Rochette places medal on mother's coffin

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FIGURE SKATING

Joannie Rochette walked quietly across the hushed church during her mother's funeral Thursday afternoon and gently placed her Olympic figure-skating bronze medal on the lid of Therese Guevremont-Rochette's polished coffin.

It was a moment in which the image of the Olympic hero who drew the sympathy of the world mingled with that of a grieving daughter who had lost someone she often called her best friend.

Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette looks on as the coffin containing her mother Therese Guevremont-Rochette arrives for her funeral at a church in Berthierville, Que., Thursday. Photo by The Canadian Press

BERTHIERVILLE, Que. -

Joannie Rochette walked quietly across the hushed church during her mother's funeral Thursday afternoon and gently placed her Olympic figure-skating bronze medal on the lid of Therese Guevremont-Rochette's polished coffin.

It was a moment in which the image of the Olympic hero who drew the sympathy of the world mingled with that of a grieving daughter who had lost someone she often called her best friend.

Rochette, who melted hearts around the planet by delivering the medal-winning performance in Vancouver last week amid her grief, struggled through the painful final step of saying goodbye to her mom.

Known for her incredible grace under pressure since her mother's death, the slender Rochette's voice quivered and her eyes filled with tears as she paused several times to keep her composure while delivering a eulogy.

Focused on positives, not the pain

She chose to focus the speech on the positive things her mom accomplished in life, rather than the pain caused by her sudden death.

"I'm happy today because we're celebrating the life of my mother Therese - a short life but a very intense one," Rochette said, standing before the coffin as bright golden sunshine streamed in through the church windows.

"She taught me how to be brave . . . . She was always there for me."

Others who spoke followed the same theme, extolling the virtues of a strong-willed woman who loved her family and animals.

Hundreds of people packed the small-town church in Berthierville, Que., to pay their final respects to Guevremont-Rochette, who died of a massive heart attack at age 55.

She died in Vancouver about two weeks ago shortly after arriving to watch her daughter compete at the Winter Olympics.

Rochette, 24, competed in the skating short program just three days after the death and then clinched the bronze medal two nights later.

She was chosen to carry the Canadian flag at the Olympics' closing ceremonies.

Some townsfolk stood outside during the funeral while others crammed into the back and up in the balconies of roughly two-century-old stone Ste-Genevieve-de-Berthier church.

Rochette has said she drew inspiration from many people around the world who rallied around her during a trying time.

Clad in black, she sat next to her father and her boyfriend, tilting her head downward several times while fighting back tears.

The presiding priest, Jean-Marc Pepin, described the deceased as someone "who loved people, who had a sense of humour, and who had character - just like her daughter."

Popular music also echoed through the nearly 90-minute Roman Catholic mass, including songs from Edith Piaf and Claude Dubois.

As the coffin was slowly taken from the church, a member of the choir sang the song "Vole (Fly)" by Celine Dion, Guevremont-Rochette's favourite singer who sent flowers to Rochette after her mother died.

After the ceremony, Rochette put on dark sunglasses and followed her mother's coffin out the church door.

Among the large crowd were Marcel Aubut, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee and provincial Sports Minister Michelle Courchesne.

Aubut said he was very impressed with Guevremont-Rochette, saying he had often seen parents give everything - even their health - to see their child realize an Olympic dream.

He praised the simple, dignified service as a fitting tribute to Guevremont-Rochette and her devotion to her daughter, who he called a "heroine not only for Canada but for the entire world."

"Joannie had talked to me about her mother many times during the Olympics and from what she was telling me, she really deserved a big piece of what happened to her, the Olympic medal," he said.

"That's probably why she put the medal on the coffin," he said, suggesting Rochette wanted to share her accomplishment with one of her biggest boosters one last time.

"That's a great gesture."

Organizations: Ste-Genevieve-de-Berthier church, Canadian Olympic Committee

Geographic location: BERTHIERVILLE, Vancouver, Canada

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