Cast in a soft blue and white light, Scott Schwab stood at the front of a church Friday afternoon behind a line of flowers to thank all those around him for the emotional support he and his family had received since his 10-year-old son, Caleb, was killed Sunday while riding a water slide.
At a visitation Thursday, the church had been forced to turn away 500 people. More than 1,000 people attended Friday’s memorial.
“Thank you for shaping his character and building memories we will share forever,” Schwab said, singling out more than a dozen of Caleb’s friends from various sports teams seated in the front row of the Life Mission Church, 16111 S. Lone Elm Road in Olathe.
Schwab, a Kansas state representative, and his wife, Michele, have four sons. Caleb was the second oldest. Scott Schwab said he has names for all four, calling Caleb his “joy.”
“Our goal is to get to a place where we think of Caleb and feel joy and not sorrow,” Schwab told those gathered. He added, grieving but resolute, “We have lost our joy, but we will get it back.”
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and other lawmakers attended the memorial. The tone did not shy away from the feelings of sorrow and loss over Caleb’s death. It recognized the grief while also celebrating his life and the happiness he brought.
The 2 p.m. memorial service was closed to the news media, which were allowed to gather outside on church property. Part of the service was viewable through a video stream on the church’s website.
Schwab described Caleb as a sensitive boy, one who, even at age 5, comforted his own father at a time of a job loss. While Schwab’s oldest son, Nathan, now 12, had questions about how the family would get along, it was Caleb who later said, “Dad, I’m just so sorry that happened to you.”
“I’m the kid who scraped a knee at that moment, and he helped me. That was Caleb,” Schwab said.
The church was filled with teammates of Caleb’s, some of whom came dressed in their baseball jerseys. At the end of the service, Schwab called his son’s teammates to the front of the church and did a final huddle in honor of his son.
Clint Sprague, the lead pastor at Life Mission Church, said Caleb’s teachers came Friday, as well as his coaches, neighbors and friends. He also stressed that it was all right for kids to be emotional about the loss.
“Our message to parents is to listen to your kids,” Sprague said. “Don’t just try to cover it up, don’t just try to move on. It’s an opportunity to teach your kids that death is a part of life.”
Caleb died Sunday while riding a 17-story water slide at the Schlitterbahn Water Park in Kansas City, Kan. The park reopened Wednesday, but the water slide is to remain closed for the rest of the season. Kansas City, Kan., police are continuing their investigation into Caleb’s death.