Michelle Paquette's family planned her unexpected funeral last week without knowing how the 57-year-old middle school teacher died.
On Thursday, ahead of a celebration of life at a funeral home in Plaistow, her loved ones explained that they're awaiting autopsy results with heavy hearts.
Paquette died at home "from natural causes after being stricken" on May 18, according to her obituary. Beyond that, her husband, adult-children and local family members aren't sure exactly what happened.
"It was sudden," said her oldest daughter, Megan Shanahan, 28.
Among the many locals waiting for answers about Paquette's death are the staff and seventh- and eighth-graders at Hunking School. They all expected to be greeted by her on Monday morning of last week at school, as usual.
Instead, they lowered the flag in front of the school to half-staff, and were encouraged to ask questions and talk about the sudden loss with 15 counselors and teachers brought in from across Haverhill public schools.
Hunking Principal Shannon Nolan, who worked alongside Paquette during the last four years, said her colleague was "the most loving mother" to her own children and the hundreds of students she taught over her 21-year teaching career.
"She lit up talking about her kids. She was so proud of everything they did," Nolan said. "She was someone who was always loyal. She always brought comfort and happiness. The staff, they speak of her — then and now — as always bringing a smile to people's faces."
During an exercise in sharing stories this week, Paquette's students described their late-teacher as a mother figure who always encouraged the best in each of them, according to Nolan.
"Students often said she made them feel important and loved, and at times could be funny when they needed a laugh," she said.
That caring sentiment radiated at home, Paquette's daughter said.
"She was very, very laid back," Shanahan said. "She was down-to-earth about anything."
Paquette was happiest with her beloved dogs and family on their boat, docked on Ossipee Lake in New Hampshire.
She loved most things in the sunshine: Her pool, hot tub, country music and summertime concerts.
Remembered as a devoted wife and mother, Paquette enjoyed cooking and hosting people she loved in her home.
In the community, she would volunteer at the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center in Haverhill, a salute to her now 26-year-old son stationed in San Diego with the U.S. Navy.
She is also missed by her husband, Normand Paquette of Haverhill, younger daughter Kara Shanahan, 24; stepson Nick Paquette, 29; mother Mona Stinson of Haverhill; father Frederick McGovern and his wife, Patricia, of Salem, Massachusetts; brother Joseph McGovern; and several aunts, uncles, and cousins.
The family asks that donations be made in her name to the Veterans Northeast Outreach Center, 10 Reed St.