Clifton - Alexis Elizabeth Enriquez y Santillan got to be a high school freshman from August of 2011 until March of this year.
After that, she entered into the last battles of her personal struggle against leukemia.
As Ms. Arlene Olson, a counselor at Clifton High School, fielded a break-the-ice question, she looked sideways at the scribbler, as if to remark non-verbally that, though she could see the lights were on, was there really and truly anyone home?
The question: “I understand you all are doing some extensive grief counseling with the students...” sort of trailed off into the mid distance.
She looked all around herself in the crowded gym, the bleachers packed with students, the rows upon rows of folding chairs where family and friends sat, then glanced back to remark that Alexis was in the band, that she was a trainer for female athletics. Her voice, too, kind of trailed away.
“She's my angel now.”
We both stared into the mid-distance again. A banner on the wall proudly proclaimed, “No one fights alone.”
What does one say of the untimely death of a child budding into the first flush of young womanhood? Are there words of comfort?
The moment – awkward, filled with pain and the embarrassment of two strangers forced to show their emotions to a totally unknown human being at such a time of unquiet emotions - suddenly passed.
The boys of the graduating class put together a video using their cameras and the school's audiovisual equipment. There was extensive footage of the hundreds upon hundreds of Facebook greetings and sympathy notices recorded upon Alexis' death on Nov. 27 at Cooke Children's Medical Center in Ft. Worth, where she was diagnosed with the dread disease in the same month of 2009.
During that time, she took 4 chemo treatments and a bone marrow transplant, and hovered on the edge of life in a coma until she succumbed to complications of the procedure.
At the climactic moment, the video focused on several hundred blue and gold balloons released in the front driveway of the high school, flying away to the blue skies above while the kids stand below and watch.
And then the pallbearers – boys Alexis knew and lived among during her short life in her hometown of Clifton – wheeled her casket into the gym, and it was on.
All the counseling anyone could want, words of comfort and of hope for the living – and remembrance of a young lady who, friends and family say, saw her Savior, Jesus, beckoning to her, telling her to come to Him, came pouring from the testimony of her friends who read scriptures and recalled their experiences, many of them shared with her during her final stay in the hospital.
There were other visitations during that final six-month ordeal, according to her Priest.
“She was visited by several - people – entities – Angels,” he said. He formed his words carefully, a certain shyness creeping into the edges of his remark, one uttered with such sincerity and guileless innocence.
The man said he thinks it was probably the Angel Raphael who came to see Alexis.
“I thought it was a girl, but wasn't a girl,” Alexis told him, “but it was too pretty to be a man...”
He shared with the assembled kids his wisdom about Angels.
“Angels are perfect beings; they are beautiful, and have no flaws.”
What did the Angels tell Alexis?
“Ask for strength, persevere; it will be OK, but it's going to be a different OK.
“I think she knew it was a fight she was not going to win...She is not far away. She was never alone; neither are you,” he admonished the young people.
A lay churchman named Dustin Durham spoke of her experiences, primarily of a moment she shared with him "...when Jesus reached down and said, 'Come here, child.' She smiled, and said ,'Yes.'”
The name Alexis, he reminded his listeners, is the Greek for helper, or protector.
“She's the greatest love story ever told,” he said.
Then he fairly fled the podium, overcome with emotion, struggling to keep his nerve, and ignited the special incense that smells so much like sandalwood, but is actually the fabled frankincense and myrrh so prized by the wise and holy men of the ancient caravans that they brought it to the Messiah as a love offering on his birthday.
Said the priest, “About six months ago, Alexis began preparing for her death...She began to give me little messages, like 'Father, I would like..."
He concluded his remarks by saying “Please, ask for all the help you need.”
And then he and the altar boy circled the casket, swinging the censor and the gymnasium filled with the fragrant smoke of the ages, the smoke of the old, old story, curling upward.
Of the Holy Water, he said, as he sprinkled it ceremoniously, ”It reminds us of our Baptism. We put it on like clothes.”