Kari-Lee's Kombi send-off a tribute to brave adventurer
THIS was her time. This was her dance. She lived every moment. She left nothing to chance.
The words of the Michael W. Smith song perfectly captured the life of Kari-Lee Birrell.
The 25-year-old, who died last month after bravely battling a bacterial infection in her new lungs, was farewelled on Saturday just as she lived - as one of life's most spirited and beautiful adventurers.
Hundreds of family and friends formed a guard of honour as Kari's petite turquoise coffin, painted with a picture of the ocean she loved and adorned with her dancing shoes, was carried in a Kombi van through the carpark of Suncoast Christian Church at Woombye.
As Celine Dion's song Fly played, Kari's parents Peter and Rhyl Venning, sister Tiana, her young husband Tom and his parents Gavin and Michelle Birrell, were comforted as they said the final goodbye.
Kari's celebration of life did not focus on her cystic fibrosis, or her past two months in hospital, but on her amazing life.
Picture after picture, coupled with beautiful commentary from her parents, close family friend Bruce Napier, sister Tiana, and Tom, told the story of a young woman who had made every moment count.
Her tour of 44 countries included family trips across this country, Taiwan, New Zealand, mission trips to Vanuatu and outback Australia, and then her own travel across Europe, the Greek Islands, Egypt, Central America and South America.
A 'lifer' at Suncoast Christian College, Kari won the Spirit of the College award in 2006, completed a Diploma of Photography at Nambour TAFE before doing a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Italian at USC. More recently, she was studying to become a paramedic.
Tom, who met Kari after she started to work at his parents' cafe at Suncoast, said while their marriage was short, it was filled with the most beautiful memories.
The pair married in December last year after an engagement party became a surprise wedding.
"When you were walking across from the house, I was thinking to myself "Could this get any better. Yes. and it did,'' Tom said in his tribute to Kari.
"You looked so beautiful and as I wiped away my own few tears, I knew it was right.''
"It couldn't have been more perfect. It was the best day of my life.''
On her 25th birthday in June, Kari was taken into theatre for a seven-hour double lung transplant operation.
Her recovery was amazing and just two weeks after the operation, Kari-Lee joined Tom at a friend's wedding.
"I was standing in the church performing my groomsman's duties and I look outside the little church window and there you were,'' Tom said.
"Two weeks after having a double lung transplant in the most beautiful blue dress I'd ever seen, I could not have imagined it any better.''
"It was as though time had stopped when I looked at you.''
"That was the night we first danced.''
"Then came the nine weeks that followed when you were healthy and enjoying life to its fullest, where we made plans to travel the world, buy a house and start a family.
"No we didn't get to do any of that but I am so grateful for those weeks together.''
Tom, who spent weeks sleeping in the hospital room by Kari's side after the bacterial infection attacked her new lungs, said his wife taught him and everyone around them, so much about life.
Kari's dad Peter Venning said he was so proud of the way Tom had loved Kari.
"I'm sure Tom's love helped us through those really tough moments.''
"He's become like a son to us.''
"She gave me the strength to get through some of my hardest days and show me what it means to see the glass half full."
Tiana told the crowd of being her "Asian" sister and how a friend asked Kari...does she know!!
"She was my miracle and my superhero...I love you Kari.''
Mum Rhyl Venning told Kari before she died of how proud she was of all that she had achieved.
"You have been fearless and adventurous and so full of life. I have admired you so much.
"As you've gotten older I have loved the fact that you have become my friend as well as my daughter.''
"I love the way you light up any gathering, the way you bring peace and harmony, your quirky sense of humour and your dry wit.''
"I love your passion for dance and music. I love driving back from Brisbane with Brazilian music blaring out of the car speakers.
"I love your compassionate heart that just wants to help people and care for the poor.''
"Now that you are gone, my heart grieves for how much you wanted to live, how much you had planned, how much you were looking forward to life with Tom.
"But I know we had talked about the number of your days being in God's hands so I need to rest in the fact that you no longer feel like you are missing out.
"Earthly things have faded and your are just having an awesome time and you can't believe you wanted to stay here.''
"So it's us that are left missing you.''
"I don't honestly know how I can go on living without you, but it's time for me to show courage just like you did.
"We miss you Kari and we always will. Until we meet again. Goodbye my beautiful girl.''