Joey Bartolomeo
March 05, 2012 12:00 PM

Dozens of celebrities attended. Millions of fans watched on television and online. But though it paid tribute to a woman who spent most of her life in the spotlight, Whitney Houston’s funeral celebrated the person behind the pop star. “It felt very real,” Pastor Marvin Winans, who delivered the eulogy, says of the Feb. 18 “home-going” at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, N.J., where young “Nippy” once sang in the choir. Speakers such as Kevin Costner, Houston’s costar in The Bodyguard, elicited tears and laughter during the nearly four-hour service, which concluded with her signature song, “I Will Always Love You.” Says Houston’s longtime hairstylist Ellin LaVar: “The church fell into each other’s arms. It was like one last big hug from her.”

A Daughter’s Grief

As Houston’s daughter Bobbi Kristina adjusts to life without her mom (“They were like best friends,” says a record exec who worked with the singer), the grieving 18-year-old is being watched over by her extended family, including her grandmother Cissy, 78, uncle Gary and aunt Pat. “Bobbi Kristina will not suffer any shortage of support,” says the exec. She also still has her father, Bobby Brown, 43, who traveled to New Jersey to attend his ex-wife’s funeral. However, Brown left the church early on, he claims, after he and his family were asked to move their seats. “Security then prevented me from attempting to see my daughter,” Brown told PEOPLE in a statement. A source says “Krissi” didn’t notice: “She didn’t have time to focus on that. She was focused on the gold [casket].” While sources dispute a report that Krissi disappeared after the funeral and used drugs, there is still concern for her well-being in the wake of Houston’s death. “She is struggling like any child who has lost her mom,” says hairstylist LaVar. Adds another source: “It’s hard for her right now, but she hasn’t been taking drugs, and she’s not trying to kill herself.” Though it is still unclear when the aspiring singer (“She has a better voice than her mom,” Bobby Brown told PEOPLE last year) will return home to Atlanta, LaVar believes there is a brighter future ahead for her: “She is a strong girl. I think with support she will make it through this.”

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