The body of Raleigh May, 67, lies in an open casket in the chapel at the Craig-Hurtt Funeral Home in Mountain Grove, Mo., in September. (Angus Mordant)

Raeleigh Mae Guzman, 9, stands over the open casket of her maternal great-grandfather, Raleigh May. (Angus Mordant/Angus Mordant)

Three days before she turned 9, Raeleigh Mae Guzman’s great-grandfather and namesake, Raleigh May, died. She begins now to explore life without her best friend and hero.

May, 67, was a Vietnam War veteran who received multiple service accolades, including an Army Commendation Medal and a Bronze Star. The day after he retired from the military, he and his wife, Patsy, moved to Mountain Grove, Mo., to be close to their families. They served their new community together for nearly two decades in the Wright County Sheriff’s Office.

“The sun rose and set on that little girl,” said her mother, Ninfa Guzman, 27. “That little girl was his world. He would never tell anyone, but she was his favorite.”

Photographer Angus Mordant met the family in September, while participating in the Missouri Photo Workshop in Mountain Grove. “It was a very emotional week for me, especially  witnessing how Raeleigh was coping with the loss of her great-grandfather. She is a very strong girl, but it understandably hit her very hard, and that was difficult to document,” he said.  Mordant will return to Mountain Grove in December to spend more time with the family.

Raeleigh, surrounded by fellow great-grandchildren and other extended family, on her ninth birthday. Her family did not make formal birthday plans because her great-grandfather was gravely ill. His death three days earlier made the birthday celebration bittersweet. (Angus Mordant)

Raeleigh and her maternal great-grandmother, Patsy May, 65, comfort each other while a grave is dug ahead of Raleigh May’s funeral. He had requested to be buried beneath the flagpole in the cemetery behind his church in Hartville, Mo. (Angus Mordant)

Raeleigh walks in the funeral procession behind Patsy May and her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth “Becky” Lamson, 47. (Angus Mordant)

Raleigh May was buried with full military honors behind the family’s church, a mile down an unpaved road from the property where he lived with Patsy since they moved to Missouri in April 1990. (Angus Mordant)

After the funeral, Raeleigh asked her mother, Ninfa Guzman, 27, whether she could dig her great-grandfather back up to spend more time with him. Here she kneels at his gravesite immediately after the burial service. (Angus Mordant)

Raeleigh lays her head on her great-grandmother’s kitchen counter the morning after her great-grandfather’s funeral. She dreaded returning to school after taking several days off during his death. (Angus Mordant)

Raeleigh waits for her grandmother to take her to her school near Vanzant, Mo. (Angus Mordant)

Raeleigh appears withdrawn while at lunch in the cafeteria of Mountain Grove Elementary School. (Angus Mordant)

Raeleigh peers through the window of her paternal grandmother’s car. (Angus Mordant)

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