The mother of three young girls who died in a tragic Christmas morning fire in Stamford, Conn. urged mourners at their funeral to commit "pure acts of kindness" in tribute to her daughters.
Madonna Badger gave the eulogy for 9-year-old Lily Badger and 7-year-old twins Grace and Sarah Badger at their Manhattan funeral Thursday.
"I want to remember my girls out loud," she told more than 800 people gathered inside St. Thomas Episcopal Church.
In the heartbreaking eulogy, the girls' mom choked up repeatedly and described how her children asked about the mystery of death, and worried they would pass away before their mother. She also recalled that she used to wonder how parents cope when their children die before them.
She couldn't imagine going on to live. "But here I am," she said. "My girls are in my heart. They're right here and this is where they are now."
Badger spoke about each of her daughters individually, calling first-born Lily her angel who "sang before she spoke."
"Naturally shy, her smile was sometimes hidden, but when she let it go, she glowed completely," Badger said.
Of Sarah, one of the twins, the grieving mother said her greatest joy in life was to make other people happy. In one instance, she handed cookies out during a visit with her grandfather to a nursing home and told her mother that the tooth fairy should visit because the residents needed teeth, Badger recalled.
"My little whipper-snapper -- loved, lovable and full of love," she said.
Lastly, Badger eulogized her daughter Grace, Sarah's twin. She described her as fearless -- a child always up for adventure. She also spoke of the special bond the twins shared and how Grace so admired her older sister Lily.
Badger wailed as she followed the three small coffins out of the church, accompanied by her estranged husband, Matthew Badger.
Rev. William Shillady of the United Methodist City Society delivered the sermon, followed by performances of "Amazing Grace," "This Little Light of Mine," and "Over the Rainbow," by Jenni Muldaur, Teddy Thompson and Rufus Wainwright, respectively.
Authorities shut down three lanes of Fifth Avenue on the church's block in honor of the girls. The pallbearers were 18 firefighters from Stamford.
St. Thomas Episcopal Church is less than a five-minute walk from the department store Saks Fifth Avenue, where the children's grandfather, Lomer Johnson, played Santa Claus in the days before the fire.
Johnson and his wife Pauline perished in the Christmas morning blaze along with their grandchildren. A private service will be held for them and the girls later at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
The girls' mother and her friend, Michael Borcina, were the only survivors of the fire, attributed to a bag of smoldering ash and embers left in a first-floor mudroom.
Officials told The Associated Press Tuesday the girls wanted the ash out of the fireplace so that Santa Claus could come through the chimney.
The victims died of smoke inhalation. Lomer Johnson also suffered a blunt head and neck trauma, which resulted from a fall or being hit by an object.
One of the girls, found dead just inside a window, had been placed on a pile of books, apparently so Johnson could reach in and grab her after he jumped out. Instead, authorities say, he fell through the roof.
A foundation has been developed in the girls' honor, called The Other 364 Foundation, "whose mission is to champion compassion every day of the year," according to a blurb on badgerandwinters.com.
Checks may be made out to:
The Other 364 Foundation
c/o Badger & Winters Group
135 Fifth Avenue 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10010
Notes may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.