The gymnasium of Seward High School filled with family and loved ones of Linnea Rose Hribernick on Saturday afternoon, as hundreds gathered to say goodbye to a beloved young woman who passed away Aug. 20, a little less than a month before her nineteenth birthday.
Hribernick, known to loved ones as L-Rose, captivated peers and adults alike, many of whom testified at her memorial service to the intense power of her affection and the radiance of her smile.
A cheerleader at Seward High School and congregant at Seward City Church, Hribernick nurtured relationships seemingly without fear or favor, and was known for sending individual messages to her friends, family and mentors on a nearly daily basis.
“She was our light, our everything,” said her mother, Angel Hribernick. “She is a light that came to us from heaven, and spent her eighteen years of life in motion and hospital visits and never struggled.”
“My daughter was my life, my job,” said her father, James “Hub” Hribernick. “I got paid with love, lots of love. She loved her dad for some strange reason.”
On the morning of Tuesday, Aug. 20, Hribernick was getting ready for a fishing trip with her father, James “Hub” Hribernick, during which they would scatter the ashes of Hub’s good friend Ron Stallings, he said.
Hribernick collapsed in her room and was soon taken to the emergency room at Providence Seward Medical Center, where she died.
The family gave the cause of death as “her little heart being tired,” a reference to the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease with which Hribernick had lived since she came into the world. Born at 22 weeks, Hribernick weighed only one pound, six ounces as a newborn, and faced complications from her premature birth for the rest of her life.
Her father estimates that she spent a total of two years in one hospital or the other, whether it be Providence Alaska Medical Center or Seattle Children’s Hospital. But even when she was in the hospital, he said, she connected with the people caring for her in a deep, genuine way that impressed him.
And she continued to think about others in her life. One person at the service told a story about a time that she had been hospitalized at the same time as Hribernick.
“A few months ago, I was in the ER for four days and Linnea was at Seattle Children’s,” the woman said. “She messaged me every day to check on me. She said, ‘I wish I could bring you something.’ She’s in Seattle Children’s Hospital, and she’s worried about me.
“I just miss her.”
Hribernick made an impression on people her own age and on her mentors from the Seward High School cheerleading team and the Seward-area Young Life chapter.
“We all know that Linnea was no ordinary person,” said Emilee Sawyer of Young Life. “As my relationship with her grew she told me her story. She was truly a miracle from above. I could tell that she longed for something more. She had heard about Jesus, but she didn’t know what it meant to believe in him. We had the honor to share the Gospel with her.”
Assistant cheerleading coach Rebekah Ivy knew Hribernick in both contexts, athletics and faith. Hribernick attended Bible studies at Ivy’s home and grew close with her family at the same time she was finding a place on the cheer squad.
“What just amazes me [is] out of all the hardships that she’s had to go through in her entire life … she just had the most incredible outlook,” said assistant cheer coach Rebekah Ivy. “She got her strength from the Lord.”
Hribernick “thrived” on the cheer team, her father said, joining in Dec. 2018 during her last year at Seward High School. “She embraced it. I was kind of like, ‘Do what you can.’ And she did more than her dad thought she could.”
“She genuinely cared about everybody that she met,” said head coach Haley Hatch. “She would take the time out of her day to send you individual messages. She wanted you to know she was thinking of you.”
Many of those who spoke at Saturday’s service recalled Hribernick’s attentive communication, from her coaches to pastor Max Ingalls of Seward City Church. Her father said he found an unexpected gift in Hribernick’s constant digital communication.
“I know sometimes she could be a little annoying with all the texting,” he said. “But now I’m finding out how many people and how often she texted and Snapchatted, and I found out now it’s not a bad thing.”
“It is a bad thing, I’m not going to lie,” he corrected, to laughs. “But now that I have her phone, I have memories – her 14,000 photos and 2,000 videos.”
But Hribernick’s most enduring legacy must be her love for her extended family of mentors, relatives, doctors and friends, an attribute perhaps best captured by Rebekah Ivy.
“She embodied what it was like to love like Christ loved,” Ivy said. “I think her most used word was love – a lesson we could all learn from.”