Céline Dion is coping with the loss of her beloved husband René Angélil, followed by the death of her brother just two days later. Click here for the full story, only in PEOPLE.
Family, friends and fans gathered at the Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal Thursday to mourn René Angélil.
“I understand that my career was in a way his masterpiece, his song, his symphony. The idea of leaving it unfinished would have hurt him terribly,” a quote from Dion read on the program. “I realized that if he ever left us, I would have to continue without him, for him.”
The award-winning singer dressed in all black and accepted hugs and kisses from hundreds of mourners. As classical music softly played over the stereo, she stood with Angélil’s sons Patrick and Jean-Pierre in a receiving line next to her late husband’s open casket.
Earlier in the morning, mourners began lining up outside the Canadian house of worship in 16-degree weather hours before its doors opened at 2 p.m. for the chapel of rest, during which loved ones paid their respects to the beloved Canadian music mainstay.
Fans also waited in front of the basilica, where a large portrait of Angélil was staged, as his close family and friends made their way inside to pay their respects.
PEOPLE spoke to Canadian TV personality and Dion and Angélil’s longtime friend Julie Snyder, who fondly recalled a few of Angélil’s favorite things (like Las Vegas entertainment) and his undying sense of wonder.
“He loved so much to eat and to enjoy the dinner and everything – and to see shows,” Snyder told PEOPLE ahead of the wake. “He would tell me, ‘Do you know we have the chance to be in the first row at Oprah Winfrey?’ When we were at the American Music Awards, ‘Do you realize, Julie, we are in the third row at the American Music Awards? Do you realize we are in the fifth row at the Grammys? Five, it’s my lucky number!’ Every time, he was excited. It’s what I miss the most. I felt that man was younger than me because he was excited like a teenager.”
Snyder also remembered Angélil’s enduring love and devotion for his wife.
“He was so proud of her. ‘Did you hear Céline last night? Did you see that? She was so great! She hit the note!'” Snyder says. “He was still impressed with Céline. He was still telling me, ‘You know, she’s singing very well.'”
Dion’s talent and success were his biggest points of pride since the beginning, Snyder said.
“The first time she made a big show at the Caesars Palace, before The Colosseum, I was there, and he was so proud to see all the billboards and everything with Céline on it. It was a dream more for him, I think, than for her, the first time,” Snyder told reporters. “Now she’s the queen of the strip, but at that time, he was so excited. He was like a little kid. He was crying in front of the billboard, telling me, ‘Look at that! Look at that!'”
For much more on Dion and Angélil’s love story and how the singer is focusing on the couple’s children, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
The Notre-Dame Basilica – which seats 3,200 at maximum capacity – has been preparing for Angélil’s commemoration. On Wednesday, a maintenance worker was spotted cleaning the pews on the top balcony. And tours of the historic parish, which was founded in 1642, have been put on hold until Saturday.
Angélil’s funeral – which he helped Dion plan before his death – is set for Friday at 3 p.m.