'Brightest beacons of light'

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Amber Young, sister of Erin Thompson, leads the singing of "This Little Light of Mine" at the end of Friday's memorial service for Thompson and her son, Caden Odell. Nate Chute/Daily Inter Lake

Story by NICHOLAS LEDDEN/Daily Inter Lake

Hundreds of mourners attended a memorial service Friday for a Columbia Falls woman and her 13-year-old son who died last week in a crash on U.S. 93.

Erin Thompson, 35, and her son Caden Odell were remembered as 'spiritual giants' who added substance to every life they touched.

"They enlarged our capacity to love and live, and we're thankful for that," said the Rev. John Gregg, a pastor at the Christian Center Assembly of God Church in Kalispell, where the service was held.

A lover of music, Odell attended Kalispell Middle School and was a member of the school's jazz band, which performed during the ceremony. He played the drums among other instruments.

Odell's family has established the Caden Vincent Odell Memorial Fund through Three Rivers Bank to encourage others to experience the joy of music.

Thompson's sister, Amber Young, told mourners Thompson had an expansive personality that made others happier in her presence.

"She was willing to meet you at whatever depth," Young said.

An outgoing person, Thompson offered a 'reflective quality" to all people.

"No community wants two of its brightest beacons of life to be extinguished, yet eternal life continues," said the Rev. Chrysta Bourne, who gave Odell's eulogy.

Part of a tight-knit extended family, Odell was a free spirit who loved hiking, camping and snowboarding. He was learning to cook with a new set of cookbooks and exploring the workings of a video camera given to him by his father's fiancee.

"He loved playing in the woods… and all things 'boy,'" said Bourne, who shared with mourners stories from Odell's life written down by his family.

On one trip to his grandparents' Idaho home, Odell convinced his grandfather to haul a junked lawnmower back from the dump to use for parts in a go-cart. He loved exhilarating experiences, Bourne said.

Odell also had a very close relationship with his father, Craig.

"Their relationship was an example that will be hard to equal by anyone," Bourne said. "One of Caden's best days was when his father let him play hooky to go snowboarding on nine inches of fresh powder on his 13th birthday."

In his father's words, Caden was "the best thing I've ever done," Bourne told mourners.

Odell possessed a "deep tenderness and gentleness that was beyond his 13 years," Bourne continued. "Simply put, he brought joy into other people's lives."

A fellow student has started an online blog and guestbook in Odell's memory at http://godblesscaden.webs.com.

"Caden, without a doubt, was a unique, well-advanced soul… He will be deeply, deeply missed," Bourne said.

After Frank Miele, Daily Inter Lake managing editor and friend of the family, read from a memorial column which will appear in Sunday's edition of the paper, family members played a video slide show of pictures from Odell and Thompson's lives.

Thompson, who worked at a Whitefish spa, was remembered as a wonderful mother who loved to dance.

"I will always continue to see her radiant smile in my mind's eye," said Alex Campbell, who had been friends with Thompson for 30 years. "It just lit a room up… It was just contagious."

Thompson's death should be a reminder to each person to cherish every moment of life, Campbell said.

"She was my partner in all things goofy, and fun, and a perpetual spunkster," Young recalled. "We always realized, from a very young age, how strong our bond was and how lucky we were to have it."

Thompson, who was four months pregnant, was northbound on U.S. 93 near the intersection with Church Drive about 8:30 p.m. on March 19 when her Subaru Forester was struck head-on.

A southbound Pontiac Grand Am driven by a 16-year-old girl appears to have crossed completely into oncoming traffic, according to the Montana Highway Patrol. That girl, who has not been identified, is in Harborview Medical Center in Seattle with severe injuries.

Reporter Nicholas Ledden can be reached at 758-4441 or by e-mail at nledden@dailyinterlake.com

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