[Story by Mike Foley]
People from all over the world have been praying for and following the story of Gavin David Bruce Norton, the eight-week old son of Richie Norton and his wife, Natalie Link Norton, who was born in Hawaii on October 24, 2009 and died in Salt Lake City, Utah, on January 7, 2010. [The picture at upper left, taken of Natalie and Gavin by Richie…and many more examples of Natalie’s family and wedding photography can be seen on her blog, Picks & Kicks, at http://www.natalienortonphoto.com/.Please note that Natalie recently won an Emmy Award partially based on her experience with baby Gavin.]
The Nortons and their beautiful young family have many friends, and many thousands of others around the globe became aware of the medical challenges baby Gavin faced through Natalie’s contributions and links on her Digital Photography School web site — http://digital-photography-school.com/author/aloha . . . while only a few hundred of us were able to gather in the Laie 4th Ward chapel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints this morning, January 13, 2010, to take part in the deeply touching experience of baby Gavin’s funeral.
As Mormons, we have profound beliefs in life-after-death, the resurrection, and the salvation of innocent children who die before the age of accountability . . . and in that sense such funerals are spiritual celebrations; but we also believe in mourning with those who mourn, and it’s certainly not unusual to see many tears shed in our funerals. Still, more tears than normal flowed this morning as Richie wheeled baby Gavin’s infant-sized, flower-lei-bedecked coffin into the chapel . . . with next-oldest brother Lincoln Norton, wearing white pallbearer gloves, pushing as well by daddy’s legs. Both sets of grandparents and other family members followed.
Children played an important part of the program, performing several songs. Many people, for example, were deeply touched as three of Sia Tonga’s young daughters sang a beautiful rendition of If the Savior Stood Beside Me. The Tongas and the Nortons spent time together in BYU-Hawaii’s married student housing complex — TVA, or Temple View Apartments; and their oldest daughter and the Norton’s oldest son, Raleigh, were classmates. As a member of the Laie 4th Ward bishopric sitting right behind the girls when they sang, I was able to see another perspective on their performance that the congregation couldn’t see but I found particularly poignant: The three young girls had their arms around each other’s waist as they sang in three-part harmony. Unforgettable.
Polynesian Cultural Center President Von D. Orgill, who is also president of the BYU-Hawaii 3rd Stake and a family friend, spoke, as did Laie 4th Ward Bishop Kevin Schlag and Max Purcell, 2nd Counselor in the Laie Hawaii North Stake Presidency and a member of Laie 4th Ward.
Both Natalie and Richie also bravely shared beautiful sentiments through their tears. For example, Richie reported, “Literally hundreds of thousands of people around the world read [online] about baby Gavin,” as he told of being overwhelmed by messages in blogs, email, Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. “People who didn’t believe in God, believe in God now. People who hadn’t prayed in a long time said they were praying now,” he continued. “This boy’s a missionary.”
Richie also said the entire experience of Gavin’s illness, which started with whooping cough in Hawaii and grew worse while the family was visiting relatives in Utah, was wrapped in spiritual feelings. For example, he noted at one point when his mother-in-law entered baby Gavin’s room in the Primary Children’s Hospital, she said, “This feels like the Celestial Room” [in the temple].
After the program and as the family escorted the coffin out of the chapel, the congregation sang the wistful Hawaiian farewell song, Aloha ‘Oe. A short time later, surrounded by family and friends on a beautiful Hawaiian day, baby Gavin was buried in Laie Cemetery by his namesake uncle. Aloha, baby Gavin…