New Britain — Pallbearers carried Jeffrey Bourgeois’ child-sized casket to his grave Saturday morning, their path lined on both sides by saluting Boy Scouts, many too young to be mourners.
“We say goodbye to our fallen Scout,” said Jim Choquette of Salem Pack 22, Jeffrey’s cubmaster. “Our world is a lonelier place without his beautiful smile, his boundless energy.”
Hundreds grieved for Jeffrey and his family, filling Holy Cross Church, where the pastor, the Rev. Derek Gosciniak, presided at a Mass of Christian Burial. Interment followed in nearby Sacred Heart Cemetery.
Jeffrey, a 6-year-old Salem Elementary School first-grader, died Tuesday when he was pulled into a wood-chipping machine at a work site where he accompanied his father and his two siblings. Schools were closed for April vacation.
Many have struggled to come to terms with the tragedy in the small town of Salem, where the Bourgeois family is well known and much liked. Corinne and Scott, Jeffrey’s parents, own C&S Tree Removal. Their other children, daughter Nicole and son Zachary, also attend Salem Elementary.
The Rev. Marek Masnicki, pastor of St. Andrew Church in Colchester, where the Bourgeois family are parishioners, gave the homily.
“There are occurrences in life that make us cry out,” he said. “An early, tragic death is one such occurrence.
“We can’t help but ask, Why did it have to happen in this way?”
In such cases, we can’t help but feel betrayed by God, Masnicki said. It is natural to harbor such feelings and important to express them.
It is part of the mystery of life, he said, that “God has not explained why he makes these demands of us. … We could not understand it if he did.”
In human terms, he said, such tragic events are inexplicable.
“Suffering is not so much a problem as a mystery. A problem is something that can be solved. A mystery can only be accepted.
“In spite of the darkness,” he said, “the road will end in triumph and joy.”
Prior to the start of the Mass, many paid their respects to the Bourgeois family, who occupied pews nearest the altar. For a full half-hour, the mourners filed past, the line they formed stretching from the front to the back of the church. One after another, they embraced the family members.
Jeffrey’s maternal grandparents, Edward and Joanne Yost of New Britain, are members of the Holy Cross parish.
An enlarged portrait of Jeffrey — smiling angelically, a front tooth missing — was positioned on an easel in front of the altar. Next to it was a framed collage of photos of Jeffrey and his friends. It read: “Today’s Happy Moments, Tomorrow’s Memories.”
After the service, Jeffrey’s casket was carried through the church and into an incongruously bright day, Scouts saluting.