Friends and family pack church to remember joyful Forest Grove stepsisters

by: COURTESY PHOTO: DIETER-ROBINSON FAMILY - The front page of the program at the Celebration of Life for two Forest Grove stepsisters featured their photo.“We feel held,” Susan Dieter-Robinson told the sanctuary full of people, “very, very held.”

After a week dealing with the tragic deaths of their two girls, the family of Anna Lucille Dieter-Eckerdt and Abigail Josephine Robinson on Saturday ministered to the community that grieves alongside them by celebrating the “love-drenched life” the two girls shared.

Turning from the horror of the Oct. 20 accident in which the two sisters died, the family instead focused on joyful memories of the girls — sharing their faith in a power that transcends this earth and throwing a party of sorts for all their friends.

Huge bouquets of colorful balloons at the front door of Sonrise Church in Hillsboro welcomed people to the “celebration of life.” In the foyer, children were invited to “do art” that would later be bound into a keepsake book for the family. A collection of the girls’ favorite things — a cell phone, dance shoes, dolls, drawings, books — were displayed as playmates, neighbors and friends gathered to pay their respects.

Every chair in the 800-seat sanctuary filled, with people standing along the walls and more seated in the foyer.

On stage sat two large portraits of the girls. On the right, 6-year-old Anna smiled in pink, a blue ribbon in her hair, arm around Sampson, the family’s Labrador retreiver. On the left, 11-year-old Abby looked over her shoulder, quietly smiling.

“Music,” said Tom Robinson, “was very important in our house. Abby played trombone and we danced a lot.”

Later in the ceremony, the audience got a chance to share in that tradition when Robinson, the father of Abby and stepfather of Anna, led those gathered in a prayerful song, “10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord).”

“You’re rich in love, and You’re slow to anger

Your name is great, and Your heart is kind

For all Your goodness I will keep on singing

Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find.”

Keeping with the theme of balancing heartaches with memories, Pastor Bob Fletcher read from the poem “I am Free.”

“If my parting has left a void,” he said, “then fill it with remembered joys.”

A slideshow did just that, with photo after photo of the girls’ joyful moments: learning to ride a bike, playing with dolls, licking frosting off beaters, reading “Curious George” to Sampson, playing with dolls, picking out pumpkins, eating pizza with friends, learning to knit, building a snowman, praying for “Dude” (their dead goldfish), feeding a baby a bottle, fishing, drawing at the Forest Grove Chalk Art Festival, dancing on stage, laughing around a campfire, messing around on the playground, mugging with pals, sleeping in each others’ arms—and many, many photos of the smiling girls hugging people they loved.

“They were enveloped in love,” their older sister Emily Robinson said, “and in turn they loved everybody.”

“They loved their friends,” Susan said, “all their friends.” She spoke of special moments and things she will miss, especially their laughter, their dancing. “I had the privilege of being there day to day. If you knew the girls,” she invited, “share with us, laugh with us, cry with us.”

“They are looking down on us,” she said, “and smiling.”

The celebration ended with pastor Eric Schmitt urging everyone to stand and dance for Anna and Abby to the wildly popular electronic song “What Does the Fox Say?”

Afterward, church members served ice cream and cookies while friends and family visited. Children chose from a range of fun activities, including art projects, face painting, a bounce house, a magic show or just running happily on the church lawn.

Somehow a gathering of great sadness had become another moment of “remembered joy.”

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