Arriving for the funeral mass at St. Rita's, friends of Brancheau, 40, recalled a woman whose life was cut short doing the very thing she loved most – working with whales.
"It's a very, very sad thing," family friend Michael VanWagner told the local CBS station WBBM-TV. "She's going to be missed by hundreds of people. It's a horrible thing."
Illinois state Rep. Michael Zalewski added: "It's pretty evident from everybody you talk to that she died doing exactly what she loved doing. I think it's important that everyone comes out and remembers that. She was very happy in her profession."
Brancheau, who had worked with killer whales for 16 years, was pulled underwater by a 12,000-pound male whale named Tilikum and drowned on Feb. 24.
Brancheau grew up in northwest Indiana but had strong family ties to Chicago. The burial was due to take place later on Monday in Alsip, Ill.