Madonna Badger stood before about a thousand people in a cavernous Manhattan church Thursday and told them about her daughters.
Once full of life, the three girls lay side-by-side in coffins at St. Thomas Church, between Badger and the mourners. They and Badger's parents died in a Christmas fire at her Stamford home.
To the right was Lilian Elizabeth Badger, 9, Badger's first-born. In the middle was 7-year-old Sarah Hudson Badger. Next to Sarah was her twin sister, Grace McCarthy Badger.
"This is why I can stand before you today," said Badger, 47, who works as an ad executive. "Because they are my little girls, and I want you to hear about them." She went on to describe each daughter's personality, giving "little drops in an ocean of memories."
Badger spoke fondly of her walks through the city with Lily in her Baby Bjorn infant carrier. When Lily got a little older, she entertained the family with her smiles, her singing and her dancing.
"Lily sang before she spoke," Badger said. And when she danced, "it was with moves that far outdid Michael Jackson," she said, prompting laughter.
One day, Lily "begged me to tell her when she will die," she said. As Badger's voice broke, she said, "I told her life is a mystery and we never know when she will die."
Sarah was the sensitive one. Her goal was to "make you feel good and loved," Badger said.
"She liked to lie in bed at night and hold my hand and tell me how much she loved me," she said.
Sarah was the one who lightened the mood during a trip to a nursing home where Badger's father, Lomer Johnson, was dressed as Santa. The residents were so sick and elderly, "it was sad," Badger said.
So Sarah picked up the sugar cookies that Badger's mother, Pauline Johnson, had made and started handing them out, she said.
Later, the little girl told her mom, "Somebody better tell the tooth fairy that this is where she needs to bring the teeth," Badger said, bringing more laughter.
Then Badger talked about "Gracie," whom she described as "fearless." Grace couldn't care less what people thought of her, she said.
Markedly different from her twin sister, Grace was "the first one to pick up the creepiest, crawliest bug she could find and try to give it to me, because I hate creepy, crawly things."
She loved math, loved solving problems and had a habit of fashioning things out of Band-Aids, Badger said.
"There was nothing Grace Badger couldn't make with a Band-Aid," she said.
Like Lily, Grace also had asked about death.
"Grace asked me a thousand times if she was going to die before me, and I said, 'No, Gracie, no, that is not going to happen,'" Badger said as she cried. "But it happened."
As if comforting herself and the mourners at the same time, Badger turned to the topic of love.
"There is no power greater on this Earth than love," she said. "God is love. God is everything."
Her daughters, Badger said, "left the world at such tender ages that all they left behind is love. … Please keep our girls in your hearts by performing acts of pure kindness."
The Rev. William Shillady read a eulogy from the girls' father, Matthew Badger, who was in New York at the time of the fire.
"A day with Lily was like a day with a beautiful song," wrote Matthew Badger, who was at the funeral. The Badgers are estranged.
Of Sarah, he said, "Often, when one of her sisters was harmed, it was Sarah who needed consoling."
Grace, the father wrote, was the "industrious, creative genius who was destined for a remarkable life."
Jenni Muldaur, Madonna Badger's good friend; Teddy Thompson and Rufus Wainwright each sang a song: "Amazing Grace," "This Little Light of Mine" and "Over the Rainbow."
In his sermon, Shillady said he didn't think God intended the girls to die in the fire.
"Too often, we fall back on simplistic phrases, like, 'It's God's will,'" he said. "God's heart was the first to break on Christmas morning."
He urged the mourners to heed Madonna Badger's earlier words about how to go forward.
"Madonna and Matthew want us to respond with love for each other like we had never loved before."
A private service was held later at Woodlawn Cemetery for the girls and their grandparents, according to the Associated Press.