Sobs mingled with laughter, and smiles with tears Saturday morning at the Holy Bible Baptist Church in Somerville, where the pews overflowed with more than 400 people gathered to mourn the loss of 27-year-old Jeanica Julce, who died in a tragic boating crash earlier this month.
Early on the morning of July 17, Julce, who lived in Somerville, was riding aboard a center console boat, which struck a navigational marker in the Boston harbor and sent all eight passengers overboard. Of the eight, only Julce did not survive, and an investigation into her death is ongoing.
In the church Saturday morning, whispered prayers and conversations in English, French, and Haitian Creole floated up to the arched ceilings of the church throughout the service, the hush broken only by emphatic “Amens” and the powerful chorus of voices that rang out in hymns. Though most of the mourners were dressed head-to-toe in black, several women wore white dresses and suits, with hats and hairpieces, as is sometimes customary at Haitian funerals.
Jeanica’s father, Wilfrid Julce, stood stoically at the pulpit as he remembered his daughter.
His voice was somber but determined as he recalled the morning he and his wife learned of their daughter’s death, when the boat she was on struck a navigational marker. Knowing that she liked to “take frequent boating excursions,” he prayed that the overnight report of a missing boater wasn’t about her. But as call after call went to voicemail, he began to feel his hope slipping away.
“I was numb, immobile, speechless,” he said. “But God calls His children home once they have completed their purpose. Once completed, no one can change that.”
Wilfrid Julce described his daughter as his best friend, someone who taught him “to have a balanced approach to life.”
“If we should learn anything from Jeanica, it should be this: We build the courage to lead life for ourselves, not the life others want for us,” he said, and that should be a life where we “let ourselves be happy.”
He thought fondly of the day she organized his retirement party, he said, and regretted that she would no longer be around, smothering loved ones with kisses and “dancing her way out of life’s situations.”
He ended with a stern message for the teenagers and young adults in the pews: “Life is very fragile.”
“Young people, if you think you can do anything” with no consequences, he said, “believe me — Jeanica thought the same thing.”
Manouchka Julce, one of Jeanica’s many cousins, read from her obituary, recalling her time as a finance student at the University of Massachusetts Boston, her passion for travel, and her dream to eventually open her own dance studio.
Rebecca Occeus, another cousin, recounted memory after memory of her time growing up with Jeanica.
“We would make up dance routines and perform them,” Occeus said. “But it wasn’t just dance that she was good at — she was resilient.”
Occeus was one of many who spoke of a need to celebrate the fullness of Jeanica’s life, while others grieved its premature disappearance.
“How do you celebrate the life of a 27-year-old after her passing, when she was not even sick?” asked Pierre Eloi, a cousin of Jeanica’s father who described her as beautiful, talented, and insightful. “Some passings are made to grieve for; the sudden and tragic loss of Jeanica is one of them.”
To Jeanica’s four siblings, Eloi said, “Your suffering will be eternal, because you have lost the youngest among you.”
“But death is imminent,” he said. “Only through prayer and grace may we withstand its avalanche.”
Dozens of images of Jeanica, from early childhood through her college years, adorned the front of the church. In the background, more photos faded in and out of a video montage projected from two massive screens.
Her casket was barely visible beneath a mountain of pink and white roses, with more flowers cascading down the sides and onto the altar.
Mourners passed out several mementos during the service, including a laminated card with Jeanica’s yearbook picture and a pin that showed her grinning widely, arms outstretched before a mural of black-and-white butterfly wings. Wearing white, her head tilted up toward the sky.
Eloi, the last to give a eulogy, closed with a prayer that Jeanica’s soul would return to its maker, before pausing to offer a tiny smile.
“In fact,” he said, “it already has.”