Five days after his two young sons were found dead in a bathtub, Curtis McConnell gripped both sides of the podium at his church Saturday and told 500 mourners what he'll remember most about his boys was what they gave back.
"As every parent knows, the most pure thing is a child's love," Mr. McConnell, 31, said in a service held under the vaulted ceiling at Calvary Baptist Church to remember the lives of sons Connor, 2, and Jayden, 10 months.
"When they put their head down on you, it's so wonderful, so strong," he said.
"I'm going to miss them. The pain is so strong, but I wouldn't trade one memory away no matter the pain. The memories are so filled with joy."
The deaths of the boys in the nearby town of Millet, 40 kilometres south of Edmonton, shocked and rallied the community. The story made headlines nationally and in distant Australia.
More than 100 people came out for a candlelight vigil in Millet Friday, and there have been more than 13,000 postings in a tribute to the boys on Facebook.
The pair were found in the tub of the family home by Mr. McConnell on Monday afternoon, shortly after a woman tried to kill herself by jumping off an expressway overpass in nearby Edmonton.
Police have not identified the woman. Some media outlets have reported the woman was Mr. McConnell's estranged wife, Allyson McConnell.
A family friend said Mr. McConnell indicated he was contacted by Edmonton police Monday who told him Ms. McConnell was in hospital.
Mr. McConnell told a neighbour he found the boys floating in a tub of water.
Police have not released a cause of death.
Nobody has been arrested or charged in the deaths, but police have said they are investigating the deaths as homicides.
The boy's bodies were not at the service. Burial had already taken place at the Millet cemetery.
Ms. McConnell, 31, was not seen at the funeral, but officiating Rev. Tim Wray urged mourners to have mercy on the woman who was by all accounts a loving mother.
"Who knew she was living in such a place of darkness," said Mr. Wray. "I plead with you all to be merciful, as God is merciful."
Ms. McConnell, who was engaged in a nasty custody battle with Mr. McConnell for the boys when they were killed, was seen in a few family photos flashed on the wall on a preservice slide presentation, but was not mentioned in the program, though her Australian family was.
"Connor and Jayden will never be forgotten by their loving family: dad Curtis, grandparents Jim and Audrey McConnell, great-grandfather Reiny Pohl, uncle and auntie Jason and Ronalee McConnell and the Meager family from Australia," read the program.
Ronalee McConnell read out tributes from grandfather Jim McConnell, who remembered the joy he felt holding Connor minutes after the boy was born - his first grandson.
He remembered giving him rides around the farm, feeding him at the high chair, sitting on his lap and playing with a sticker book.
Grandmother Audrey, in a tribute also read out by Ronalee, said Connor loved to repeat words back. They called him the "little parrot."
When Jayden was born, the overexcited Connor couldn't wait to meet him, she said. "He was trying to hug [Jayden]but as usual it ended up in a head bang."
Jayden had just learned to sit up and was starting to crawl, she said.
"We loved you both so much it hurt."
Court documents show the McConnells met in her native Australia in 2005, fell in love and were married in January, 2007, six months before Connor was born.
He worked at a hardware store, she did the books for an oil company. They bought a home in Millet.
Jayden came along in March, 2009, but in the months that followed the marriage hit the skids.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, Mr. McConnell took to sleeping in another part of the house and eventually left to live at his parents' place nearby.
Ms. McConnell wanted to take the kids back to Australia, and eventually petitioned the court to let her do so, saying she would have family support and better job prospects there. Curtis petitioned the court to fight that, and took away the children's passports to make sure they didn't leave the country.
In December a judge ordered the children be kept in Alberta until the matter could be resolved.
Both sides appeared intractable. Mr. McConnell, in the documents, wanted joint custody, but demanded sole custody if she moved to Australia. If she lost, Ms. McConnell faced a dilemma: life in an alien land tied to a man she could no longer abide, or home to Australia, to the embrace of a family, but with her boys out of her life, half a world away.
In the hall outside the church, there were tables of photos: Connor wearing his blue Thomas the Tank Engine pyjamas, hand to his mouth flashing an uneven row of white baby teeth; Jayden, blue eyes wide, looking right into the camera, his smile propping up two droopy cheeks of baby fat, a sheen of drool on his chin.
The slide presentation depicted the best of times: one boy in an Edmonton Oilers tuque, another in a Santa outfit, one in a duck costume, one on the dressing table, clad only in a diaper, tiny mitts and saucer eyes.
There were pictures of the boys with Ms. McConnell, with Mr. McConnell at the playground, sitting on grandma's lap at storytime. There were pictures of the boys together, lying side by side, another with Connor feeding Jayden a bottle.
And finally, there was Connor with a big grin, looking into the camera, waving a yellow toy, sitting in his bathtub.