Alexa nursing a bottle as a cherub-faced baby.
Alexa posing with big diva sunglasses at the beach.
Alexa sticking out her tongue while rolling her eyes back into her head.
Memory after memory flashed on a screen Saturday at First United Methodist Church in Clyde. Hundreds of residents, family members and friends gathered to celebrate the short but rich life of 11-year-old Alexa Brown.
She was one of more than 20 Clyde-area children diagnosed with cancer in a state-identified geographical cancer cluster. She died Aug. 6 from medulloblastoma, a form of cancer that attacks the brain and spine.
While tears fell and sniffles echoed through the chapel, the service, officiated by the Rev. Frank Brown, was centered on Alexa's life, not her death.
A slide show of pictures created by Alexa's close friends and siblings looped before the service, which started at 11 a.m. From the day she was born to shortly before she died, Alexa face was dominated by bright, expressive eyes.
In one picture she threw a long, loving glance at the audience from over her shoulder, her smile genuine and newly grown hair framing her pixie face. It lingered on the screen as the service got underway.
Her family, parents Wendy and Warren Brown and older siblings Abby, Amanda and Ethan, wore bright colors and asked guests tp do the same. Alexa's favorite color, purple, was a popular choice.
Abby read a poem written by Clyde resident Jean Goble for Alexa and her family. It described the Alexa meeting loved ones at the gates of Heaven, and her powerful impact on those she left behind.
"Alexa has fought the good fight. Alexa has finished her race," said Warren, invoking the second book of Timothy, chapter four. "And she has remained faithful."
Ethan, who was supported at the ceremony by the presence of his teammates from the Clyde High School football team, started reading Pslam 23, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death." Overcome with emotion, he could not finish the reading. The pastor finished the Pslam after giving Ethan a long hug.
Amanda, who was inseparable from her little sister, simply shared her thoughts.
"My favorite place was always next to my favorite person," she said through tears. She said she's glad Alexa's spirit will now be free to run and play and ride her bike -- all of the things her vivacious "little sis" desperately wanted to do again.
But, she said, she wishes Alexa were still with her.
"She is my very best friend and my perfect little sister," she said.
Amanda told a story about how she went to Alexa's room one night to say goodnight, but stubborn Alexa refused to give her a hug.
Amanda left the room and Alexa called her back, but again refused a hug. When Amanda, exasperated, left and went back one last time, little Alexa was there with her arms wide open.
"It was a big bear hug -- one of those hugs you don't want to let go," she said. Alexa whispered in her ear, "I love you so much."
"She had a heart that could burst with love at any moment," she said.
The congregation sang Alexa's favorite hymns, and the reverend read just a few of the messages left on the family's online journal, where they have chronicled their three-year journey with their youngest daughter's illness.
One South Carolina woman wrote she often felt sorry for herself, a struggling as a single young mother. But after hearing Alexa's story she is determined to be a better person and mother. Another supporter said he's found new comfort in his own life by praying for Alexa.
The family has had almost 400,000 visits to the journal as of Saturday, and hundreds of messages from people whose lives were touched by the delicate little girl who fought courageously and gracefully though years of painful treatments and setbacks with nary a complaint.
In the weeks before Alexa's death, as she grew weaker, she mysteriously started singing a line from the song "Down by the Riverside," which her mother was practicing for church.
"Ain't gonna study war no more," Alexa sang, over and over again.
Perhaps that meant after so many years of battling her illness, she had found peace, suggested the reverend. Perhaps, he said, she realized her fight, her race, was done.
Peace seemed also to be with Alexa's friends and family as they quietly left the chapel and emerged on the sun-washed lawn. With thoughts of Alexa in their hearts, congregation looked to the sky and released hundreds of purple balloons to symbolize her spirit's assent into heaven.
Then they hugged, cried, laughed and shared memories as the balloons faded to specks and disappeared.