Elizabeth Weidner was laid to rest Friday as family, friends and people from across the community remembered the legacy of the girl who fought so hard against cancer.
The hour-long funeral service at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Teutopolis was tearful and solemn, with hundreds of well-wishers paying their last respects to Weidner, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 High Risk Neuroblastoma in 2016 at the age of 12 and spent the next five years battling the disease and advocating for greater funding for childhood cancers. Many of her fellow students at Teutopolis High School, with a previously-scheduled day off from learning, came out to say goodbye to their friend, with some of them crying as the service ended.
Following the service, her casket was sent to St. Aloysius Cemetery for burial.
Weidner died Sept. 29 at her home in rural Bishop Creek following a five-year battle with her disease. The impact that she had on the community and those she met was laid bare by the Rev. Ed Shea, a former pastor at St. Francis and a friend of the Weidner family. He opened his eulogy by singing the hymn, “Lord of the Dance,” an appropriate tribute to Elizabeth, a life-long dancer.
“The first time I heard that song, I loved it,” Shea said. “I was a young man about to become a priest. I heard that song and said, ‘This is life, right here.’
“And then many years later, I met Elizabeth Weidner and I realized that this song was written for her.”
Holding back tears, Shea spoke of her helping spirit and her caring heart, speaking to the crowd about the impact that she had on people in Teutopolis and the entire nation through her advocacy and charity.
“She became a light to the world,” Shea said. “You and I, we got to see it (and) celebrate it. There are so many cherishable memories in the life of Elizabeth Weidner. We saw it here last night (during her visitation) with that beautiful presentation. That’s only a tenth of what she did.
“So many things, so many relationships, so much of the world has been changed by her presence in those short 17 years. She was passionate, loving, kind. ‘She filled the world with light,’ that’s what her dad (Matthew) kept saying. Every time she danced, she lit up a room. She could speak a message with the way she danced. She danced it off, all the way.”
Shea said that Elizabeth lived her life “like a Prophet to the nations,” comparing her to Jeremiah and speaking of her can-do attitude in the face of a deadly disease.
“I don’t know if Elizabeth ever heard that Scripture, but she lived it,” Shea said. “She was a Prophet to us. We all have moments in our life where we want to give up (or) throw in the towel. She never did.
“I talked to her the day she died. She said, ‘Father, I’m so frustrated.’ She didn’t want to die. We didn’t want her to die. She was passionate from birth. She loved life, people, relationships (and) animals.”
Even in death, her impact was felt throughout Teutopolis and across the area.
Matthew Sturgeon, the superintendent of Unit 50 Schools, said that Elizabeth would be remembered forever, for her optimistic outlook on life and for inspiring so many others to overcome.
“Elizabeth will forever be remembered for the way she lived and the way she inspired others,” Sturgeon said. “May perpetual light shine upon her.”
At the end of his eulogy, Shea returned to the happy yet bittersweet tones of “Lord of the Dance,” providing one final tribute to a young girl who danced into the hearts of so many.
“They cut me down and I leapt up high; I am the life that will never, ever die,” Shea sang. “I’ll live in you if you’ll live in me; ‘I am the Lord of the Dance,’ said she.”