Editor's note: This story was originally published on May 19, 2010.
Grundy, Va. » Though Joe Stacy acknowledged part of him still believes his son Ethan will come home, lighting up the room with his crooked grin, the grieving father's thoughts turned to remembering his son Wednesday.
"I haven't reached the point that any of this has happened to me or to him. It hasn't hit," he said outside the chapel at the Grundy Funeral Home before Ethan's funeral. "I still want to believe that he's coming home, even though I know he's not."
He decided not to dwell on the tragic circumstances surrounding the 4-year-old's death May 9 in Layton.
"Right now, I just want to take care of my son," the 35-year-old said. "I'm remembering all the good times. There were no bad times, there were only good times."
The family again played a slide show of photos of Ethan as the congregation wiped away tears and filled the white chapel with the sounds of grief.
There were moments of laughter, too, at pictures of Ethan sticking his head out of an oversized cardboard box or wearing a red adult motorcycle helmet and a black shirt with the words Trouble Magnet.
Singers accompanied by an acoustic guitar and upright bass sang songs of lives ended too soon, but families reuniting in death. "In my dreams you are alive and well, precious child," they crooned as Joe Stacy held hands with his fiance, Becky Elswick.
Minister Mike Rife told mourners if Ethan were there, "He'd say life is pretty precious, so don't take it for granted, folks."
"He'd say, 'God's in control, and I'm OK. I'm safe.'"
Family and friends sobbed in the parking lot behind the chapel, awaiting the motorcade to travel to Richlands for Ethan's burial.
Tammy Childress, Elswick's sister, made navy and yellow ribbons for mourners to wear in remembrance and to raise awareness of child abuse.
Through heavy sobs, she said, "I don't want people to forget because this is the only way this will ever make sense if another child is saved."
Dozens of cars followed the gold hearse through 30 miles of sinuous mountain roads, passing street signs adorned with blue ribbons and balloons in Ethan's honor, to a picturesque plot in Clinch Valley Memorial Cemetery. They stopped under the shade of a 60-foot sugar maple that overlooks Richlands and the rolling, rounded peaks of the lush Appalachian Mountains that cradle Ethan's final resting place.
The sky remained a steely grey during the burial, but the rain stopped long enough for mourners to say their last goodbyes.
Ethan was buried with a bright yellow Transformers figurine of Bumblebee. A large bouquet of roses and carnations dyed blue covered nearly the entire top of the boy's small, cobalt blue casket.
Rife offered The Lord's Prayer at the boy's graveside, and friends and family lined up to hug Joe Stacy. Among them was Stephanie Sloop's mother, Katrina Busby, who spoke with Joe Stacy and gave her former son-in-law a hug and kiss.
Finally, family and close friends went to the Church of Christ in Vansant a neighboring Virginia town where Rife preaches and Joe Stacy's mother, Peggy Akers, attends for a lavish spread of Southern favorites like macaroni and cheese, chicken and dumplings, meatloaf and cornbread stuffing.
Another six-foot table overflowed with desserts such as homemade lemon cake with coconut frosting, pineapple upside-down cake and chocolate mini cupcakes with peanut-butter frosting.
The makeshift dining hall was punctuated by laughter and chatter, with diners stretched along the sides of cafeteria-style tables, as people shared stories and happy memories of Ethan and caught up on each other's lives. Women from the church encouraged people to have seconds before they could even sit down with their first helpings.
But never far from their minds was the loving boy whom they had laid to rest.
Lucy Hicks, Elswick's mother, said Ethan visited her while she was in the hospital and kissed all of her bruises from being poked with needles.
"I told Joe that all my boo-boos Ethan kissed were better now," she said, "and that Ethan's boo-boos are better now, too, because God kissed them away."