Asa Hill was 7 years old when he died. Although the boy was pulled out of a burning car alive in a horrific accident on the Niagara Thruway on Thursday, his injuries proved critical, and he passed away the following night.
The Buffalo, New York, community, shaken, turned out in large numbers at his funeral Monday to support his parents, Amilcar Hill and Rahwa Ghirmatzion, and were pleasantly surprised when the couple ended the service with a wedding ceremony, a fulfillment of their son’s wish. The Rev. Joel Miller of The Unitarian Universalist Church of Elmwood, where the service was held, was unsure at first when the idea of a wedding was proposed by the couple and their family. “I asked twice, ‘We’re doing a wedding’ This was new for me. I never did a funeral service and a wedding ceremony at the same time, and normally wouldn’t, but they have known each other since they were teens,” Miller said. “And they had been providing for Asa, and they made a home together for all of Asa’s life. … It was clear they were following through on something they had been talking about for some time.” Watch the funeral and wedding ceremony Hill and Ghirmatzion have been best friends since they were 15 and have been together for almost half of their lives. After Asa was born, marriage had always been something that they considered but, according to Hill, both felt that a wedding was “superficial and not necessary.” Asa, however, was insistent that they make their union official. “Asa really wanted us to do it, and every time he would ask us we would say, ‘Yes, we’ll get married,’ ” said Hill. But the couple never did get around to figuring out the logistics for a ceremony. While holding his lifeless son in his arms at the hospital, Hill was moved to finally officially propose to his lifelong partner. “Rahwa was overwhelmed at that moment and just looked at me. When the family sat down to plan the funeral service, she said ‘Let’s get married.’ And everyone broke down at the table,” he said. The marriage took place after a service filled with African drums, dancing, sermons and family and friends sharing memories of Asa, all in celebration of his life. Miller said about 1,100 people attended the service, with hundreds overflowing onto the church lawn, where sound systems were set up so they could hear the service. When the wedding was announced, there were shocked cheers and applause from those in the church pews. “We wanted it to be a surprise,” Hill said. “We knew it would be a joyous moment. You could see how it lifted them, and we figured, why not make it a surprise at the end.”
The Unitarian Universalist Church was chosen because its non-denominational tradition would welcome all the diverse groups of the Elmwood community, Hill said. The family has strong ties to the community and, according to Miller, who had known Asa since he was 5, Asa embodied this. “He was a powerful presence: direct, smart, and had a way of bringing people together,” Miller said. “When you met him, you knew you met someone. We all didn’t know each other, but we knew Asa and his family.”