Hundreds bid farewell to young Ria

Liz Coates HUNDREDS of people sat shoulder to shoulder in tear-stained, silent sorrow to remember schoolgirl cancer victim Ria Helsdon at her funeral on Monday.Having arrived in a gleaming horse-drawn carriage, the 14-year-old triggered a tide of tears as she was brought in to St Nicholas' Church, Great Yarmouth.

Liz Coates

HUNDREDS of people sat shoulder to shoulder in tear-stained, silent sorrow to remember schoolgirl cancer victim Ria Helsdon at her funeral on Monday.

Having arrived in a gleaming horse-drawn carriage, the 14-year-old triggered a tide of tears as she was brought in to St Nicholas' Church, Great Yarmouth.

With barely an empty seat remaining, what was meant to be a celebration of Ria's young life was steeped in sadness - mascara-streaked schoolgirls, and boys in blazers clinging to each other for support.


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Ria's parents Roger and Heather and all her family wore their grief with pride and dignity, the sense of desolation among mourners stifling even the most whispered conversation.

The service, lead by the Rev Chris Terry, included contributions from her family and friends, who all noted the inadequacy of words to describe what Ria meant to them. But still the tributes tumbled, and musical, talented, creative, beautiful, smiling, generous, loving Ria was remembered in faltering voices, broken by emotion.

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Tributes were lead by her mother Heather who thanked friends and family for their overwhelming support and doctors and nurses in various hospitals who cared for Ria during the four years she was ill.

“We never told Ria she was dying. How could we?” she said. She went on to explain how her cherished daughter, who never left the house without telling her parents she loved them, was that day being buried with her favourite rag doll, Polly.

Special words followed from Ria's aunt Margaret who read a poem, and her cousins Sam and Julie who paid tribute

to her courage and determination, describing Ria as “the most remarkable, kind and loving girl in the world.”

Ria's piano teacher John Farmer played some of her favourite music, giving mourners time to reflect on her life.

Her three best friends Beth, Sapphire and Savannah, added their memories of Ria - not of cancer or pain, but of a normal girly teenager who enjoyed, dressing up, singing and messing around with make-up.

“How to begin when someone you love becomes a memory,” one of them poignantly asked. “Family meant everything to Ria who loved her mum and dad so much,” another friend said, adding: “She was beautiful inside and out.”

The service was punctuated by moving songs, including Time to Say Goodbye by Katherine Jenkins, Songbird by All Angels, chosen by Ria, and Slipping Through My Fingers from Mama Mia, chosen by Heather.

She was brought out of the packed parish church to Ave Maria by All Angels. The funeral was followed by committal at Caister Cemetery.

Ria, who lived with her loving family in Beatty Road, Great Yarmouth, was diagnosed with bone cancer four years ago. Despite many harrowing setbacks, she appeared to be beating the disease. But its final assault proved too much for Ria, who maintained her cheery outlook, humour and bubbly personality to the end. Her parents lived in hope and never told her the cancer had gone too far, although poems they have found since reveal she probably knew more than she let on.

At the service, Mr Terry said: “Ria was only 14-years-old. And that, by any standard, is a short life. Naturally we are all sad. Almost inevitably we have to face questions about what might have been and where a longer life might have taken her. But life is not solely measured in length …Her's was a remarkable life that in no small way has changed us all.”

Occasionally an anecdote or comment about Ria being “a bit bossy” produced the hint of a smile among mourners, but overall the mood was heartbreakingly tragic - a sombre send-off for a young girl who enjoyed gatherings and celebrations, even in the midst of treatment, and would have been heartened to see so many pay their respects.

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