Ryan Remiorz / The Canadian Press / AP
In addition to holding the funeral at Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica – the same place where they said “I Do” 21 years ago – both events began the same way: with Dion’s niece and nephew leading the way down the aisle.
At the wedding, Jimmy – the son of Dion’s brother Jacques – was the ring bearer, and his cousin Audrey – the daughter of Dion’s sister Ghislaine – was the flower girl. So when it came time to commemorate Angélil at his funeral Friday, the niece and nephew duo, both now 29, led the processional to the front of the basilica. Audrey pushed Jimmy (who was left quadriplegic after an accident) in a wheelchair up to the casket, while Jimmy carried the pillow he toted 21 years prior with the couple’s wedding rings.
Olivier Samson Arcand / OSAIMAGES / Feeling Productions Inc. via Getty
Angélil died two days before his 74th birthday on Jan. 14, after a years-long battle with cancer. Before his death, the music manager planned his own memorial and funeral to ease the burden on his widow.
“René was generous enough to prepare all of this since the last few months with Céline,” Dion’s longtime stylist and friend Annie Horth says in the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now. “He didn’t know when it would happen, but he really wanted everything to be already prepared.”
The family after the funeral
Thursday, thousands of fans waited hours in the freezing cold to attend his public visitation at the basilica, where Dion stayed in a receiving line all day as mourners paid their respects.
Then, Friday, hundreds of close family and friends returned to the basilica for the poignant funeral service, which included songs of Dion’s selected by Angélil, including one of their favorites, “All the Way.” Angélil also decided that the family would proceed into the church right at 3:20 p.m., right as Dion’s song “Trois Heures Vingt” (translation: three and 20 hours) was played.
Celine Dion on the cover of PEOPLE
Despite Dion’s heartbreak – her brother Daniel died of cancer two days after her husband’s death, with his memorial the day after élil’s funeral – the outpouring of love from fans around the world gives her strength.
“The support we’ve received has been such a blessing,” she told PEOPLE Thursday at Angélil’s wake.