PALM BEACH, Fla. — Former First Lady Melania Trump on Thursday remembered her mother as "a ray of light in the darkest of days" during a funeral service at a church not far from the family’s Mar-a-Lago estate.
The former first lady said she always found peace in the presence of her mother, Amalija Knavs, 78, and that her mother was always there to listen.
"In her presence, the world seemed to shimmer with radiance and joy," Melania Trump said during a eulogy as her husband, former President Donald Trump, sat nearby. "Our bond was unbreakable."
The former first lady said her mother celebrated her family's triumphs and supported them during difficult times. She said she would remember the laughter that accompanied travels with her mother, father and sister and "conversations that flowed effortlessly with grace and charm."
"Rest in peace my beloved mother," Melania Trump said before stepping down from the pulpit.
She then stood in front of her mother's casket, touched her fingers to her lips and placed them on the casket.
Among the guests who arrived before the start of the private service for Knavs at The Episcopal Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea were two of Donald Trump's children from previous marriages, Tiffany Trump and Ivanka Trump; Ivanka Trump's husband, Jared Kushner; and Republican U.S. Sens. Rick Scott of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.
The church is where Trump and his wife were married in 2005. Knavs died Jan. 9 in Miami after an undisclosed illness.
At midmorning, a hearse pulled up in front of the church followed by an SUV carrying the former president and first lady and two other vehicles with their Secret Service detail. Wearing a black dress and sunglasses, Melania Trump and her father, Viktor Knavs, led a procession up to the church, followed by the former president and their son, Barron.
They then waited on the steps of the church as the coffin was lifted from the hearse and taken into the church.
After the service, a priest waved an urn of incense and a man held up a cross as the coffin was carried out of the church, followed by Melania Trump and her father, and then Donald Trump and their son, Barron.
After the coffin was placed in the hearse, the former president and first lady exchanged pleasantries with the priest. Donald Trump led his wife to an SUV with her father, and then he got into a separate vehicle.
During the Trump presidency, the first lady's mother lived in New York along with her father and occasionally appeared at the White House. Amalija Knavs was at a 2018 ceremony where the first lady debuted her "Be Best" public awareness campaign to help children.
The Knavses raised Melania, born Melanija, and her older sister, Ines, in the rural industrial town of Sevnica while Slovenia was under Communist rule as part of Yugoslavia. Amalija Knavs was a textile worker and homemaker, while her husband worked as chauffeur before becoming a car dealer.
The former first lady, 53, attended high school in the Slovenian capital, Ljubljana, and changed her name to Melania Knauss when she started modeling. She settled in New York in 1996 and met Trump in 1998.
She sponsored her parents' immigration to the United States, and they became citizens at a New York City courthouse in 2018, while Trump was president.
Their lawyer said at the time that they applied for citizenship on their own and didn't get any special treatment.
Donald Trump spent Tuesday and Wednesday attending a defamation trial in New York to determine how much he owes former advice columnist E. Jean Carroll for publicly disparaging her after she accused him of rape. Trump's lawyers had asked the judge to delay the trial for a day to allow him to attend the funeral, but that request was denied. Trump chose to skip Thursday’s court session rather than miss the funeral or move it to Friday when the trial isn’t scheduled to be in session.
Associated Press writer Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida, contributed to this report.