Rows of dark oak pews flanked an aisle of seafoam-green carpet in the sanctuary of St. Peter's Episcopal Church on Ashland Terrace.
Three steps led up to a broad dais under a modern wooden cross suspended from the ceiling. On one step, centered under a small table bearing an embroidered cloth, sat an 8-by-10 framed photo of Gail Palmgren. To the right, a single spray of flowers, including yellow roses and red carnations, stood beside the lectern.
An estimated 100 people came Friday to say their good-byes to Palmgren. Before taking their seats in the pews, they milled about an anteroom where a table bore a collection of photos and a laptop with videos.
Palmgren, a mother of two, was last seen April 30 after she dropped her two children off at the family's St. Ives subdivision home on Signal Mountain.
Seven months later, rescue crews and investigators with the Hamilton County Sheriff's Office found her crimson Jeep Rubicon about 300 feet down from East Brow Road, where she went over the edge of the mountain. She was thrown from her Jeep as it overturned and tumbled down a couple of bluffs.
Authorities plan to release the findings of their investigation into exactly what happened next week.
On Friday, speaking in a soft voice, Palmgren's brother-in-law, Dan Nichols, read Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. The familiar verses reminded the mourners that "to everything there is a season ... a time to be born and a time to die."
He followed with the gospel of John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life."
Palmgren's sister, Diane Nichols, spoke for about 10 minutes about her sister, who was three years younger, remembering her energy, enthusiasm, drive and dedication to her goals.
"It was a beautiful service," Nichols said, as she pulled out the church parking lot with her husband. "It was just really nice."
During the service, Nichols told how Palmgren loved gardening and created life wherever she went, and of her passion for giving presents.
Mostly she spoke of Palmgren's love for her son, Jared, and daughter, Lorraine, how her greatest pleasure was to spend time with them and how much pride she had in their development.
Nichols spoke directly to the children, seated with their father, Matthew Palmgren, and other family members in the front pews. She told them their mother always loved them above all else and that Gail Palmgren will always be in their hearts.
When they missed their mom, she said, they could see her in her beloved flowers, especially the daylilies she loved best. And she reminded them that their mom is watching them from heaven and that they will be rejoined someday.
As she spoke, Jared nestled his head into his grandmother's shoulder for comfort.
Finally, Nichols said she had been inspired to sing for the children.
"You are my sunshine, my only sunshine," she began, her voice cracked and choking as she made it through the end of the verse: "You'll never know, dear, how much I love you. Please don't take my sunshine away."
Outside the church, Arlene Durham waited. A close friend of Gail Palmgren's who drew awareness to her disappearance, she drove up from Wetumpka, Ala., but said she was turned away at the church door by Matt Palmgren's attorneys. Her ex-husband, Mike Kronosky, and son were allowed to attend, she said.
When searchers found Gail Palmgren's body, she was wearing an outfit Durham had given her. Inside the Jeep was an envelope addressed to Arlene.
"I'll meet her again in heaven," Durham said. "She would want me in there. She wouldn't want me out here."
After more prayers, the mourners who were baptized Christians were invited to take part in Holy Communion. Palmgren's children carried the gifts of bread and wine to the altar, then lined up with their father and other family members to receive the sacrament.
The Episcopal service was conducted by the Rev. Carter N. Paden, the Rev. Dr. Valerie Carnes and the Rev. Sam Payne.
Judy Walton has worked 25 years at the Chattanooga Times and the Times Free Press as an editor and reporter focusing on government coverage and investigations. At various times she has been an assistant metro editor, region reporter and editor, county government reporter, government-beat team leader, features editor and page designer. Originally from California, Walton was brought up in a military family and attended a dozen schools across the country. She earned a journalism degree ...