The Anthony family says goodbye to Caylee with grace, dignity and just a little bit of denial.
Momlogic's Andrea: By the time I arrived at the
Orlando Baptist Church at 7:00 AM, people had already started lining up --
although the service would not start for three more hours.
by looking at the line, it would be hard to guess this was a memorial
for a little girl made famous only by her untimely death.
The crowd, a slice of humanity, was made up of couples, black, white,
elderly, and a surprising amount of children. As I looked closer, it
started to come into focus why we were there.
At one point,
a woman showed up with a doll -- similar to the one Caylee had carried.
Another passed a box of tissues down the line, asking people to help
themselves. It seemed like a good idea. I took several sheets. A little
girl had several giant Caylee buttons pinned to her jacket.
The lines formed early -- local news had predicted traffic and crowds -- but those masses of people never materialized. In the end, hundreds showed, not thousands. One young couple arrived at 4:00 AM, leaving their two young children with grandparents to attend the event, "We know what it's like to lose a child-- or almost lose a child," Amber told me. "Our daughter had a febrile seizure last month and she stopped breathing." The two arrived a day before the church service to visit the Caylee memorial on Suburban Drive where her remains were eventually found.
Lisa Camiolo from nearby Kissimmee brought along her three children, ages four, five and nine. "They know that Caylee died and that her mom is probably to blame," Camiolo said. She's even used the story as a way to teach her kids lessons of responsibility. "Sometimes you can't get your way, I tell them. Casey wanted a carefree life, my kids want a puppy -- it's a lot of work and you just have to do it." Camiolo believes a public memorial is important. "This story brought our community together," she says. "It was a community-wide search for her. We were a part of it."
I met Michele Murphy, a childhood friend of Casey's brother Lee. She had even attended Caylee's
last birthday party, and had taken the day
off work to attend. She told me she thought it was a bit odd that some
people were attending a memorial for a child they didn't even know. "They
want to be part of the circus,' she said. "Some of them are just voyeurs."
Right next to Michele was a woman already in tears. "I cried when they found her, like she was my own child," the woman in her 60s told me as she dabbed tears from her eyes. "I could never have children."
Emotions were running high ... and we hadn't even gone into the church yet.
When we were finally let into the massive Worship Center, images of
Caylee were flashing on a huge screen -- and yes, of Casey, too. It was
hard not to be simultaneously moved and horrified by the sight of Casey
holding baby Caylee in her arms. The pictures could've been ripped from my own family album.
the Anthony family filed in. People I had seen everyday on television, now come to life. Just a regular family with a dark past and future.
concern on everyone's mind was George Anthony, recently released from the hospital after a possible suicide attempt. How could a man on the brink of
suicide endure this kind of event? One of the musical numbers performed
was called "One More Day." It seemed to be one that could send him over the
edge. The song laments the loss of a loved one and the regret of never
getting to say goodbye ... hardly a message that would be good "medicine" for
George. Cindy put her arms around her husband while the music played.
Lee Anthony was the first to officially speak. And the first thing out of his mouth was a condemnation. "Yield any judgment you already have," he pleaded. He also asked for continued help with the investigation. After the memorial, Brad Conway, speaking on behalf of the Anthonys, said Lee is indeed looking for more tips on who killed Caylee. To Lee Anthony, Casey Anthony is not a suspect.
During Lee's time at the podium,
he referred to Caylee as C.M.A. (Caylee Marie Anthony), then kissed his hand -- where he presumably has a tattoo
of her initials -- and said, "I will never forget the promise I
made to you." I looked around at the audience -- many were in tears. At
that moment, Lee Anthony was the best uncle in the world. An uncle
without a niece.
The most moving part of the ceremony came
when George Anthony told stories like any besotted grandfather
about his little Caylee. "I can close my eyes and I can see her coming from her bedroom
with her silly little glasses on, her beads, whatever it might be, to
make me laugh. She was a comedian to me," he said. Then he shifted his focus to his Casey. "I miss my daughter. Please write her letters," he begged the congregation.
"She deserves our love and prayers." George Anthony proved, beyond a
shadow of doubt, that he loves his daughter unconditionally.
When it was her turn to speak, Cindy did the same. "It breaks my heart that Casey's not with us today to honor the child she loves so very, very much," she said. Speaking directly to Casey, she thanked her for giving her the "greatest gift -- Caylee." She said, "I love you, and I wish I could comfort you right now. ... Caylee was so much like you. She got your beauty and your compassion, and she got your spirit."No one knows if Casey, sitting alone in a cell less than a mile from the church, heard her mother. But if she was listening, she would've heard a family desperately searching for closure.
As for me, when I walked back to my car, all I wanted to do was see my daughter. I longed to hold her and to cherish her -- because, as George Anthony said, "You can lose them in a second." And I had just seen proof of that.