As I began gathering my thoughts about Larissa, preparing for this most difficult day, I had no idea where to even begin. I only knew I had to speak. Who better can capture the essence of our daughter, her talents, tragedies and triumphs over the years, than those who walked beside her every step the way, her family. I opened my journal, hoping for inspiration, and knew instantly where to begin…at the beginning.
Larissa was born on March 7, 1986 @ 1:52 PM. Anyone who knew Larissa knew that she LOVED her birthday. She wouldn’t let anyone forget as she anxiously awaited its arrival each year. A day to celebrate HER was the best day ever!! Every year on that special day she’d watch the clock with anticipation. At 1:51 PM she would say to whoever happened to be near, “Ask me how old I am!” …so they would, and she would tell them. Then precisely one minute later she’d say again, “NOW ask me how old I am!” And with nothing less than glee, she’d announce her new age! She could always tell us exactly where she was, who she was with and what she was doing at the precise moment she turned one year older. It was hilarious and adorable! We always thought she’d out grow that excitement, but you know… she never did. I hadn’t known anyone as fond of birthdays as Larissa, until I met my daughter-in-law Rachel. It warms my heart now, more than ever, to have Rachel in our family. Her birthday excitement will always remind me of Larissa.
Larissa was full of life, energy and enthusiasm in her early years. She brought so much joy, laughter and entertainment into our home. I can still see her bouncing through the door after school and hear her shout “Guess what?” Excitement would ooze from every pore as she’d share some news or an experience; often it would be something small or simple, but to her any good news at all was simply the greatest thing ever! She was very expressive and passionate about everything.
Larissa had so many wonderful talents, but my absolute favorite was her beautiful singing voice. I always loved that she could sing. She learned at a young age to carry the melody of a song while I sang the harmony. Together we often sang favorite songs as I taxied her to and from her various activities over the years. Later, after beginning voice lessons, her voice quickly transformed from something quite ordinary, like my own, into something absolutely amazing! Although that talent did come from my side of the family… it was ‘hit and miss’ who actually inherited it. It missed me and hit Larissa and I was perfectly happy with that. It brought me immense pleasure to just close my eyes and listen to her sing. By the way, that amazing voice also ‘hit’ my brother as you heard here this morning. Thank you, Don for that beautiful song. When Larissa learned to harmonize, we’d play a little game while singing the hymns in church. I’d sing soprano and she’d sing alto on the first verse, then we’d switch parts. We would do this for every verse, every song, every time, and chuckle if one of us got mixed up. Singing always brought the two of us together, even during her teen years when our relationship was tested and tried time and time again.
As Larissa grew, her love of music evolved into a love of ‘dancing’ as well. She began dance lessons at age 3 when we lived in Salt Lake City. Her dance lessons were put on hold, much to her dismay, when we moved here to Sparks, Nevada. She always remembered that first recital and how much fun she’d had on stage, and begged for years to start up dance lessons again. Eventually we caved and enrolled her in a tap/ballet class when she was in second grade. And so… the adventure began. Those cherished memories of driving her to and from her lessons, the countless costumes, rehearsals and recitals that became her life…and mine… for many years, will forever be etched in my heart.
Dance allowed her to express herself artistically through movement. It was a creative outlet for her, and in a sense, therapeutic as well. Larissa had huge emotions, and dance was just the avenue she needed to let it all out. She felt the music from the very top of her head through the tips of her toes, and to those watching her perform, this was very apparent. She lit up the stage, giving it everything she had. Her first love was tap dancing, and later Irish Step dancing as well. She loved all her dance teachers, but grew especially fond of her tap teacher, Kia Crader. Although many years have passed since those dancing days, the two of them have remained dear friends. To Kia, and all her dance teachers, words cannot express the joy you brought into her life. She would want me to publicly thank you from the bottom of her heart for giving her, what she later referred to as, the best years of her life.
In high school, her greatest joy was her involvement in Intermezzo, the show choir at Reed High, and participating in the musical theater productions. Oh how she loved to perform! She often would audition for solos, which always amazed me because I’d have been terrified. In the beginning she would get small parts here and there, which was fine, but she longed to have a solo. It wasn’t until a friend of mine heard her sing and said, “There is a voice in there somewhere. She’s got the talent, she just needs the technique” that we considered voice lessons for her. He gave me the name of a vocal teacher, and in her junior year she began voice lessons. This was a pivotal moment in Larissa’s life. Suzette, she loved you and cherished the countless hours you two spent together. Her greatest desire was to continue voice lessons, but sadly, circumstances would not allow it.
Her junior year the drama department announced they were doing Les Miserables for the spring musical. In her journal she wrote, “My heart jumped. From the minute I turned six years old my favorite musical of all time had been Les Miserables. My grandmother was the first person in our family to see the musical and brought the wonderful songs into our lives. I first saw Les Mis when I was nine years old. I didn’t remember much. I just knew that I wanted to play Eponine… This was my chance!” Skipping ahead, she then wrote… “The judges said the final cast list would be posted the next morning by 10:00. I woke up at 9:45 and had my father drive me down to the school while I was still in my pajamas. We rolled up to the front doors and I could barely wait until the car stopped to jump out. I ran to the windows and searched the long list for my name. I saw who got Fantine, then Marius, then Cosette…and my heart began to race…there was only one part left for me… Of course, I had glanced right over it the first time and I held my breath. But then, there it was! Eponine………Larissa Freund. I couldn’t believe it! My heart jumped out of my chest. My dream had come true, as far as high school theater goes! I ran back to the car and told my Dad. “I got it!!” He yelled excitedly and gave me a huge hug and said how proud of me he was. We got home and my mom was waiting on the couch to hear. I told her “I got Eponine!” She screamed as tears started to pour from her eyes. She had wanted this for me almost as badly as I wanted it for myself. Later I found out she had stayed up all night praying that I would be happy with whatever part I got.” It’s what all mothers want isn’t it; for their children to be happy. But in Larissa’s case, the disappointment would have shattered her. Her huge emotions could be devastating for her at times.
Many people vividly recall her breathtaking performance as ‘Eponine’ in May of 2003, and still talk about it even now, years later. Larissa always dreamed big, and her greatest desire was to sing on Broadway some day. Sadly, many obstacles prevented that dream from becoming a reality. But to her that experience was her ‘moment on Broadway’. Her portrayal of the character Eponine is the legacy she would want to leave behind in our little community of Sparks, Nevada.
Her senior year was actually very heartbreaking for her. She experienced one disappointment after another. It began with a serious injury to her big toe preventing her from dancing for months and ultimately for the rest of her life. Without the physical and creative outlet of dance, her world began to crumble. Her big emotions got the best of her, and sadly, unfortunate events continued to occur which often left her feeling friendless and alone. She did, however, discover another talent her senior year and that was debate. Those of us who knew and loved her were very well aware she had this talent all along. She became a member of the ‘We the People’ debate team and like all her talents, her passion and quick wit made her a natural at it.
Larissa was very articulate, had strong opinions and just wanted her voice to be heard. At the same time, she had a huge heart and would be the first to try to relieve others suffering if she felt her life experiences could benefit them in some way. And so… it is with a tender heart that I share with you the rest of her story. I have quietly and prayerfully listened with my heart these past few days and feel strongly that she would want her ‘story’ told as a way of ‘paying it forward’ to others who suffer, and there are many among us who do. What eventually grew into a tornado in Larissa’s life, and the life of each member of our family, began as a whisper years before. I only have a mother’s perspective, but my prayer is that my message will convey the immense suffering she experienced these past few years.