SEQUIM — A montage of photos and videos depicting Ashley Ann Wishart’s abbreviated life ended Friday night with stark finality at Dungeness Community Church.
For 10 minutes, the 150 to 200 grieving family members and friends of the 15-year-old Port Angeles teenager could almost forget what had brought them to this place of sadness.
They watched Ashley’s life captured in moments of happiness: playing in the snow, climbing up a slide, holding a beloved cat, a gap-toothed child telling someone who sounded like Grammy, “I love you, I miss you so much, I just want you to come.”
Pastor Tim Richards passed a microphone around to friends and family.
Haltingly, they remembered her as a shoulder to lean on, a teenager with a quick smile and a ready joke, a high school sophomore who played the violin, kayaked, wrote poetry, dreamed of becoming a lawyer.
“Every moment we had, every moment with her, was so fun and happy,” said one young woman.
Then came the hard part during this celebration of life: facing the fact that this young woman took her own life Monday by jumping off the Valley Creek bridge in Port Angeles.
“There’s something we need to talk about, which is the elephant in the room,” Richards said at the outset of his sermon.
“Ashley made a bad decision this week, and that’s why we’re all here,” he said.
Richards expounded on a good angel-bad angel theme, one on each shoulder.
With the bad angel, “it’s all about the short game,” Richards said.
The good angel “thinks about the future of a life,” he said.
“On Monday, Ashley gave in to the short-sighted shouting of that bad angel.
“Let me add my voice to the voice of the good angel and talk a little bit about the long game and why life matters.
“You all have shared that Ashley was a very loving person,” he said.
“On Monday, the pain spoke louder to Ashley than the love.
“If she thought about the long game, thought about how much she loved her family and friends, she would have realized she didn’t want us to be here,” he said.
“She didn’t want her friends to live with regret, thinking, ‘Could I have done something. Should I have done something?’
“If you are one of Ashley’s friends, Ashley’s decision was her own.
“You were there, you were available and you can’t carry that burden for her.
“But if you need to talk to someone, talk to someone, talk to a counselor, talk to a teacher, talk to your parents, but talk to someone.”
Richards recalled being 19, at a low point in his life, driving along a mountain road to a friend’s house and thinking of how easy it would be to to end it all.
“That thought was so compelling, so driving, it absolutely scared me,” he said.
“Finally, it dawned on me: I was going to see a friend.
“I knew I would be OK.
“That’s all I had that night.
“It was choosing life.”
That choice did not solve his problems.
But Richards did marry his high school sweetheart, started a business, took up photography and woodworking, watched his children grow up — none of which would have happened had he made a different choice that night.
Memories of Ashley “will always be tinged by the sadness of what might have been,” Richards said.
Pay tribute to Ashley by choosing life, “even in those dark nights when you don’t know what the future holds,” Richards said.
“Don’t believe the shouts of the little red guy on your left shoulder.
“Just listen to that other voice.
“Talk to a friend, talk to a counselor, talk to God, because good things that you can’t imagine may be just across the street.”
Siouxzie Hinton of Port Angeles spoke of the bridge’s short railings and the danger they pose to people intent on doing themselves harm.
“Her life isn’t in vain,” said Hinton, who lives in a Victorian house on the east end of the Valley Creek bridge and wants the City Council to add suicide barriers to the span.
“If you are in need, you come to me,” she said.
“Don’t go to the bridge.”
Ashley’s life “isn’t in vain,” she added.
“She has brought us together, and she is going to change the way we live.”
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].