Friends and family gathered to say goodbye to Craig Strickland on Tuesday, a little over two weeks after he set out on an ill-fated hunting trip in winter storm Goliath.
The 29-year-old singer’s memorial service was webcast live from Cross Church, in Rogers, Arkansas.
In a pre-taped video that played during the funeral, Strickland’s widow Helen recalled the first time she met her late husband.
“As I walk through this exceedingly difficult and painful situation, I know that I am just getting started on my path of grief,” she said.
Strickland’s family also shared memories about him. “We had such a special relationship, such a bond,” his dad Randy said. “My son allowed me to share in his life and I really think that’s what he did for all of y’all. He invited you in. He was passionate and loving and caring.”
Randy also shared words of support for his daughter-in-law, telling her she “will always be part of our family.”
Strickland was buried earlier in the day, Helen revealed, posting a photo of a letter she had tucked into the pocket of her late husband’s jacket.
“I love you with all my heart,” she wrote. “I will miss doing life with you on this earth. You were my person and are the love of my earthly life. Thank you for sharing the last few years you had with me. I know you are in better hands than mine. The Lord is taking care of you, and loves you more than I could ever imagine. I can’t wait to see you again in heaven. I love you … I can’t say that enough. I will see you soon.”
“Today I buried my husband. This is a picture of the letter I put in his jacket pocket. I love him with every part of my heart, but I love our God more … and I know my God loves Craig and I more than we could ever imagine. Therefore, God has a purpose. He makes everything beautiful in its time.”
She continued, “Craig established relationships with each of us so that he could see us again. So let us love one another like Craig did. Let us pray for strangers. And let us establish relationships with one another with the goal of establishing Christ-like relationships so that we can see each other again in heaven.”
“It is not what we intend our lives to be, but what He intends for our lives.” (C.S. Lewis),” Helen posted on Instagram on Thursday. “Well Craig Michael, look at what amazing things God intended for your life. I am so proud of you and the impact you have had on this world.”
Authorities in Oklahoma searched for Strickland for more than a week after he and his friend Chase Morland went missing while on a duck hunting trip at Kaw Lake in Kay County on Dec. 27.
Morland’s body and their capsized boat were found on Dec. 28, along with Strickland’s dog Sam. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol recovered Strickland’s body a week later, on Jan. 4. Strickland was found in a thick tree and brush area 75 feet from the water.
“Craig was found today. We can finally rest knowing that he is at home in heaven with his father,” Helen wrote at the time. “The night of the accident he had fought his way out of the water and up a hill before the stages of hypothermia set in. He experienced no pain in his final moments and simply felt like he was falling asleep. They found him lying in the shape of a cross looking up to his father.”
“Today we lost our brother, our best friend, our bandmate. Craig was the most amazing person whose passion for life couldn’t be matched,” the country band wrote under a group photo. “Thankful to know he fought his way from the water to a hill and was lying in the shape of a cross on his back looking up to his Heavenly Father.”
Just days before the pair went missing, Morland posted an ominous tweet that foreshadowed their disappearance.
“In case we don’t come back, @BackroadCRAIG and I are going right through Winter Storm Goliath to kill ducks in Oklahoma. #IntoTheStorm,” Morland tweeted.
Following the service Tuesday evening, Helen posted a note of appreciation.
“Thank you to everyone who watched the memorial service, either physically present or via webcast, tonight. I wish I could thank and hug each of you individually. But for now, all I can do is say thank you and I love you. Because of your love and prayers I know I can get through this. Thank you for loving my husband. He cared so much about all of you. Thank you CrossChurch Staff and Sisco funeral home for the countless hours you put into this service. You paid attention to every detail which allowed our family to not worry about a thing. Thank you to Shiloh Christian School for serving our family and providing food for so many people. Thank you to everyone who sent donations and flowers. Our family feels so loved and blessed. @barrettbaber thank you for the wonderful performance you shared. It was so special. @awmen @nickfloyd8 @davidmckinneyjr and @backroadanthem for putting together the most perfect service to honor Craig. It truly touched so many people. I am already hearing stories of saved lives.”
“She continued, “I love you Craig Michael, I’m thankful you’re with our Heavenly Father and everything is complete. I will do everything I can to carry on your legacy of establishing relationships and loving people. “I have come to realize that relationships are the the only thing we can take with us to heaven.”