Smoke curled into the air from a ceremonial smudge as eight Indigenous drummers sang during 13-year-old Olivia Johnson’s funeral held Tuesday morning at Red Deer’s Festival Hall.
The drummers, who included her father, faced her coffin in tribute to Olivia, who tragically died in Sylvan Lake on April 9.
A comforting quilt was draped over her open casket. Photos featuring Olivia during her short life filled nearby displays.
About 200 people gathered to celebrate Olivia, whose spirit name was Morning Star Walking Eagle.
They were asked to drop their tear-stained tissues into paper bags in the hall marked ‘tear bags’ which are traditionally burned in a sacred fire.
Speakers shared special memories of Olivia, including her brother Joel who said his sister brought light into their lives.
“She loved so hard. She loved everybody. She saw the good in everybody,” said Joel during his eulogy.
“She taught us so much. She taught us how to live without apologies.”
He said she was their family’s birthday cake maker. She wouldn’t let them buy cakes. She was always making something for somebody, and was a master of the ‘eye roll.’
“I’m going to miss her so much. It’s so painful because it’s so early and so tragic.”
Olivia, and a 12-year-old Sylvan Lake girl, were celebrating a birthday before they were both found dead in a hotel room at a Best Western hotel in Sylvan Lake on Easter Sunday.
Before their deaths, the girls celebrated dinner with parents, swam, did each other’s makeup, and had a room next door to a parent, who would check in periodically.
The medical examiner is working to determine the cause of death. Toxicology test results are pending.
Olivia’s family says they remain in a state of shock and grief.
‘Today our family did the hardest thing imaginable – we said good-bye to our Olivia,” the family said in a statement.
“There are no words for how tragic and unnecessary Olivia’s death was.”
They hope that parents will use Olivia’s death to talk to their children.
“Olivia was a normal 13-year-old girl, doing normal 13-year-old things. Drugs were never something we worried about – but it only takes once for it to go all wrong. There were no indications this was something she was thinking about, and those around her can’t imagine how this could ever happen to her.”
They urged people to take the time to talk to the young adults in their lives and tell them the risks.
“We would never want anyone else to experience all that we have. The grief and hurt seem even greater when we think that maybe it could have been prevented,” the family said.
“Hug your young adults tight, and encourage them to talk and ask questions – even if everything is ‘normal’ and ‘okay.’ It could make all of the difference.”
Olivia is deeply missed by her father Dean, her mother Connie, her siblings, grandparents, and her many aunts, uncles and cousins.