A funeral ceremony punctuated by joy, grief and loving remembrance celebrated the life of Payton Summons, a Grand Prairie girl who died Oct. 19 in the midst of a battle to keep her on life support.
About 400 people, many of them children, filed into the sanctuary of St. John Unleashed church in Grand Prairie on Saturday morning. Some dressed formally, and some wore T-shirts with a heart that had softball stitches, the number 9 and “Payton,” or her nickname, PJ, with angel wings.
As “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten played on a loop and photos from Patyon’s life were displayed on a screen above the altar, people filed past her small casket.
Rev. Ellis Ford delivered a prayer of comfort. “Our little sister has gone home to be with you. But Lord, you said, suffer the little children unto me,” he said.
People stood, swayed, raised their arms and cheered to a rendition of “Total Praise” sung by Misti Turner and Rachel Sanders of East Fort Worth Montessori Academy, where Payton attended school.
Minister Charles Anderson of St. John’s Unleashed read a church resolution, addressed to Payton’s classmates, teachers, friends, softball teammates, and her parents Joseph Summons and Tiffany Hofstetter.
“Whereas Payton was the precious and adored daughter of her parents, we pray that God’s comfort and mercy abound within each of your hearts,” he said.
“We are reminded that Jesus deeply loves the children, the Paytons of the world, for as Jesus said, ‘The kingdom of the Lord belongs to such as these.’”
“We came to a moment … that you never truly can prepare for,” Dr. Denny D. Davis, pastor of St. Johns Unleashed, said, offering comfort to Payton’s parents.
“It is not the desire of any parent to bury their child. The belief and the hope is that our children will outlive us. We commit you to the loving arms of a caring God,” he said.
Davis then told the biblical story of David losing a child after praying and fasting over him.
“You did all you could,” he said to Payton’s parents. “But God saw fit to take Payton, and now I say to you, she cannot come back to us, but we can go to her.”
Shello Tabb and Maria Cruz of Payton’s school spoke about the kind of student Payton was.
Tabb said Payton was an animal lover who loved to care for the rabbits at her school. She described Payton as a generous girl who loved to help her classmates.
“Her life may have been short, but she had a great impact on many, many people,” Tabb said, pointing to the large group of people who came to remember her.
Cruz said that the school would plant a tree in Payton’s name next spring. In the meantime, she showed a small artificial tree, with fall foliage, that her classmates had crafted for her.
“There was not one student, even if they were new, that wasn’t impacted by Payton,” Cruz said. “We have gained an angel, and we know she will be guiding us in her work.”
She then left the altar, crying.
“If we could only get a glimpse of what (Payton) can see right now,” Matthew Maxwell said. “I can picture her in heaven right now.”
He then read a poem, “Angel in Disguise,” that he wrote for her.
“Thank you, Payton, for showing us what it truly means to fight!” the last line of the poem reads.
The eulogy was read by Pastor Johnny Hendricks of New Hope Church Richland Hills. He baptized Hofstetter when she was carrying Payton.
“My wife and I received a phone call that Payton was in the hospital and the forecast wasn’t good. We went to the hospital and saw her condition and we began to pray,” he said.
“We were there to see her go home. All the way home.
“I prayed that God would raise her up” in her hospital room, Hendricks said. “I did, I worshiped God. I knew the only solution to my pain was in God.
“I wanted her to get out of that bed and go home, and go to school. I wanted her dad to play with her and her mother to crush her to her chest.”
He said that Payton will never be forgotten.
“Those nine years are written on my heart and the hearts of this precious family. Nobody can take Payton away,” Hendricks said.
Becoming increasingly emotional, he said that the only relief from the pain of losing a child is faith.
“If you lose a child, it will happen to you,” he said, invoking the biblical story of Job, who lost all his children.
“You will hit the ground, you will tear your clothes, you will be desperate, hurting, with nothing to hold to. Until, like Job did, you worship God.”
Hendricks, like other speakers, assured Payton’s parents that they will be reunited with their daughter.
“She’s not gone, but somewhere else,” he said. “Little Payton walked into the glory, jumped into God’s lap, looked up at him and said, ‘I am home!’
“Nine years is short, Mom. It’s short, Dad. But oh, to have her for eternity.”
At the end of the funeral, directors supervised a final viewing before she was taken to Grand Prairie Memorial Gardens for burial.
The funeral program included letters to Payton from each of her parents.
“I never wanted our time on Earth together to end this soon, but I pray I fully understand why someday,” Summons wrote.
“I will try to smile when I think about you or see your pictures, because I know you would not want momma to cry,” Hofstetter wrote. “I love you forever baby! Love, Momma.”