Local teen with cancer throws FUNeral in celebration of her life


INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) — Losing a loved one hurts. Sometimes you never get to say goodbye or express your love. But this Sunday on WTHR Weekend Sunrise, we'll show you how a group of people got to do both as we introduce you to "A Ray of Sunshine" in an unexpected place at a celebration of life service.

Love for Miriam Sawka brought hundreds of people to The Salvation Army Eagle Creek Church and Community Center. One by one, people stood up to share memories of a teenager diagnosed with a bone cancer called Ewing's Sarcoma. She was diagnosed at 12 years old.

"Honestly, I've had a hard time coming up with what I'm going to say," said Miriam Sawka.

No one really knows what to say at a funeral for a 17-year-old. Not even the 17-year-old knows what to say at her celebration of life service.

Miriam and her mother at her FUNeral

"Thank you all for being here to celebrate my life," said Miriam. "So yes, there's tears, but we are celebrating because I didn't have to have 17 years but I did, and I'm thankful for every day that I get."

Four years ago, Miriam felt a lump in her leg.

"We kept thinking it was growing pains," said Miriam's mother, Stephanie Sawka.

The lump turned out to be a rare malignant bone tumor, and so the fight began with 24 rounds of chemotherapy, 28 radiations and two surgeries.

"I have been through hell and back multiple times," added Miriam.

Back in January, doctors found a new mass and needed to remove half of her lung.

"But then in August, we found another one," said Stephanie. "This one is growing quite quickly and in a place where we can't get to it."

So what do you do with a finite amount of time? You love on your family and friends.

"At this point, we're looking at a few more months," said Stephanie. "I love you."

You live life.

"I do mourn for the life that I won't get to live and that's something that I've had to work through," said Miriam. "The whole graduating high school and college, getting married and everything. That's something I've really had to work through. But if I don't get up every day and live that day like it could be my last then if it is my last I would have regretted it."

And as Miriam's father says you can either cry or you laugh. There was laughter and tears as Miriam gave her own eulogy on Nov. 3, 2018.

"I have had two hip replacements," said Miriam. "I have varicose veins, and I would rather stay at home, watch Hallmark and crochet than anything else," said Miriam. "That's not 17. That's 71."

If you're Miriam, you focus on the first three letters of the word funeral, and you throw a party to die for.

"It started as a joke," said Miriam's father, Dan Sawka.

"This kind of turned into my FUNeral," said Miriam. "It's not a funeral. It's a FUNeral."

Dan added, "We decided that we're going to celebrate her in the most morbid way possible."

Miriam said, "It's my wish to be cremated so we're having BBQ. Burnt ends. Pork butts and shoulders. Dirt cake. It's just an easy one."

Stephanie added, "Miriam, with her infinite 17-year-old wisdom, said plan it like it's my graduation party. That I can do."

And good thing since there did end up being that life experience to celebrate here on earth too. Carmel Clay Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Beresford and Carmel High School Principal Dr. Tom Harmas handed her a high school diploma.

Miriam's diploma

"I have never conferred a degree on anyone ever so you will be my very first student ever to give a degree too," said Beresford. "I want you to know that I will never forget you ever or this moment."

Dan added, "There's no doubt in my mind that she's going to keep on making goals until she takes her last breath. She's an amazing kid."

"I'd love to have more time here," said Miriam. "I'd love if there was a magical cure, but I cannot wait to get to heaven."

"We have a hope and that hope is eternal and eventually our family will be reunited that's our hope," said Dan. "And so I'd rather trade 60 or 70 years here for eternity."

During her eulogy, she told her family members and friends to remember that the next minute is not guaranteed, to say I love you and I’m sorry now and to treat yourself.

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