He wasn't listed in the program, but he was first on everybody's minds.
As William Petit's wife and daughters were tinted with the sainthood of tragedy at this Saturday service, he sat and watched. The survivor.
Central Connecticut State University's 1,800-seat auditorium had been filled, with hundreds more watching on screens in overflow rooms. They cried for the mother and two daughters, killed together Monday in their Cheshire home, but they wondered about Petit: How will he go on?
Then the man stood, climbed unexpectedly to the stage and began answering the unspoken question.
He started talking about the wife he buried the day before at a private service. He told of their first days working together at a hospital, the know-it-all third-year medical student upstaged by the young nurse, Jennifer Hawke. In a voice besieged by pain, he told of their life together. He told of things that made the crowd laugh to spite their tears.
He talked about his two daughters, Hayley, 17, and Michaela, 11, named for Hayley Mills of "The Parent Trap'' and Dr. Michaela Quinn of "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman.''
He described Hayley as an accomplished jock with a considerable brain. They were partners in the celebration of UConn basketball. She was strong, steady and quiet. "Daddy's little girl,'' he said. "She was a lot smarter than me.'' She read half a dozen books over a vacation -- serious books. She was about to go away to college, so he turned to his younger daughter.
"Time is up,'' he told Michaela. "You're going to have to come to UConn games with me.''
His youngest loved food and watched the Food Channel with a passion. She made dinner the night before their home was invaded. The little vegetarian made her usual salad tossed with balsamic vinaigrette. She made a pasta with fresh ingredients.
"She was a wonderful, wonderful little girl,'' her father said. "She was going to grow up to be a beautiful woman.''
Petit's home life was that of a man pleasantly outnumbered by women. On Monday, that home was destroyed in every sense. Steven Hayes, 44, and Joshua Komisarjevsky, 26, are charged with breaking into the home and beating Petit with a baseball bat. They are accused of raping Jennifer Hawke-Petit and at least one of their daughters, strangling the mother and lighting the Sorghum Mill Drive house on fire. They left the girls to perish upstairs, one still tied to her bed while Petit -- having been tied up in the cellar -- managed to make it up the stairs and escape through the flames.
But this wasn't the day for bodies. The graves were filled Friday. This day was for memories, hanging as heavy in the air of the auditorium as the charcoal clouds outside.
People came from everywhere, from all over the country. Family and friends came, but so did strangers. As a spokeswoman for the family, Audrey Honig Geragosian, said, "People feel bad and want to do something. We gave them a place to be.''
Saturday's service started with the eloquence of a pastor used to speaking of loss and rebirth. The morning sun on Monday was darkened by smoke, the Rev. Richard Hawke said: "Three precious persons had lost their lives.'' This topic wasn't a distant one for Hawke. He is Jennifer Hawke-Petit's father, and she smiled from an enlarged photo over his left shoulder. "The earth was shaken, and darkness spread across the country.'' But to the upturned faces of the crowd -- many of the faces shiny with tears -- he insisted on a celebration of the lives.
A cousin read from a Beatles quote Hayley had marked down, from the song "In My Life,'' about the memory of people who populate a life: " ... some are dead and some are living; in my life, I've loved them all.''
The pastor of the family's Cheshire United Methodist Church, the Rev. Stephen Volpe, said, "There are no words that are adequate.'' He advised people not to think about what happened to them but to remember who they were. "We have much to rejoice about, because of the precious memories we have.''
William Petit's sister, Johanna Petit, said, "My brother Billy is a good, strong man. His wife, Jen, was equally good and strong.''
In quavering words, she expressed how obvious is the loss of her 17-year-old niece, who was so close to college and becoming a doctor like her father -- "Can you imagine what she could have done?'' -- but for younger Michaela, she said, "My heart aches.''
"If any good can come from this tragedy, it's going to have to come from you,'' she said to those at the service. "It's going to have to come from all of us.''
More friends and relatives stood to speak, to say they would never be whole again, to stumble with present-tense statements that haven't yet turned to the past. "She is'' instead of "She was.'' The room was all whys and few answers.
When Petit rose, his face was marked, his forehead creased by a healing wound. He didn't talk about Monday. He talked about the idyllic family life he had until Monday. He talked for 20 minutes and didn't waver more than a few brief moments -- a dam of composure.
As Petit spoke, the answer to how he will go on became more clear. He'll do it with the same strength it takes to share memories with hundreds of people about his family, his family lost in an explosion of unthinkable violence.
"I guess if there is anything to be gained from the senseless deaths of my beautiful family, it's for us all to go forward with the inclination to live with a faith that embodies action, help a neighbor, fight for a cause, love your family.'' Live well, he told them. And, he said, "spread the work of these three wonderful women.''
At memorial services, people don't clap. But when Petit finished, applause burst out. The people showered him with applause, loud and long, hundreds of people promising that in that moment, he wasn't alone.
Contact Jesse Hamilton at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From an essay by Hayley Petit on her dad:
"I was always fascinated when he strode confidently into a patient's room, talked to them for a few minutes, and recommended a treatment. I clearly remember how he always made the patients laugh ... His presence made the hospital seem a fortress and anyone within its walls safe.''