MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) - Just days after dropping their daughter off for her freshman year at Clemson University, a Mount Pleasant family is now preparing for her funeral. Virginia Gilliam recently graduated from Wando High School and died suddenly after a short illness.
One week ago, the Gilliam family was a family of five. They say they're now a family of four with a guardian angel, Virginia.
"From day one, she just tugged at my heart strings. She was tiny, shy, cute as a button," said her father, Herb Gilliam.
Virginia Elizabeth Gilliam, the middle child of Susan and Herb, younger sister to Sarah Katherine and older sister to Gracie, never once hesitated to let others know they mattered to her.
"Her love was unconditional; she didn't care what, who you were or what you were about, her heart was full of unconditional love," said Herb Gilliam.
Sarah Katherine Gilliam described Virginia's outlook on life as child-like optimism.
"She just saw the world in a different way than a lot of teenagers do today," said Sarah Katherine.
The eldest of the Gilliams said her younger sister, the Clemson freshman, arrived at campus focused on becoming a teacher.
"Her incredible amount of love was going to make her such an incredible special education teacher because she can just appreciate the small things in people," said Sarah Katherine Gilliam.
It was last Thursday in the Upstate that Virginia Gilliam felt ill and her older sister took her to the hospital.
"She was shaking uncontrollably. She was just really sick," said Virginia's mother Susan Gilliam.
The Gilliam family said Virginia ran a high fever and other symptoms that eventually took a toll on the teen's body. The last day of her life they say they just prayed.
"The last prayer circle we had just went up and down the halls of Anderson Hospital. It was something. It was a blessing that I couldn't even imagine," said Herb Gilliam.
The Gilliams said it is their faith that's kept them going.
"I said, 'God, I know this is what's going to happen, but I cannot do it without you. I cannot and it's going to take a lot of angels for me to live without Virginia.' And I think he's already sent about 5,000 angels," said Susan Gilliam.
The family asks for memorials in Virginia's name go to Mount Pleasant Presbyterian Church's Youth Ministry. The church is located at 302 Hibben Street in Mount Pleasant.
Or, memorials can be given to The Church at LifePark's youth ministry at 1151 George Browder Blvd. in Mount Pleasant and to the Wando High School Chorus Music Booster, Inc.