Hundreds packed American Martyrs Church in Manhattan Beach on Monday afternoon for a memorial service to remember the life of Karen Beebe, 59, who died July 23 after battling for two years breast cancer that metastasized to her liver.
Dressed in bright colors instead of the traditional black worn at a funeral, the standing room-only crowd gathered in the large church for a Catholic mass that included memorial readings from close friends and family members of the former gym director for American Martyrs School.
"Each person in this church has a story about Karen ... and probably a lot more than just one," Father Michael Evans said during his homily.
Four different speakers offered reflections on Beebe's life during the more than two-hour ceremony, which was organized by Beebe's daughter Krista, that included plenty of laughter and plenty of tears.
Although Beebe's fight against breast cancer was a big part of the last few years of her life, friends and family said they did not want her to be remembered for the disease but rather for her contagious spirit, bright personality and well-known smile and laugh.
"Karen's laugh is one of the most delightful sounds I have ever heard,” said longtime friend Holly Hochhauser as she held back tears. “Whether it was her mischievous little chuckle or her side-splitting belly laugh, it was infectious and I always looked forward to the next time I could enjoy it.”
Karen's son, Brett, said that the disease will not define his mother's life. "We are not here to talk about cancer," he told attendees. "Cancer is no longer part of my mother."
"Her good mornings and good nights were filled with the biggest hugs and the most meaningful, 'I love yous,'" said Brett Beebe.
He also recounted the last words his mother told him during the final days of her life when he visited her in her bedroom.
"I whispered 'I love you' and kissed her on the cheek," Beebe remembered. "Her eyes opened quickly; she smiled big, rolled over, opened her outstretched arms and said 'I love you, too, sweetie.' Those were the last words my mom spoke to me."
Check back later in the day for a complete article with more comments from and remembrances from Monday's memorial service.