Devastated mum's tearful goodbye to her 'everlasting angel' Kayden
Mourners attending the funeral of a "little fighter" who once defied medical odds were told that everyone can learn from a five-year-old boy who "touched the nation".
Hundreds of people gathered inside the Elim Pentecostal Church in Ballymena to pay their final respects to Kayden Fleck who regularly attended Sunday School there.
The Harryville Primary School pupil, who died after being swept almost four miles along the Braid River last Saturday afternoon, was a huge fan of superheroes - particularly Spider-Man.
A mourner dressed as Kayden's favourite comic book character helped carry his small white casket, which bore numerous pictures of his hero, into the packed church.
There, his devastated father Darrel held his inconsolable wife Leanne as she fought back tears in order to tell her son how much he meant to them for the last time.
"You are our everlasting angel," she said.
Leanne then told the packed church that her heart is "full of sadness" before adding: "In our dreams we hold you tight. We will love you until we see you again."
Following the heartbreaking final farewell she buried her head in her husband's shoulder and sobbed.
Kayden's aunt Samantha also wept as she vowed to keep her nephew "close to our hearts" forever.
"Before you go, we give you this, half of our hearts, and one last kiss," she said.
Many members of the emergency services, who took part in the frantic but ultimately futile rescue operation just five days prior, were among the mourners when Pastor Paul Dunn prayed for an entire community of "minds full of questions".
Then senior pastor Mark Stone told those present that Kayden - who was born with a congenital heart condition and chronic lung disease - was a "little fighter" who had undergone surgery 15 times in his short life.
He said Kayden had defied doctors who had discouraged his parents from harbouring high expectations.
"But when he got to his feet at the age of two his granny squealed with delight and he couldn't be stopped," Pastor Stone added. "Kayden's name means 'little fighter', and that's who he was."
He described how the P1 pupil, who could melt hearts with his "cheeky and funny personality", had overcome the bleak prognosis and had been enjoying getting into all sorts of mischief with his siblings - particularly with his twin brother Jayden. He then said everyone can learn from Kayden's example. "Despite all he had been through he lived life to the full," the pastor said. "The lesson which he proved to all of us is simple; no matter how bad a hand you have been dealt, you can be like Kayden - you can fight."
Pastor Stone admitted that he too struggled for words at a time of "such terrible loss" which was made worse by Kayden's age because he never reached many of life's milestones which so often feature in a eulogy.
He told distraught loved ones that "it is natural to burn with white hot anger against God when he feels absent" before urging them to remember the words of CS Lewis who reminded us that while "God whispers to us in our pleasures, he shouts to us in our pain".
Pastor Stone also borrowed words from JRR Tolkien when he said: "One day, everything sad will come untrue."
Following a moment of reflection, the pastor gave thanks for such a "bright little boy who touched a community and who has now touched a nation".
"Kayden sang about superheroes, but he also sang about Jesus," he said.
"This is not the end for Kayden, he has awoken to a new joy in his real superhero."