As the Rev. Thomas McCarthy finished his homily Monday for SeaWorld whale trainer Dawn Brancheau, at least a dozen candles flickered to represent the "light" she gave to her work, family, friends and faith. "We must honor her by giving the light she has given to us," McCarthy told about 200 people who gathered at St. Rita of Cascia Shrine Chapel for Brancheau's funeral. "This is not the end for Dawn. This is a transition."
Brancheau was killed Wednesday when Tilikum, a 12,000-pound killer whale, pulled her into the water by her ponytail as at least two dozen tourists watched in horror. The incident happened near the end of a session with the whale, the largest in SeaWorld Orlando's collection. Tilikum has been involved in two other deaths since 1991, but SeaWorld plans to keep him.
Brancheau was born in south suburban Evergreen Park and raised in Cedar Lake, Ind. The youngest of six children earned her the nickname the "little caboose," her nephew said. Her late father was Charles Lo Verde, who led Laborers' Local Union 1092 which represents Chicago water and sewer workers, among others.
The emotional funeral featured inspirational songs, music that Terri Lenz said was carefully chosen to fit Brancheau and her fun-loving personality. Lenz sang "Wind Beneath my Wings," a song she said Brancheau's family requested.
Mary Burgess and Mary Speckhard, who knew Brancheau since they were second graders, said the animal trainer never forgot the small things like birthdays and sending Christmas cards. "When you were with her, she made you feel . . . she just loved you," said Speckhard, 40, of Fort Wayne, Ind.
Brancheau is to be buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery. A memorial service for her is to be held in Orlando, but that has not yet been scheduled.
Donations can be made to the Dawn Brancheau Memorial Fund, c/o US Bank, P.O. Box 809231, Chicago, IL 60680-9231.