Heartbreaking farewell for Rachel, 11-year-old mauled by dog

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Rachel Bhagwandeen –

OVERWHELMED with grief, Seema Bhagwandeen collapsed in front of the coffin of her 11-year-old daughter Rachel during her funeral at the family’s home in Freeport on Saturday. She had to be revived and helped to her feet by other grieving relatives.

Rachel was killed by a dog while visiting relatives in Vistabella on August 25.

Rachel’s father Kelvin Bhagwandeen, a pastor of the New Beginning House of Praise in Chaguanas and the officiating priest at the funeral, wept openly as he looked at her body in the coffin. He had to be consoled by relatives as he fell to his knees several times and held on to the sides of the coffin.

Before the funeral began, Seema and Kelvin knelt before the coffin and cried. During the service, they tried to maintain their composure but often broke down in tears and had to be comforted by relatives.

Seema told the congregation, “I was there when Rachel was taken apart.”

She told them that since Rachel died, she has been speaking to her as she prayed for strength ahead of her funeral.

“You keep mummy strong.”

Seema said her family has been broken since Rachel died. No one feels the pain more than her and her husband.

But Seema said she and Kelvin had to stay strong, for the rest of the family as well as for themselves.

“Two pillars can’t fall.”

While she never dreamed she would be saying goodbye to Rachel at 11 years, Seema took comfort in one thing.

“My baby girl is in heaven.”

Kelvin said he was still in shock that Rachel was dead.

He recalled that when he went to Vistabella on August 25, he lay down on the ground next to Rachel’s body as it lay covered by a cloth. Referring to the resurrection of Lazarus by Jesus Christ, Kelvin said as he lay next to Rachel’s covered body, he prayed to see some flicker of life to tell him that she was not dead.

Kelvin Bhagwandeen, a pastor, prays over the body of his 11-year-old daughter Rachel during her funeral at the family’s home in Freeport on Saturday. – Lincoln Holder

“The cloth did not move.”

He remembered the family planned that day as normal, not knowing what could happen.

Kelvin has officiated at many funerals as a pastor. But he never dreamt he would be doing it for his own child.

“This one belongs to me. I am standing here not as a pastor. I am standing here as a father and as a husband. Today is about nothing else but my princess.”

Though Rachel is dead, Kelvin said he had to find the faith and strength to carry on for her siblings Krystal, Jadon, Jaylon, Luke and Kriston.

“She is with the Lord. That is what will help me to face tomorrow.”

He joined Seema in telling the congregation about how Rachel was a loving and devoted daughter.

Kelvin said this quality was rare in TT today and the society is full of hatred.

He condemned people who spend all their time on social media and inflict harm on people they never met, in order to be liked by other faceless people in a virtual world.

“Social media will kill people. They don’t care whose lives they affect to get a ‘like’. People like that need to check themselves.”

As Kelvin spoke, he told the congregation about some disturbing social media posts that Seema was seeing during the funeral. He said an unknown woman questioned whether Seema was a good mother.

“How would she know that? Did she raise her (Seema)?”

Relatives carry the coffin of Rachel Bhagwandeen during her funeral at the family’s home in Freeport on Saturday. – Lincoln Holder

Reiterating the tremendous void left in his heart by Rachel’s death, Kelvin said he dreams about the day she will greet him at the gates of heaven and say one thing: “Daddy. Here I am.”

Her sister Krystal said Rachel was a bundle of joy. She added that Rachel spoke about being a teacher, veterinarian or a fashion designer. Several of Rachel’s dolls and other personal possessions were placed in the coffin.

Her older brother Jadon looked at her coffin, trying to hold back tears as he spoke to her. “I used to quarrel with you,” he told Rachel.

Among the mourners were students of Vistabella Presbyterian Primary School where Rachael would have been returning with them at the reopening of schools on Monday.

Rachel’s best friend, Amelia Sanhayie, told her, “You are in a better place now.”

Her teacher Andrea Daniel said she was shocked when she learnt how Rachel died.

She told Rachel, “You loved dogs so much.”

During the funeral, dogs were heard barking nearby.

Rachel was later buried at Broadway Cemetery, San Fernando.