If you walked into the early Friday morning, you would have marveled at the green garlands that circle the chandeliers and caught the sights and smells of the Christmas trees, wreaths and poinsettias that line the walls. You would have smiled at the sight of the beautifully-decorated sanctuary, only Christmas on your mind.
Later in the morning, though, the entryway was adorned with collages depicting Kyle MacKechnie, a smiling young man surrounded by family and friends. The church took on a different feel as mourners packed the pews for the 11 a.m. service to honor the memory of the 18 year old, a freshman at the University of Connecticut, who died in a car crash early Tuesday morning in Sullivan County, NY.
This Christmas will not be commemorated by photos of families exchanging gifts or remembered for who got the new iPhone or laptop. This Christmas will forever be remembered as the year countless friends and family lost Kyle MacKechnie who was taken from the world just four days before Christmas.
Although many were too overcome by emotion to talk about the shocking death of their dear friend and classmate, a few fellow grads expressed their admiration for a young man whom one described as “Wonderful. You didn’t have to know him for him to be unconditionally kind to you.”
MacKechnie died when his cousin, Charles Wolff, 18 drifted across the lanes of a road and crashed into a tree. Kyle was pronounced dead at the scene. Police arrested Wolff for reckless drunk driving. The two other passengers in the car, Brian Contay, 19 of Monticello, NY, and Emily Hoffman, 19 of Eldred, NY, were airlifted to Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla. At this time, Contay is in critical condition and Hoffman is in serious condition.
Wolff has been charged with aggravated vehicular manslaughter, a felony, and a variety of misdemeanor charges. He was arrested and held at the Sullivan County jail, where bail was set for $10,000.
During her homily, Reverend Emily Wilmarth, spoke directly about this tragedy.
“His parents could not make those choices for him. No one should get in a car when someone is drunk. No one believes that they will be counted in the statistics of drunk driving… Kyle was a bright, fun-loving, young man, too full of life to be gone so soon,” Wilmarth said.
MacKechnie's older brother, Jeremy, and their uncle Russell MacKechnie captured the memory of their brother and nephew, and of a life cut much too short.
“I remember holding you for the first time," Jeremy said. "I felt like such an adult, because you were the smallest thing I’ve ever held. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do more than to show you off to everyone in the world, so I brought you into Show and Tell. I won Show and Tell that year.
“One advantage of having Kyle around then was that he would do anything we asked him to do, just because we asked," his brother said. "I remember the many times I presented him with a convincing argument as to why I couldn’t get myself off the couch and why he should get me a fresh pack of cookies from the kitchen. Watching him with his friends, he’s the complete opposite. He led his pack and ruled his group of guys with big ideas and brilliant schemes.
“Kyle was this soothing presence that prioritized the happiness of everyone around him," Jeremy said, gripping the podium as he fought back tears. "I’m not sure anyone here today can remember a time when Kyle got angry or lost his cool. His smile and his laugh brightened all of our lives. I regret that it took this to get me to realize how awesome you were, Kyle, and that the best years of our relationship took so long for us to reach. I thought we had a lot more time. Kyle, I love you and I won’t say goodbye to you right now, my baby brother, because I know you’ll always be here with me. Always.”
Russell MacKechnie delivered a heart-breaking commentary on the injustice of a world cruel enough to rob his family of an always-smiling and kind son, nephew, and little brother.
“I’m a lawyer," he said. "Words are my craft; words are my profession. But there are no words today. Only those substitute utterances that we all fall back on that cannot possibly convey our devastating heartbreak, our terrible grief and infinite sadness… I should not be up here today; you should not be in those pews. This is a cold, fractured world that took a buoyant, brightly-smiling boy less than 36 hours after he was sitting with his family in Westfield. Kyle should not have been taken from us.
“To learn that [Kyle] had slipped into one of those awful fractures of the world to be taken from us," he said. "How do you cope with that? How do you explain it? How do I look my brother, his wife and sons in their eyes and find some words. You don’t. You can’t. There are no words, only our minds screaming with rage and hearts aching for consolation that cannot be found; hearts torn and broken at the prospect of a world without Kyle.”
Russell stepped down from the lectern, wrapped his brother in a bear hug. The sound of a single, heavy sob of despair filled the room.
As mourners filed out of the church, doing their best to express their stunned sympathy to Kyle's parents, Deborah and Martin, and his brothers, Michael and Jeremy, they no doubt had the words of his uncle Russell to do their best to console them.
“Words are not necessary when we all share equally, intolerably in our grief and sadness," MacKechnie said. "We all bear an intense loss of our own sweet Kyle Russell MacKechnie."