CAMBRIDGE — For an hour Saturday, Juliet Noel Macchi’s family and friends tried to squeeze into a memorial service a life that was too brief, but so full.
“Let Juliet give you a gift in her death,” the Rev. Ann Stevenson told those who gathered in Memorial Church in Harvard Yard. “Life is fragile and very precious,” Stevenson added, and “it is not to be lived fearfully, not following our dreams.”
Through the example of her 23 years, Macchi taught that lesson over and over, and did so again Saturday through the recollections of others.
Her sister and brother, a cousin and a close friend, and Macchi’s college roommates talked about a woman who loved and lived passionately. She felt most free floating through the air skydiving, and yet might just as readily stay still in an uncomfortable position for hours recording sound for a friend’s film. Embracing contradictions, she supervised a dorm cleaning crew, but let her own space grow so messy she needed help from her mother, Susan R. Macchi, to restore order.
Susan and Juliet Macchi were killed in a head-on collision in Plymouth Sept. 22 while returning home to Carver from a Red Sox game. The off-duty state trooper who was driving the other car has been cited for drunken driving.
“Sometimes this grief feels completely intolerable. We have lost our dearest friend,” said Marina Connelly, one of Macchi’s college roommates.
“It is an extraordinary gift when one’s friends becomes one’s family,” said Maggie Geoga, Macchi’s other roommate.
For friends and family, death brought searing pain. “It hurts,” said Juliet’s cousin Adeline Stupin. “It really hurts.” The two bonded “over our mutual love of literature,” said Stupin, who sought solace in “Pride and Prejudice,” one of Macchi’s favorite books, in which Jane Austen writes: “Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure.”
Although Macchi could be given to “random, fleeting obsessions,” Stupin said, skydiving was an enduring pursuit.
“Every time I go up it gets easier,” Macchi said in a March 2012 student speech at Harvard’s Lowell House, where she lived. “The fear lessens, but the excitement stays the same. When I get up to 14,000 feet and I’m hanging on the outside of the plane, that’s the part I come for, that expectant heart flutter when you think to yourself, ‘Yes, I’m about to jump out of a perfectly good airplane and plummet towards the earth.’ ”
In the same speech, posted online in a video, she spoke of having no immediate plans after her 2012 Harvard graduation, though of late she settled on moving to California to work in the film industry’s sound recording field.
“I wanted to actually go with the flow,” Macchi said in the video. “Not the everyday, you know, situational type flow, but the current of life. I wanted the chance to be swept along by events beyond my control, to stop worrying about what was right, or the smart thing to do, and give myself a chance to breathe, to get to know the person I’ve become.”
The person she became was tenacious and generous, and “that generous nature of hers we can all emulate,” said her brother Richard Macchi, adding: “Juliet, you will always be in my heart.”
“Juliet always made me feel loved,” said her younger sister Lilliana Wells, who recalled that her older sister always wore a ring, and maybe two, on every finger, and that her laughter was loud, infectious, and unforgettable.
At the end of the service, Stevenson mentioned that her brother also had been killed years ago “in a car accident that was not his fault.”
Friends have said Macchi and her mother, who were very close, had planned to move to California together. If death arrives suddenly, Stevenson said, “it is not a bad thing” to die with a beloved mother, a beloved daughter.
“Juliet said the important things. She said, ‘I love you,’ and always with a smile,” recalled Connelly, who suggested that perhaps what everyone in the church “should say now is we love her, and we always will.”