Rain fell gently as mourners streamed through the Palo Alto High gymnasium's doors, greeting each other with tight hugs and quiet words of comfort.
Inside, people mingled around tables arranged with flickering candles, cheerful bouquets and cards to share a handwritten message or favorite memory. Dozens of pictures adorned the walls memorializing high school graduations, family hiking trips, posed Christmas portraits and candid embraces.
"Incredible photos," one man said softly to himself, leaning in close.
Everywhere the smiling faces of Grace Spiridon and Greg Ammen could be seen, beaming out from frames, photo garlands and a wall-sized slideshow. Spiridon and Ammen, who were killed in a Redwood City car collision on Nov. 4, were remembered as loyal friends, beloved children and adoring parents.
"I know I share a sense with others here that the loss is so great I'll never be the same, and I don't want to be," said Maura McCarthy, a longtime friend of Spiridon's. McCarthy, who flew in from Washington, D.C., addressed the crowd from a stage overflowing with red poinsettias.
"I want to pull from Grace's quiet resolve and Greg and Grace's kindness and joy for each other, their children, their family, their life — and try to live mine in a way that would make them proud."
The memorial, which took place Saturday afternoon, Dec. 3, was an outpouring of love and grief, the pain still fresh a month after the couple's tragic death. Spiridon and Ammen, 42 and 44, were Palo Alto natives and residents of San Carlos at the time of their death and left behind 7-year-old twin daughters, Madison and Olivia, who miraculously survived the collision.
Some 300 relatives, childhood friends, former teachers and fellow parents from around the Bay Area and as far away as Italy, attended the service, which was, for many, both an emotional reunion and a reflection of what they described as Ammen and Spiridon's gift for bringing people together.
"It's kind of incredible how many people turned up," Mike Ammen, Greg's younger brother, told this news organization after the memorial. "Each era of their life was well-represented … which was a testament to who they were."
For an hour and a half, friends and family took to the stage and recounted stories of shared childhood dreams, lifelong friendships and parenthood trials and joys. From the chairs on the gym floor to the bleachers on either side, people listened intently, many huddled close together, holding hands, squeezing shoulders and wiping away tears.
Paul Rosenbloom, whose friendship with Ammen dated back to youth soccer, said Ammen was a central figure in their group of friends, which they called the "Redhead Posse" — or, he joked, the "Redhead Posse (and Greg)." He described Ammen as a "true collaborator" and "discerning connoisseur" who became a role model for living a healthy, balanced life.
"He brought us along, showed us new ways in food, music, sporting activities, you name it," he said. Rosenbloom remembered running the Bay to Breakers race several times under the careful guidance of Ammen.
"I was 31. I needed to kick the pesky cigarette habit … I looked at Greg for inspiration with his running practice," he said. "He was a super patient teacher, and he took me under his wing to get ready … And on race day he was right there alongside me, every step of the way."
McCarthy, who met Spiridon when they were only 8 or 9 years old, painted a picture of a lifelong confidante, a fashion counselor, the consummate host and a sensitive and attentive friend. McCarthy described Spiridon's sage advice and unconditional generosity for her friends, which she said was often accompanied by her characteristic giggle and a twinkle of mischievousness in her eye.
From curating lists of eighth-grade crushes to sharing Thanksgivings and Christmases with their growing families, McCarthy said she and Spiridon became inextricable parts of each others' lives.
"An entry from our 1996 yearbook, written on these grounds, ends with, 'Promise me you will never die or move because what happens to you will happen to me,'" she said. "Grace, with all of the teenage flair for the dramatic, in a small way was right. What happens to her figuratively feels like it's happening to me."
"I feel less like myself without her," McCarthy added, emotion catching in her throat.
Arne Lim, one of the math teachers from Palo Alto High School, told this news organization that he was particularly fond of Spiridon's class because of the "spectacular friendships" that he watched form.
"I could see they would be friends for life. And they're here," he said, gesturing around the room. "That's how tightly knit this group of friends was — if someone's injured, everyone's injured."
Messages of love and admiration filled the pages of albums dedicated to Ammen and Spiridon, who were described as "indelible gifts" and "lights" within their communities. Mourners wrote tributes expressing disbelief and devastation about the "immeasurable loss," a reality that many said they were still struggling to comprehend.
Several speakers voiced a desire to carry on the couple's legacy of positivity and selfless leadership. Other attendees said they came to show support for the family and the daughters, whom they described as the center of Ammen and Spiridon's life. Another friend, Sean Tabor, sang a heartfelt rendition of Garth Brooks' "If Tomorrow Never Comes."
"We are so grateful that the Spiridon and Ammen families would be so generous as to open their hearts during this time and allow us to all come together in remembrance, for a collective hug and a reunion of a community in honor of Grace and Greg," said Mike Stone, a longtime friend of the couple. "To the families, we thank you for this."
For him, Mike Ammen called the memorial "a celebration." He encouraged people to laugh, to cry, to smile, to greet old friends and make new ones.
"We were all friends of Greg and Grace. This is the party they would have attended, I think. They're looking down from above, and they're smiling on all of us," he said.
"We have the ability to rectify this universal tragedy," he continued. "Greg and Grace were love and light incarnate. I believe that each and every one of you carry their positivity and love forward into the world. Be kinder to everyone around you. For at the end of the day, there is only love."
The couple is survived by Ammen's parents, Chris and Adrienne Ammen; brother, Michael Ammen; Spiridon's mother, Nana Spiridon; sister, Liza Spiridon; and many other friends and family members.