I attended the wake for Michelle and Rachel Luna yesterday. The drownings of those two girls, 11 and 9, in a neighborhood pond in Silver Spring Sunday saddened me terribly.

Perhaps I went because I have two younger sisters, whom I remember being that age, or because I have two sons, whom I pray will live longer than me. For whatever reason, I found myself sharing tears with Fernando and Mercedes Luna and hoping to find meaning in the tragic loss of their children.

Fernando Luna stood firm before the two small coffins in the Hines-Rinaldi Funeral Home. He even consoled others, some of whom collapsed in his arms at the sight of lost love.

But he must have been playing the part of the strong father, for in his eyes I saw a deeply wounded man.

"Michelle read 110 books in three months," he said, pausing to fight back tears. "She won a contest, you know."

"Michelle, we always tease her," Mercedes Luna added, speaking as if the children were still alive. "She was born in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, so we call her our 'Yankee daughter.' Rachel was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She is our 'Southern belle.' "

The Lunas had come to America from the Philippines about 20 years ago with hopes of making a better life for themselves. With the arrival of the daughters, all attention went toward creating a paradise for their princesses.

Watching Fernando Luna, staring in disbelief at the caskets, I could see a father whose entire world revolved around those girls. It was easy to imagine those nights when they'd come bursting into the parents' bedroom, jumping in bed to play games, tell stories and make plans with their mother and father.

"They were daddy's girls," said Dennis Batchelder, a cousin. "When he and Michelle and Rachel went shopping, he would buy them anything they wanted, even if he didn't have the money."

On one such shopping trip, Michelle picked out a red velvet dress. It was for her mother, who wore it yesterday.

"They are excellent children," Mercedes Luna said. "A students. We planned to take them for interviews for a magnet school next week."

Fernando Luna, 40, is an engineer for the U.S. Department of Transportation. Mercedes Luna is a nurse at Holy Cross Hospital. They have been married 13 years.

Both girls, their parents said, wrote poems, short stories and kept diaries.

"They had great imaginations," said James Alignay, 18, a former babysitter. "Their energy and creativity was amazing."

Michelle, who was 11, took a special writing course for gifted students at Montgomery College. She had planned to become an author or cartoon animator.

Her favorite television show was "Avonlea," which appears Monday nights on the Disney Channel and stars Sarah Polley, a young writer. A recent show opened with Sarah taking a walk around a pond.

"I think Michelle fancied herself as Sarah," Mercedes Luna said, sadly. "I think that's what took her to the pond."

Rachel, who was called "Sissy," wrote in her diary that she wanted to revisit Louisiana, land of her birth, and aspired to acquire a Southern accent.

"She made me promise to curl her hair like old-fashioned Southern girls wore theirs," Mercedes Luna recalled. "That's what we planned to do come spring."

Rachel had also written about an adventure that she and her sister had taken Sunday morning. Two months before, Rachel had been diagnosed as having lupus, family members said, and since then the sisters had become inseparable.

" 'Today is a great day.' " Batchelder recalled the words in Rachel's diary. " 'We found a frozen lake, and we played on it. It was scary to be on it because the ice would crack now and then. Amber {the family dog} was afraid to get on it. What a great day.' "

After making the entry, Rachel and Michelle ate lunch and told their father that they were going to visit a neighbor, but they apparently returned to the pond. A few hours later, a search party found their footprints leading to a hole in the ice.

"Tell him what a great mother you are," Fernando Luna said to his wife, unable to hold back the tears. "Tell him how you worked only weekends so you could stay home and educate and care for our girls."

Roger Alignay, Mercedes' brother, politely ended our talk as he tried to console the bereaved couple.

"There is the meaning in this accident," he said. "Love your children while they are here."