But they also pledged never to forget the Cape Girardeau 13-year-old who inspired people at home and overseas, and to use her life as an inspiration for their own.
Sahara's parents Shannon and Amy Aldridge and their many friends both mourned their daughter's passing and celebrated the good that she inspired with a service Saturday at Lynwood Baptist Church.
An estimated 500 people attended the service to mourn Sahara, whose 17-month battle with brain stem cancer ended with her death Monday. But they also praised the girl who several speakers called a hero and an inspiration for living a better existence.
"The ... number of people here is a testament to the fact that her life counted," said Steven Bradshaw, pastor of students at Lynwood, during his opening remarks.
The church was decked out with reminders of Sahara and pieces of her life -- her multitude of basketballs were everywhere, reminding those present of the zeal she had for the sport and for life. Her father Shannon clutched one of the balls throughout.
A banner made by her classmates at Central Junior High School hung in the church lobby, with messages like "Hoops we love you," invoking Sahara's nickname, the one she preferred to be called instead of her given name.
The orange bracelets with the slogan "Hope for Hoops" that were sold as a fundraiser to help pay her medical expenses were piled on a table.
Inside the church sanctuary, orange and black balloons were tied to the pews as if there was a birthday party, a reminder that the service wasn't a funeral, but a celebration.
Bill Tegel, a friend of the Aldridge family whose daughter was friends with Sahara, captured the duality of feelings, relating his anger at hearing of Sahara's death and his subsequent acceptance. That acceptance made him realize that, despite the pain she endured, Sahara's battle was undertaken not just to try to save her own life, but to help others.
Tegel related a story about a brave little soul who, while in heaven, took on the challenge of coming to Earth to suffer so that the suffering would bring out the love in people's hearts. Sahara was that soul, Tegel said.
"She possibly unlocked the door for a lot of people to give of themselves," Tegel said. "As tough as this is to deal with for you, Amy and Shannon, your daughter was a hero, and she did many great things."
The next speaker, Morgan Dambach, said Sahara didn't lose her battle, but won through the inspiration she gave others.
By the end of the celebration, the tears that flowed throughout started to dry up and give way to joy. Shannon and Amy Aldridge addressed the audience, expressing their thanks, relating their story and the roller coaster of emotions they've felt over a long 17-month fight.
Amy encouraged Sahara's classmates to honor her in a special way.
"Please do something in your lives that will make a difference. Do this to honor Sahara."
Shannon told the audience about learning of Sahara's cancer, and related the one time during her fight that she ever mentioned death.
"She told me, 'Dad, if I'm meant to go, that means God needs a point guard,'" Shannon said.
Springfield followed by saying a few tear-choked words, then performing his song.
And at the end of the celebration, Shannon Aldridge introduced his daughter as the starting point guard in heaven, No. 21, Sahara "Hoops" Aldridge, while the crowd chanted the nickname she loved so much.
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