VIDEO: Rainbow of balloons released to remember brave Sunderland youngster
A sea of balloons were released into the sky to remember the short life of inspirational Lillia Merrington.
Hundreds packed into Sunderland Crematorium today to bid a final farewell to the four-year-old whose brave battle against a catalogue of health problems never dimmed her spirit.
Despite not being able to talk, the Ford Estate youngster's smile never failed to light up a room.
In her short life she managed to touch the hearts of many and hospital staff joined teachers from Sunningdale School and family, including parents Simone Clark and Josh Merrington, and friends for a service before a balloon and dove release in the grounds of the crematorium.
Mourners wore bright clothes to reflect Lillia's sunny personality and were encouraged to celebrate her brief, yet full, life and her courage in even the toughest of times.
Lillia died in the arms of Simone in Sunderland Royal Hospital on May 12 after a series of infections took their toll on her little body.
It was the latest in a long line of health problems which Lillia had dealt with since she was just a few days old. Though born healthy, she soon contracted meningitis and was subsequently diagnosed with cerebral palsy, severe brain damage, problems with her thyroid and epilepsy among other conditions.
After her fight against meningitis, doctors feared she may only live 48 hours, but the determined youngster went on to prove everyone wrong, spending four precious years with her family making memories.
As part of the eulogy, mourners were told that "doctors said she was the most resilient child they've ever known. If she had been a boxer, she would be world champion."
The service was built around her favourite music, including You are My Sunshine, Miley Cyrus' The Climb, Lionel Richie's Three Times a Lady and David Guetta's Bulletproof. It also featured a reading of poem Heaven's Very Special Child, with the line "She may only have been with us for a while, but we will always remember her beautiful smile."
The gathered crowd heard how Lillia, who lived in Falkland Road, loved hospital and thought of the doctors and nurses who cared for her as part of her family.
They also heard of her special bond with little sister Talia, two. Though Lillia would often be asleep for 24 hours because of her illness, she would wake up immediately if Talia entered the room.
Ahead of her funeral, parents Simone and Josh, both 23, paid tribute to their eldest daughter.
Simone said: "She loved every minute of her life and she always kept our spirits up by laughing and smiling.
“We wouldn’t have done anything different. All we would have wanted to change would be to give her better health, but we’ve loved every second of her life and we just feel blessed for the time that we had with her.
“Now she’s at peace and as her sister says, she’s playing with the angels in heaven."
A collection was made at the service to pay for a headstone for Lillia, ahead of a gathering at Steel's Social Club in Pallion.