For whatever comfort it might have brought to family and friends of Evan Frustaglio, the rites of the Catholic funeral mass also offered a stark reminder of the disquieting way in which the 13-year-old Toronto boy died last week.
The sign of peace, typically a handshake just before communion, was replaced with a polite nod to help stem the spread of the H1N1 virus, the same disease that killed Evan with such terrifying speed a week earlier.
"For the health and safety of all … please refrain from shaking hands as a sign of peace," Rev. Vito Marziliano told the 1,000 mourners who filled the semi-circular nave of All Saints Church late Monday morning.
As the broader Canadian public dealt with another day of waiting for the H1N1 vaccine amid updates on the spread of the swine flu pandemic, Evan's family - parents Paul and Ann-Marie and younger brother Will - endured one of the worst days of their lives.
Paul Frustaglio, flanked by his wife and surviving son, mounted the altar to deliver a halting eulogy to his eldest boy, who collapsed in front of him after a bath last Monday, just two days after developing flu-like symptoms. Mr. Frustaglio tried to resuscitate him, but he was pronounced dead in hospital a short time later.
His remarks were replete with Evan's best attributes - his protective instinct toward his family, his unbridled passion and work ethic for hockey, his precocious wisdom in guiding his little brother. He read a letter he received this week from a complete stranger, who overheard the Frustaglios at a restaurant celebrating Evan's birthday recently, and was struck by the boy's well-mannered maturity.
Mr. Frustaglio marvelled in thanks for the outpouring of condolence messages, more than 19,000 of them, that the family has received from across the country and around the world, attributing them to what he called "the Evan effect" - his son's capacity to touch the lives of others.
"It amazes me that Evan's death has captured a nation trying to find answers to a disease that is currently wearing the face of our beautiful son," he said.
For all of that, Mr. Frustaglio was under no illusions about the ordeal his family is facing now, and will face for the foreseeable future.
"The job of burying your own kid is the most horrific thing for any human being," he said, the crowd's silence broken only by sobs. "There is no plan, no instinctual feeling, nothing to guide you."
As he wound down his eulogy, Mr. Frustaglio offered a poignant instruction, to "hold your kids close and squeeze the hands of your loved ones. The kiss of life is fleeting, over before you know it, so never let the obligations of life distract you from the cherished gift of family."
The Globe on H1N1