “Where troubles melt like lemon drops, high above the chimney tops, that’s where you’ll find me.”
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.