Carolyn Pendleton of West Oak Lane worked through tears as she selected a Batman motif.
Near the top of the page, she put a photo of little Travon Register's smiling face and placed some bat wings behind him. With his tiny fingers he's making a two-handed peace sign. The word Batman is emblazoned across the page in bright yellow.
Pendleton titled the booklet she was making, "The Adventures of Travon Register," and labeled it "Issue No. 6" because the boy was 6 years old when he died. Since he was also a twin, Pendleton added the words, "1 of a duo."
The final product looks more like a D.C. comic book than any funeral program I've ever seen, but sadly, that's what it is. In the difficult days ahead, it will also serve as a precious keepsake for the loved ones of Travon, who died tragically on July 12. His stepfather, Michael Williams, 39, has been charged with murder and endangering the welfare of a child.
Pendleton hopes the booklet will lift the family's spirits.
She knows all too well what it's like to lose a young person so suddenly. Her own nephew Jayvon Mitchell-Pendleton, a 20-year-old college student at Cheyney University, was murdered nearly three years ago in the North Philly enclave of Swampoodle while walking with a friend.
Though she was grieving and busy planning his funeral, she didn't let that stop her from creating a really special funeral program honoring her nephew's all-too-short life. At 12 pages, it was longer than any I've ever seen and was printed on glossy, magazine-quality paper.
In addition to the usual obituary write-up that most funeral programs have, Pendleton's included a love letter from Jayvon's long-time girlfriend recapping their relationship and photos of the high school sweethearts together; a poem from Jayvon to his family; family photos; and the order of service, all in a beautiful keepsake booklet. Even in the midst of all of that grief, mourners took note of Pendleton's beautiful layout and design.
Since then, she's been making similarly beautiful funeral programs for families in similar situations. Last year, Pendleton, 45, made one for Yasir Shannon Fortune, who was fatally wounded in September. It featured the aspiring rapper dressed in a white T-shirt, with angel wings on his back and ear buds in his ears against a heavenly blue background.
I should point out that Pendleton isn't a professional writer. Nor is she a trained graphic artist. She's a mom with a penchant for making things beautiful — whether it's creating the perfect candle to gift singer Lauryn Hill when she performed here this month or teaching sewing in her dining room.
The results are thoughtful, so much nicer than most folks can manage on their own in the midst of grieving and planning a funeral.
To qualify for a free program booklet, the deceased must have been a murder victim under age 21 from a single-parent household. Each bereaved family gets 100 booklets.
For those with financial resources, the cost is $325 for 100 booklets.
In addition to creating the programs, Pendleton has her own line of homemade candles called the Pendleton Candle Co. I learned about what she was up to after a friend tagged me in a Facebook conversation during which Pendleton was telling her followers that $2 from each candle they purchased from her would go toward her obituary giveaway program.
I'm touched that a total stranger would work so hard to console funeral-goers she's never met. Pendlelton spent a couple of days going over the comic-book-theme program she created for Travon.
"They said his favorite was Batman, and when they sent me the photos, he had his Batman costume on. So I said, why don't I just make this a comic-book theme," Pendleton told me, crying a little as she talked. "As I'm doing this, I'm looking at the other twin and I'm thinking when this little boy is a grown man … if he reads through this and reads some of the things that I wrote, he'll realize that there's an angel looking over him. He has a twin brother that's watching over him."
"I believe that God is putting his hands on me and guiding me to do this," she added.