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Hundreds mourn Dana family at Brushton funeral

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BRUSHTON — Six days ago, a grandmother, mother and two daughters from a North Lawrence family were killed in a fiery car accident while traveling on Route 11 near the town of Antwerp.

On Tuesday, family, friends and community members gathered at St. Mary’s Church in Brushton to commemorate the lives of Janet P. Dana, 69, Laurie A. Dana, 42, Caitlyn O. Dana, 14, and Lauryn E. Dana, 11.

“We look for hope in a time of confusion. But there are no simple answers; nothing that will satisfy us at this point,” the Rev. Gerry Giroux told the standing-room-only crowd of more than 400 people.

“We instinctively look for logic. We have questions and we want answers,” the Father Giroux said, comparing local residents to those struggling in Aurora, Colo., in the aftermath of the movie theater shooting that left 12 dead last week. “The words of grief are unspeakable.”

Acknowledging that solace is next to impossible in the face of such tragedies, the Catholic priest reminded mourners that from a standpoint of faith, death is not the end.

“Life, love, and mercy triumph over death,” he said. “Their death is not the end of their story. ... Death does not have the last word.”

Father Giroux pointed to the promise of eternal life, but he added the pain of such losses remain.

“Will our faith tragically take all this pain away? No,” he said. “But we believe the power of love, faith, and hope is even bigger.”

The four family members, as well as close friend Shannon Planty, 14, and Maryann Gregory, 59, who was in a separate car, died after a tractor-trailer smashed into several vehicles stopped Thursday because of road paving work being done in front of them.

The Catholic Mass began with the hymn “Amazing Grace” as two coffins were rolled down the aisle, surrounded by family members, the grief of an unfathomable tragedy evident on their faces. Mourners participated in a communion ceremony, recited the Lord’s Prayer and joined a soloist who led another hymn, “Like a Child Rests.”

Every available seat was taken, with the overflow flanking the pews and crowding along the sides and back of the St. Mary’s Catholic Church. An estimated 250 mourners also watched from the Brushton-Moira High School auditorium, where a feed showing the funeral was broadcast.

Laurie, of 11858 Route 11, worked at St. Lawrence Elementary School in Brasher Falls as a speech teacher. Caitlyn was set to enter ninth grade in the fall and Lauryn to enter sixth. Janet, the girls’ grandmother, taught English at Brushton Moira Central School until retiring in 2000.

Father Giroux focused on two themes throughout his address — transcending death through religion and the power of a community joined together in grief.

He urged the jammed church to embrace the surviving family members as well as each other in the difficult days and months ahead.

“Even at varying distances throughout the north county, we are bound together by relationships,” Father Giroux said. “Let us pledge to support each other. If not by words, simply and powerfully by presence and prayer.”

The Dana family lives near the St. Lawrence and Franklin county line, and the tragedy brought shared grif to the neighboring St. Lawrence Central and Brushton-Moira school districts, with many direct ties to the those lost in the accident.

As the service came to a close, the Dana girls dance instructor, Rachael Ghostlaw, and a close family friend reminded the mourners of the way the Danas lived their lives, not the way they died.

Ms. Ghostlaw remembered a duet danced by the Dana sisters during their last recital, and the long-time family friend shared his memories of the four. family members. He urged the Dana sisters to keep dancing up a storm and said every time he saw a brillant sunrise he would be reminded of the ever present smile on their mother’s face.

Perhaps symbolic of the tragedy’s impact on the community, as the funeral procession reached the cemetery across from the Brushton-Moira early Tuesday afternoon, heavy tears fell from the sky. But within minutes a ray of sunshine was fighting its way through the gray clouds near the St. Lawrence and Franklin county line.

As the burial service for the Danas was completed, calling hours for Shannon Planty, who was a student at Brushton-Moira and Caitlyn Dana’s best friend, opened at the Flint Funeral Home in Brushton. Her funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. today at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Brushton.

In an effort to handle a possible overflow of mourners, the service will also be simulcast to the Brushton-Moira high school auditorium.

A memorial service for MaryAnn Gregory was held Tuesday in Delhi.

Staff writer Doug Buchanan contributed to this report.

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