Friends and family of Lori Keevil-Mathews gathered in Camarillo late Wednesday morning to pay homage to the woman who was killed by one of Christo's giant umbrellas at the Tejon Pass over the weekend.
The artist and his wife--both in tears--had attended a private viewing the night before to tell family members and friends that they were sorry about the tragedy.
"Christo was very broken up," said Melanie Bergdahl, Keevil-Mathews' best friend. "He said when he decided to do the project six years ago, he never thought this would happen. He said he could not find the words that could describe how sorry he was."
But she said the artist's remorse did little to ease the pain.
"We all feel numb right now," Bergdahl said. "It just doesn't seem possible that this happened."
Keevil-Mathews was killed Saturday when a 488-pound umbrella tore loose from its foundation in a gust of wind and crushed her against a boulder, breaking her neck. On a whim she and her husband, Michael, had rushed to see the art exhibit despite rainy weather.
Wednesday, the 34-year-old Camarillo insurance agent, who suffered from a rare, life-shortening disease, was described at the funeral service as a woman who "celebrated life."
About 250 people attended the service at Pierce Brothers Griffin Mortuary. About two dozen flower arrangements--including a bouquet of 50 red and pink roses from Christo--decorated the altar.
"Her childhood was not easy," the Rev. Craige Le Breton said of Keevil-Mathews during his eulogy.
At age 16, Keevil-Mathews was diagnosed as having pheochromocytoma, a disease that attacked her adrenal glands. She had expected to live about eight more years.
"Lori struggled with health, but she kept bouncing back," said Le Breton, a minister at the United Methodist Church of Camarillo. "She learned to give her love wherever and whenever she could."
Le Breton said Keevil-Mathews loved to dance, play baseball and cruise around town in her red Firebird, a car that "matched her spirit."
"She loved people and she loved to make them laugh," he said. "She loved to go places. And this is why, as you know, she had to go see the umbrellas on display."
Family members at the funeral service declined to comment on the tragedy.
Keevil-Mathews' daughter, Jenny, 8, quietly held the hand of her father, Keith Keevil, outside the mortuary.
After the service, a caravan of cars proceeded to Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village, where Keevil-Mathews was buried.
Le Breton told the group: "Her body is in this resting place . . . her spirit is with God."
After Le Breton finished speaking, friends slowly filed past family members to give their condolences. They stood among themselves, talking quietly.
"She was my neighbor," said Gladys Dempsey, who lived across the street from Keevil-Mathews in a Camarillo mobile-home park. "I'm really going to miss her."
Added Janet Turnquist, a friend: "She was a wonderful person. She was always full of life."