At Liliya Dodgion’s funeral service Monday, two of the gentlest hymns ever written played in the background as pictures of her and her children appeared and faded out on a screen at Providence Baptist Church in Grand Ridge.
“In the Garden,” and “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” along with other tender songs, provided the backdrop to a series of images that so fully illustrated the life of a mother dedicated to her three boys.
The handful of photos used in that presentation had come from a collection of hundreds that she had placed in the care of a neighbor not long ago for safekeeping along the way as she sought a way out of the domestic situation she felt put her children in danger and left her feeling like a prisoner in her own home.
She had shared such fears to confidants and ultimately to law enforcement a few weeks ago in seeking an order of protection against the man who is now charged with stabbing her to death on Aug. 4, Michael G. Dodgion, the father of the boys she so adored, and who is also charged with child abuse in alleged incidents earlier this year.
She’d also left with a neighbor some scripture she’d pulled from the Bible that she wanted at hand if anything should happen. Many of those passages spoke of sons and the prosperity, wellbeing, and blessings they are promised as children of the children of God.
At Providence on Monday, she was described several times as a dedicated Christian woman of great courage whose children were the loves of her life, along with her parents and several siblings. She was, they said, as beautiful inside as she was on the outside.
A native of the Ukraine, she spoke three languages – Russian her first, Ukrainian her second, and English her third. Friends at the church said one might have to listen closely at first to catch all her words because of a somewhat heavy accent, and that she had initially been a reticent speaker. But she had bloomed into a person who expressed herself, including her yearning to serve her church and community. Her overriding concern was to provide a better life for her youngsters, and she bravely pursued that, more than one speaker said Monday.
In most of the pictures used in the visual presentation, she and her sons were standing close, one boy at each arm and her youngest in the middle, in a stroller in many of those shots, as most of the images were from the children’s younger years. The two oldest, always standing as close as brackets, had their mother’s smile. There were pictures of them on a sandy beach with the ocean behind, one of them near a toy train at an amusement park, others at various outdoors locations. There were pictures from Christmas and other celebration times, and even a few pictures of her as a carefree youngster herself, in pigtails and bows. There were a few of her alone as an adult, her long brown hair framing a happy face. In only one was there a pensive, more serious but yet sweet expression. That one was used on the front of the program for a service that seemed designed to bring the gentleness of her spirit back to the foreground as friends and family mourned a death that had been violent. The spray of flowers on her misty-grey casket was a mix featuring soft cream-colored lilies and little pink flowers. The other arrangements at her service all had lilies, too.
The 23rd Psalm, also known as “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” was featured on an inside page of the service program, written large.
The minister in charge of the service also told a parable-like story. It was about a parent’s sacrifice. A father and daughter were traveling in a car that a bee had flown into. The daughter, allergic to bees, was in a panic. Her father grabbed the bee out of the air and held in his hand a few moments, then set it free. His daughter demanded to know why he let it go. The bee had lost his stinger, the man explained to his child, opening his hand to show the sting he’d taken for her sake.
And from that point, the minister turned to an oft-read passage in the Bible, one that speaks of mankind’s salvation from the sting of death and of God’s provision of that escape through the sacrifice of his son Jesus Christ. It was a belief that Liliya lived by, church friends said, and one that she rests in now.