NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — An emotional Madonna Badger spoke Thursday at the funeral for her three daughters killed in the horrific Christmas morning fire in Stamford, Conn.
Hundreds attended the funeral Mass for 9-year-old Lily Badger and 7-year-old twins Sarah and Grace, including fashion designer Calvin Klein and other luminaries of the fashion and advertising world.
1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reports
Madonna and Matthew Badger, the girls’ father, held hands and cried as they watched the caskets carrying the remains of their three daughters get carried into St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Manhattan.
The two shared a brief hug after the three matching mahogany caskets were carried in.
Eighteen Stamford firefighters who had responded to the blaze were the pallbearers.
Madonna’s Badger’s boyfriend, Michael Borcina, who investigators believe may have accidentally started the lethal blaze, stood behind the two. Authorities said the embers, left in a bag in the mudroom of the home, may have been the catalyst of the tragedy.
Parents’ Final Farewell
Inside the church, Madonna Badger stood before more than 1,000 mourners and poured out a heartfelt eulogy for her girls. She called Lily “my angel and my life… Her smile was sometimes hidden, but when she let her smile glow, it glowed forever.”
She called Sarah “my little whippersnapper, lovable and full of love… She used to lie with me at night, hold my hand and tell me how much she loved me.”
As for her twin, Grace, her mother recalled her “tender kisses were only given when she wanted to give them.”
“Gracie asked me a thousand times if she was going to die before me. I said ‘No Grace, that’s never going to happen,’ but that did happen,” she recounted.
“And she cried and the whole place cried. It was just beautiful. When she talks about love and service and describes each of the kids, they’re all characters,” said Kevin Sullivan, who has known Madonna Badger for three years.
“I was very surprised that she had the strength and courage to get up to speak, but I ‘m glad she did,” family friend Jan Pakulski said.
The mayor of Stamford, Michael Pavia, also attended the funeral. He said Badger started the healing for the grief-stricken community when she took to the podium.
“When Madonna Badger left the pew and walked up to the podium to speak, it was probably the most moving thing I’ve seen,” he said. “No one can believe after all this woman has gone through that she would have the strength and courage to do that.”
Matthew Badger, the father of Lily, Grace and Sarah, was overcome with grief, so Rev. William Shillady read some of the father’s thoughts about his loss.
About his oldest, Lily, Badger wrote “a day with Lily was like a day with a beautiful song.”
“Grace, she was an individual to the core. She was a force of creative nature,” the pastor read.
As for Sarah, Matthew Badger wrote that “her love was so abundant and vibrant. It would welcome anyone into its grasp. She saw the goodness in all of us.”
Mourners started arriving at around 10:30 a.m. for the “Service in Thanksgiving for the Lives of Lilian, Sarah and Grace Badger,” 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported. Rufus Wainwright sang “Over the Rainbow” as part of the service.
As the funeral procession made its way down Fifth Avenue, people who didn’t know the family paused for a moment to show their respect and support.
The victims died of smoke inhalation. Grandparents Lomer and Pauline Johnson also died in the blaze. The grandfather suffered blunt trauma to the head and neck likely resulting from a fall while trying to save his granddaughters.
The Johnsons were to be cremated.
Mourning At Home
A steady stream of mourners filed by the home in Stamford where the girls and their grandparents lost their lives.
Cove, Conn., resident Holly Kalinowski and her 4-year-old daughter laid roses outside the rubble of the Stamford home.
“Right now they’re in heaven with the angels,” Kalinowski said. “I just couldn’t imagine, I couldn’t imagine.”
Even though they didn’t know the Badger family, they said they came to pay their respects on the day of the funeral.
Karen McLane drove from her job in Greenwich to visit the growing memorial of toys, rosaries, candles and flowers.
“I felt compelled because I’m a mom and I can’t imagine this happening to anyone. It’s very tragic,” McLane said.
“I was just called to come and bring blessings to the family for emotional comfort and prayers,” said Lisa Starr, who was in town from southern California, visiting family.
Healing From Loss
“God is love and God is everything. I have been asked a million times ‘How are you doing? How will you survive this?’ but here I am, here all of us are,” Madonna Badger said at the podium. “In all this incomprehensible loss and chaos, all I can hang on to is love. Lily, Sarah and Grace live in my heart now.”
Psychologist Erica Chin said Madonna Badger’s grief, guilt and anger will come in waves in the years ahead.
“Trying to have regular meals, eating, sleeping, those things are things that will slowly build the building blocks of building a new life,” Chin said.
“Life will come back again, but that may not come back again, the past isn’t going to necessarily come rushing back, but life will come back.”
Madonna Badger’s friends told CBS 2′s Kathryn Brown they believe she will recover.
“I think she’s going to make it. She has a lot of strength this lady, a remarkable person,” Martin Schneit said.
“The service was beautiful. Madonna was amazing,” added Phoebe Cole-Smith.
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