Hundreds celebrate life of 18-year-old Nina Heidgerken
At the end, there was this: Nina Heidgerken — all 5-foot-nothing in her size 2 shoes — dancing and singing "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" with her castmates in a video clip from Lakeridge High's production of "Mary Poppins."
The audience clapped along, laughed when she smiled and offered thunderous applause, forgetting for just a moment, perhaps, that they were there to say goodbye.
Hundreds of mourners filled the Lakeridge auditorium on Sunday afternoon to celebrate Nina's life — so many people that extra chairs were brought in to line the walls and fill the aisles. Nina died in the early morning hours of March 31 from complications related to the flu. She was only 18 years old, but images of a life well lived were everywhere.
In the foyer of the Lakeridge Performing Arts Center were tables and a wall filled with snapshots from birth to Nina's senior year at Lakeridge. Inside, a slideshow flashed pictures of holiday celebrations, a trip to Disneyland and mission trips around the world. There were moments with her beloved viola and piano, with her mother Laura, her brother TJ and her sister Sela. At a daddy-daughter dance with her father, Todd.
Todd Heidgerken told the mourners that he wanted the day to be a celebration of his daughter, and it was that. She was remembered as "tiny and mighty," as a girl who was "all in" and could do anything she wanted, and as a young woman who radiated joy.
But there were somber moments, too. The Lakeridge orchestra played the quiet and meditative "Rise," and when the school choir performed Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus," it was accompanied by three members of a string quartet — the last chair left empty except for Nina's instrument.
Nina had been battling flu-like symptoms for a few days when she was taken to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center on March 27, looking extremely pale and complaining of severe stomach pain and difficulty breathing. Emergency Room doctors rushed her to the Intensive Care Unit, but she developed a viral infection in her heart, and her heart, kidneys and lungs all began to fail. She was transferred to Oregon Health & Science University for further treatment and monitoring on March 29, but she never regained consciousness.
On Sunday, her father said the family had been comforted by the outpouring of love that followed Nina's death — a reminder, he said, of the impact she had on so many people. He thanked the Lakeridge community for giving Nina "the opportunity to shine"; the Community of Faith Church for shaping his daughter into the person she was; and the broader Lake Oswego community for wrapping its arms around the family.
"Thousands have stopped," he said, "to learn more about Nina and her life."
Family and friends offered glimpses into that life. Nina loved all sports, her father said — soccer, softball, volleyball and yes, even playing basketball, despite her diminutive stature. She loved history and English classes at Lakeridge and was passionate about the school's performing arts programs. She starred in several school plays — including "Legally Blonde," "Bye Bye, Birdie," "Once Upon a Mattress" and "Mary Poppins" — and was a violist in the school orchestra.
She was selected this year to the All-State Orchestra, and for three years, she was a beloved member of The Review's Student Writers Advisory Group.
She wore the same Halloween cow costume for three years, Todd Heidgerken remembered, and she loved and collected snow globes. She had a wall in her room that was covered with moments from her life, her sister Sela Clark remembered — pictures, awards, images from theater productions and other momentos.
"She was kind, compassionate, determined," Clark said. "She was always helping the new, the left out, the forgotten. She inspired me to be better, and that's how I'll remember her."
Emily Jones said Nina was the first friend she made when she moved to Oregon five years ago and remained her friend to the end. Jones said she will miss not walking with Nina at graduation or dancing with her at prom, but she said she takes comfort in knowing that "she lived her life to the fullest."
Jones remembered that Nina kept little notes in her locker at school, reminding her to be a good Christian, and it was that faith in God that was the most consistent message of the day. Nina's pastor, David Sorensen of West Linn's Community of Faith Church, held a pair of her tiny shoes to his chest during the homily and said, "She made an impact on our hearts."
"No one is going to be able to fill those shoes," he said, holding back tears. "But He's got her. God is taking her home, and she is rejoicing."
Nina was a dedicated member of her church, and mission work was important to her. She went on multiple mission trips to Mexico and planned to return for a second visit this summer to Uganda, where she had worked with a children's choir. She loved working with children and volunteered with the church's West Linn Corner Children and Youth Choirs. She would have made a terrific Sunday school teacher, Sorensen said.
In remembering Nina, Youth Pastor Colie Krueger quoted Matthew 5:14-16, which says in part, "You are the light of the world. … let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven."
"Nina was that light," Krueger said. "She would want you to know that Jesus loves you."
Todd Heidgerken said his family has found comfort in Nina's faith. Two months ago, he said, she finished reading the complete Bible and wrote in her journal, "I can depend on Jesus."
"Today, I am 100 percent God's," Nina wrote, and on Sunday, her father agreed.
"Yes," he said, his voice wavering. "Now, you are."
In addition to her parents, Nina is survived by a sister and brother-in-law, Sela and Vincent Clark, and their children Talia, Jacob, Caden and Ally; a brother and sister-in-law, TJ and Juanita Fetuuaho; and grandparents Don Heidgerken and Dale and Rosemary Cleland.
Her family says Nina's heart was touched by several programs and ministries, including the Imani Milele Children's Choir, Foundation for His Ministry, Community of Faith Church and Lakeridge High School Performing Arts; learn more at www.donatefornina.com.