4-year-old’s death inspires school community to serve

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Griffin E. Gaspard died days before starting preschool at Most Holy Trinity last year. His family began a foundation in his name to help students in need. (Courtesy Gaspard family)

The name Griffin E. Gaspard is well known throughout Most Holy Trinity School even though the preschooler didn’t make it to his first day of class. He fell into the family’s pool days earlier and didn’t survive.

A year later, hundreds of people across the country — especially parish and school families — still remember the spunky 4-year-old who loved the color green, couldn’t eat enough Cheerios and was the youngest of four. Aug. 4 marked the first anniversary of Griffin’s death. Priests offered Masses and crowds released green balloons in his honor in Phoenix and New Orleans where the Gaspards have roots.

“For such a little guy, he’s had such a big impact,” said Maggie MacCleary, principal.

She watched last year, how Griffin’s death further bonded the already tight-knit campus community. Students and staff saw Griffin grow since the womb. His brothers, Grayson and Gage start the second and fourth grades next week. His sister, Gabrielle, will enter eighth-grade and serve as president of the student council.

“We see things so much differently, so much more clearly than we did on the fourth,” said Missy, Griffin’s mom.

They now see Griffin’s accident as a sign that their youngest son was needed in heaven.

“Griffin has more work left to do on Earth, but it was going to be finished while sitting at the right hand of Jesus,” Missy wrote on the foundation’s webpage.

The family believes Griffin watches over them, finding signs of it in  random Cheerios sighting at the craft store, when preparing a gift basket for one of Griffin’s fundraisers and actual cereal samples at the grocery store.

There’s the “four” theme running through the family: the 4-year-old died on the fourth and was the fourth Gaspard to sport the initials G.E.G. Now his siblings try to wear the No. 4 jersey in his honor every chance they get.

Then there’s the Sea World trip when the family parked the car and checked the nearest signpost to help find the car later. Turns out the car was in the G4 section.

“I miss all my mommy-duties that surround YOU. But, we are making you proud,” Missy wrote on the foundation’s Facebook page. “We are constantly being positive, praying for all our family and friends, and honoring your being every moment we can.”

The community has kept alive a dream the Gaspards shared days into their grieving: that Griffin’s death also ease the financial burden of a deserving Most Holy Trinity student. The family wanted to donate the money they already had earmarked for Griffin’s tuition to help a new student, particularly a preschooler.

That fund, formally managed as The Griffin E. Gaspard Foundation, has raised $70,000 and grown to serve Most Holy Trinity students at any grade level. It’s for students who are also parishioners and heavily dedicated to school service — like the Gaspard family.

Prayer helped everyone, especially the family, work through their grief. School families offered a rosary the night of the accident.

The Gaspards were packing for a back-to-school barbecue when the accident happened. A children’s choir sang at his funeral.

“You truly have to live by your faith and not by your sight,” Missy said. “I’m just so blessed that my family raised me as a Catholic. I raised my family Catholic. I pray and meditate every day. If we get sad, then we pray.”

They talk about their feelings and cry a lot. The kids also had healthy outlets in their religion classes for grieving. The Gaspards never granted their children a special pass when it came to behavior though.

“They were never allowed to be disrespectful just because they were hurting because the world is hurting,” Missy said.

To help ease the pain, Most Holy Trinity is breaking ground for a memorial site between the school and church this fall. The bench will offer an outdoor place of tranquility for those suffering personal trials.

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