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Westport Family, Friends Memorialize Loving Child

WESTPORT, Conn. — Tess Meisel's family reluctantly and eloquently said goodbye to their "poet" Monday, honoring their cherished memories of a 12-year-old they said made an impact on everyone she met.

"She was more mature than I was, which is not saying that much," Suzanne Meisel said of her daughter, bringing a small hush of laughter to Unitarian Church in Westport. The church was packed to capacity with friends and family attending a Celebration of Life for Tess, who died Wednesday while attending a summer camp in Maine. "I'd go to her for advice, sometimes," her mother said.

Meisel said she dropped off her daughter at the camp with some trepidation, because it was the first time Tess had gone somewhere by herself. Cheerleaders welcomed the campers, and Tess ran off without looking back, causing Meisel to think that Tess would be fine when she eventually left for college.

Tess was sitting in a minivan at a stop light in Farmington, Maine, heading for horseback riding Wednesday with other campers. A tractor-trailer turned over onto the van, killing Tess. The other passengers were treated at a local hospital and released.

"My daughter was 12 years old; she taught me so many things," said Suzanne Meisel. "The things she would say, the bits of knowledge she would fit in her precious brain, digest them and come out with these – I'd like to call them golden nuggets. 'Wow,' and I'd think, 'How did she do that?'"

Suzanne Meisel was wearing a necklace Tess gave her, a birthday present of sorts. Tess made and designed it and gave it to her mother on her own 10th birthday.

Suzanne Meisel said she is now "stumbling on incredible gifts" from her daughter, who loved words as much as her mother. She wrote poems and kept a journal. Her mother kept the promise not to look in it and is now finding more golden nuggets.

Several of Tess's poems were read during the service. Her cousin, Amy Tanner, danced "The Essence," a transitional embrace. A candle-lighting ceremony gave Tess's friends a chance to say some words of remembrance.

Suzanne said Tess's friends had told her that Tess's last four days were the "best days of her life." Tess's friend, Samantha Galvao, was with her at camp and recounted that she and Tess had gone to an ice cream store Tuesday, and Tess had dared to try the lobster ice cream. According to Samantha, Tess said, "I'm glad I got to do that before I died." Then she spent an hour describing it in such detail that Samantha felt she knew what it had been like.

Her older brother Jacob said his last contact with his sister had been a text message, which began, "I LOVE YOU !!!!!!!! !!!!" and ended, "love you, miss you."

"How many siblings would write I love you twice in just a normal text to their other sibling?" he asked. "I mean, c'mon. I love my sister but I don't think I would do that, sorry."

He said she was bursting with love, to the point that she would hug people she had just met. "I called her weird; she said, 'You're the weird one,'" he said. "I couldn't seem to understand and comprehend the amount of love that filled her up because love flowed through her like no other, and it gives me comfort to knowing that that love flows through this room right now, because she's still here, she's not dead. She just wasn't able to be contained in that physical body. There was too much love in that 12-year-old to be contained in that small body and it had to be released so we could all feel it, feel it as we do now."

Her mother recounted the story of Tess's prize-winning pizza box, how it was inspired not just by a love of the environment but by a desire to help those in third world countries, hence the use of bamboo as a material.

"I learned this week, the physical truly, truly doesn't matter," she said. "Symbols are good, symbols help us. She honestly doesn't need her body. We don't need our bodies, we need our thoughts. Let's think about it, we're texting people all the time, we're not physically together. We're emailing all over the universe. We're not physically next to each other. So let's think less about how we physically meet each other and more about how we spiritually meet and celebrate our thoughts and if we get that bonus of a body we'll hold tight."

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