‘Sheer gratitude’: Celebration honours N.B. teen who inspired kindness movement

RIVERVIEW, N.B. — A New Brunswick teen who inspired a movement dedicated to spreading acts of kindness was remembered Wednesday as a courageous, big-hearted person who never let her terminal diagnosis get in the way of celebrating the generosity of others.

More than 700 people gathered at Immaculate Heart of Mary Roman Catholic Church in Riverview, N.B., for an ecumenical funeral service in honour of 18-year-old Rebecca Schofield, who died of brain cancer.

“While we gather in sorrow, the more dominant feeling in my own heart is one of sheer gratitude,” said Rev. Phil Mulligan.

In December 2016, when doctors determined she had only months to live, Schofield drafted a bucket list that included a request for people to record personal acts of kindness on social media with the hashtag #BeccaToldMeTo. Schofield’s Facebook post went viral, attracting heartfelt responses from around the world.

“She rapidly put her fear aside and … focused on living, not on dying,” her uncle, Denis Savoie, told mourners. “By putting her fear aside, she was able to live with purpose until the end.”

Before the funeral service began, a freezing rain warning was lifted for much of eastern New Brunswick, the clouds parted and the church was bathed in warm sunshine. Arriving mourners squinted their eyes and shed their heavy coats.

Katie Roberts, a friend of Schofield’s in high school, said she was stunned by the young woman’s determination.

“She had a strength and a kindness, and even positivity going through something that the rest of us can’t really ever imagine,” said Roberts, now studying at the Nova Scotia College of Art at Design in Halifax.

“She didn’t lose that. It’s really important for us to be here to support such a great family and to honour her.”

Maurise Levesque, who sings in the church’s choir, said she, too, was taken with Schofield’s remarkable poise.

“I admired her ability to speak about her death with such acceptance,” she said. “She inspired me to do kind acts — and every time I did one, I thought of her.”

Earlier this winter, when a snowstorm buried her neighbourhood, Levesque took it upon herself to shovel her neighbour’s driveway.

Chris Collins, the member of the provincial legislature for Moncton Centre, said he hoped Schofield’s family will be able to begin the long process of healing.

“She was a spectacular person and we were very proud to have her as a New Brunswicker,” he said outside the church. “She is loved by her community — and her community wasn’t just New Brunswick, it was worldwide.”

Inside the church, Mulligan meditated on the mixed, confused feelings so many mourners seemed to share.

“We honour and celebrate not only the way that she lived, but also the graceful way that she let go of life and died,” he said. “And we celebrate … the wake that she leaves behind: all of the good that will continue on in her memory.”

Her feel-good campaign attracted the attention of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who recognized Schofield’s ”inspiring commitment to community” in a February 2017 tweet.

Trudeau acknowledged her again in a tweet Wednesday, saying “let’s make sure the legacy of #Beccatoldmeto lives on, and continue to be kind to each other.”

New Brunswick Premier Brian Gallant has called her an “amazing young woman” whose selfless dedication to helping others would inspire others for years to come.

From as far away as Australia, people posted accounts of good deeds, ranging from holding the door open for someone to sending a box of bath items to Canadian soldiers in Kuwait.

Schofield’s family issued a statement Sunday saying the rapid accumulation of good deeds online had created a legacy that gave Rebecca immense hope.

“We pray #BeccaToldMeTo will live on,” the family said. “Keep her dream alive, and our beloved Becca will live forever. Be kind.”

On Monday, hundreds of members of a Facebook group dedicated to her movement said they had turned on their porch lights Sunday evening in her honour, in places like California, Texas, Florida and across Canada. Many commented that they would continue to fulfil Schofield’s final request.

Savoie said Schofield spent much of her time in the last two months sleeping, sometimes for 24 hours a day.

But on Feb. 14, when she woke up for the last time, she mustered the strength to tell her family it was time for her to go, Savoie said.

“She was ready,” he said. “This was more than just a gift of love. She gave them the permission, the courage, the serenity to let her go. She gave them peace. This was her last act of kindness.”

— Follow @NovaMac on Twitter

Michael MacDonald, The Canadian Press

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