LONGMONT -- A tiny flame lit the way for Premila Lal's last journey. And then another. And still another.
"Ram nam, satya hai!" chanted the mourners over and over, an ancient Hindu funeral chant, as they bore Lal's coffin over each small bit of fire on the pavement outside Ahlberg Funeral Chapel. Every few steps, a moment to kneel, a moment to strike a new flame.
The Wednesday rains held back just long enough for the flickers to remain after the 18-year-old's body had passed. A memory, brief but brilliant.
A last memory.
"You are in my heart," her father Praveen Lal declared earlier in a three-hour service for the recent Niwot High School graduate. "That piece, that small piece that is set away for you, nobody is taking from me."
Premila Lal, known to friends and family as "Goodi," was shot and killed Friday when a prank went wrong. She and a cousin had been waiting in a closet to scare a friend, Nerrek Galley. Police believe Galley shot Lal by mistake, thinking she was an intruder.
But Wednesday's funeral dwelled little on the manner of her death. The clouded afternoon was a time to remember her life.
More than 100 people crowded into the chapel. Many had a story of what "Goodi" had taught them about patience and family, or what she had done, or even just how she seemed to stay calm where others might worry.
"I asked if there was something wrong with her," her uncle Binesh Prasad admitted to chuckles. "I'd never seen her react to anything negatively."
"When she was small, she was like a little baby doll to me," said Shashi Nordfelt, her oldest cousin. "I got to dress her, I got to feed her, I got to rock her to sleep."
"I found my little sister," said Shelby Foreman, a long-time friend. "Even though we're not blood-related, that's what she was, my little sister. ... She was beautiful, she was sweet, she was loving ... she didn't give any crap, but she didn't take any, either."
"I love you," she said with difficulty. "I want you with me instead of tears."
As the incense burned and the rites were chanted, the final goodbyes rose -- and the final questions remained.
"Goodi, Goodi, why? Why?" asked her aunt Nadia Prasad. "So many questions. So many tears. If only we could reverse time and change mistakes. ... But it is not to be."
Scott Rochat can be reached at 303-684-5220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.