North Stonington — At an hour and a half long, it was a service full of music, happy memories, and even laughter.
A week to the day since the two young boys' murders, it seemed as if the whole town had pressed determinedly into the Second Baptist Church on Route 184 — the parking lot full, cars lined bumper to bumper along the side of the road, seats packed 10 to a pew and walls clustered with those who could only stand.
There was no mention of the grisly circumstances — that Debra Denison, 47, had shot and killed her 2-year-old and 6-month-old grandsons in a parked car near the Lake of Isles boat launch on the night of Feb. 26 before taking her own life.
What happened seven days ago had no place among the goofy photos and chrysanthemums bright with the promise of spring, the country tunes performed by relatives, the uplifting words from psalms and scripture — about biblical figures who'd lost their children for some greater purpose — and affirmations of faith and strength in the face of the unspeakable.
The family had made it clear, the Rev. Kurt Carlson told those in attendance: Today was to be a celebration these lives, however short.
A revolving slideshow of what could have been anyone's baby album was projected at the front of the church — a newborn swaddled in pastel blankets, five chubby fingers reaching toward the lens, parents Brenda and Jeremy Perry beaming with pride, an infant holding a bottle or sucking a pacifier, short and silent clips of bath time or play time. One son in dad's too-big sunglasses. Neither child ever quite old enough to be without arm rolls and round, rosy cheeks.
Brenda Perry had recorded a Reba McEntire karaoke cover to play: "Six pounds and nine ounces lookin' up at me, like I have all the answers."
In a soft voice from the front row sometime afterward, she thanked those gathered for not looking at her and her husband funny when they smiled, when expectations perhaps dictated that they should be crying instead.
Alton and Ashton Perry died a week ago at their grandmother's hand, but the parents, their relatives and friends, and two ministers insisted: There is plenty to smile about. Their short time, they said, was a blessing, a gift.