She loved raspberry sorbet, avocados and anything by John Mayer. She had a smile that you had to work for, as family members recalled, but once it spread across her tiny face, there was no more joyous feeling in the world.
Evan Frances Buckner, who died April 28 at the age of 3 and a half, was remembered Tuesday morning at a memorial service in Malibu as an indomitable spirit. Evan’s resilience in the face of grave health challenges inspired her parents and created an extended family of friends, siblings, cousins and caregivers who gave all they had to make Evan’s 44 months of life as comfortable and surrounded by love as humanly possible. And in so doing, Evan taught her parents, Variety chief photographer Michael Buckner and journalist Lindzi Scharf, invaluable life lessons every day.
“She taught us to be present. She taught us to live one day at a time and to make every day the happiest day of your life,” Scharf said during the memorial held on the sand at Malibu’s Surfrider Beach.
She noted that the location of the memorial reflected Evan’s love of visits to the beach. “This is where we came for moments of normalcy as a family,” Scharf said.
Evan was born with mitochondrial disease, which required innumerable hospitalizations and extensive medical treatment throughout her life. Her ability to hear was greatly improved by cochlear implants in both ears, which opened up the world of music to Evan and a communication pathway for her family.
“As soon as she had the cochlear surgery, we saw her be a little more ease for the first time,” Scharf said. “Books and music became a big part of her life as a result.”
To honor Evan’s love of music, the memorial concluded with a large group of friends and family members singing some of her favorite songs. Buckner asked the crowd to “sing loud enough so that Evan can hear us.”
The set list consisted of Green Day’s “Time of Your Life,” Aha’s “Take on Me,” the Beatles’ “Let It Be” and Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’” (with the caveat that Evan’s favorite was Mayer’s rendition of the song). Evan’s uncle, Casey Scharf, played acoustic guitar while cousin Kate Grahn led the singing.
Evan’s parents did not hold back tears as they expressed gratitude to the village that helped them raise Evan.
“When we had Evan, I gave her a piece of my heart — a piece she’ll always have. It’ll never be whole without her,” Buckner said. “I’d do anything to hold you again.”
Scharf observed that one of Evan’s lasting gifts to her family was to live a meaningful life against all odds and with a level of function well beyond her diagnosis at birth. Deep in her bones, Scharf said she knows that her first-born child worked hard to live long enough to allow her parents to welcome a second child, son Reid, who was born last year.
“When Evan was born, I thought we were living a romantic comedy,” Scharf said. “Then life became a drama, and through more ridiculousness it became a dark comedy.”
Through their grief, the family has worked to “make sure we take the lessons she taught us to move forward with life the best we can,” she said. “Her life was a miracle.”