For Peggy Haley, faith was a central part of life and Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Alexandria was a base from which she put her faith into practice.
Yesterday, Haley's husband and the couple's 11 children sat in the auditorium-like chapel of the church with more than 1,000 people--friends, family and some who hardly knew the woman so many called "a saint"--to remember and celebrate her life in a Mass of the Resurrection.
On her way to a church meeting Wednesday evening, Haley's late-model Subaru was struck head-on by a speeding car on a section of the tree-lined Mount Vernon Highway that locals call "dead man's curve," police said. Haley, 55, was killed instantly, according to authorities.
Essentially, the message of yesterday's service of prayer and songs sung to banjos, folk guitars and a flute was that Peggy Haley was special and that her life of giving had made a difference.
Along with her husband of 33 years, Richard, she helped bring a program to her church designed to foster more togetherness among married couples through prayer and fellowship.
The day she died Haley was on her way from the church to learn how to operate a coffee machine so the weekend's meeting wouldn't be without coffee.
"There was a shock, sadness and loss felt (when we learned of her death)," said the Rev. Jerry Creedon, pastor of the church. "But the emphasis today was on faith. The Mass was to celebrate her life."
That's the way her family, also very active in the church, wanted it.
"It's real hard to be sad when you know how happy she is," Michele Haley, 23, said of her mother. "We've cried choking-up tears, will-miss-her tears, but they were never gosh-I-wonder-where-she-is tears."
She said she remembers so clearly how her mother, who had a zest for life, would rejoice at funerals, teaching her that death is not an end but a beginning.
"If anybody was ready to die and be with God, she was," said Bill Metcalfe, who Michele Haley will marry next month at Good Shepherd. "It was where she always wanted to be. And because I know that, the fact that her funeral will be so close to our wedding doesn't bother me."
Those who knew her best said Haley liked things simple.
"One of her biggest struggles was over not getting carried away with material things," Michele Haley said. "She thought that having too many things took away from a relationship with God."
Standing before the gathering, Richard Haley, 59, a retired Air Force officer and department director of science and technology at the Army Development and Readiness Command, described his wife as a deeply religious woman who kept a Bible in every room of the house, in the car, in her purse. She also kept journals and slips of paper scribbled with words she found inspirational.
"He will not fail or abandon you until you have finished all the work in the service of the Lord," Haley read, quoting a passage found in his wife's purse the day she died.
"God," Haley said slowly, "wanted Peggy more than we were privileged to keep her."