GULFPORT, Fla. – Hundreds of mourners gathered Tuesday to remember Terri Schiavo (search) at a funeral Mass arranged by her parents, while her husband held on to her cremated remains and planned a separate service.
The woman's parents, Bob and Mary Schindler (search), sat in the front row of Most Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church, joined by their two other grown children. Outside, mourners sat in folding chairs or stood as the service was relayed on loudspeakers. At least 800 people attended.
"She showed us how to live. She showed us the gift of life and how we should share it," the Rev. Thaddeus Malanowski said. He gave Schiavo last rites before she died Thursday.
Suzanne Vitadamo (search), Terri Schiavo's sister, said Schiavo had "shown the world what perseverance and determination are all about."
A table beside the altar held a photo of Schiavo taken in the 1980s before she suffered severe brain damage, one of the pictures widely shown in the last days of the protracted right-to-die case. A photo and gold bust of Pope John Paul II were also on the table.
"God calls us to go forth from this place to work together, to preach and witness together so what happened in this tragic case will never happen again," the Rev. Frank Pavone said in his sermon. He is the national director of the anti-abortion group Priests For Life.
Schiavo's parents had opposed her cremation and hoped to bury her in their adopted state of Florida.
But her husband, Michael Schiavo, ordered her cremation and said her ashes would be buried in his family's plot in Pennsylvania, the state where Terri Schiavo grew up and where the couple met.
Michael Schiavo has not said when his memorial service will be held, but he is under a court order to notify the parents of his plans. Schiavo's attorney, George Felos, did not return a call Tuesday seeking comment.
The 41-year-old brain-damaged woman died Thursday after a long, bitter legal battle between her husband and parents.
Court-appointed doctors said she was in a persistent vegetative state, and Michael Schiavo said his wife would not want to be kept alive artificially. Her parents doubted she had such end-of-life wishes and disputed she was in a persistent vegetative state.
The dramatic case reached all the way to Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the Vatican and White House in recent weeks as the Schindlers tried to block the court order that allowed Michael Schiavo to remove the feeding tube.
The Schindlers had asked a judge to allow her body to remain intact and have her buried in Florida so they can visit the grave. But a judge refused to intervene.
Terri Schiavo was 26 when her heart stopped beating temporarily in 1990, causing monumental brain damage. Doctors later attributed it to a chemical imbalance possibly brought on by an eating disorder.