For my sister-in-law Tracey
A few minutes to encompass 32 years of love and friendship can’t be done, but as you asked me to speak here today Tracey, I promise to give it my best shot and I promise I’ll try not to let you down.
Holding your memory in the forefront of my thoughts since you left us, allowing me to write this has been easy. Letting you go so I can continue my life without you will be next to impossible.
Now I’ve spoken to Tracey perhaps you’ll forgive me for attempting to let Tracey have her say here today. I think Tracey may have wanted to talk about, ‘the big C’.
And what Tracey would have wanted you all to know about ‘the big C’ is that everyone assembled here today...is a big C!
Collectively, you’re a bunch of C’s! And if she was here she’d gladly say it to your face.
This eulogy will have to be about beginnings and endings. Which is quite appropriate as Tracey was, in my mind, the be all and end all of what a friend should be.
Why the beginning and end? Because the rest, although memorable, was just life.
Life can be routine, repetitive and mundane.
Since Tracey’s passing, I’ve been thinking about what it is to be alive?
Not just going through the motions of life, but truly alive.
On rare occasions the passions and events in our lives make our emotions exciting, visceral and sometimes overwhelming.
Well, for me, those instances are indelibly linked to the people most important to me. The excitement of falling in love with Mandy.
The joy and unconditional love I felt at the birth of our boys, Joe and Harry.
And the utter desperation, and suffocating sense of loss, at Tracey’s death. This is what it must feel like to drown.
After Tracey’s death I found myself doing things just to cause myself more grief, more pain and more distress.
Trying to understand what I was doing to myself has been a difficult lesson to learn. I wanted to suffer the pain just to be closer to her and to remind me how special Tracey was and just what I had lost.
My anguish at the time, and still now, was almost unbearable, served to reminded me just how much she meant and how utterly devastated I feel now she’s gone.
I’ve probably spent far too much time on my feelings and not on what a eulogy should be about which is trying to sum up, what one of the single most important people I’ll ever love meant to me, and to us all.
This goes to the very heart of our relationship and why I’m standing here stumbling over my words and baring my soul for the loss of a friendship that’s left me in such emotional turmoil, a friendship I could never replicate or would even bother to try.
There are but a handful of people who could make me feel so completely bereft for what I’ve lost.
To me, that’s the very reason I’m sharing how I feel, not so you feel sorry for me, because that’s unimportant. All this emotion and grief is just a reflection of what an incredible person she was and the effect she has had on my life.
Let me try to explain to you all how, and why, a 14 year old teenage girl who I first set eyes on, in 1985, in Chatham football grounds, who was so cheeky and full of life, hell raising, rebellious and beautiful, (just how she is in that picture), came to mean everything to me.
It would have been easy to have immediately resented Tracey’s rightful position in Mandy’s life, one that would keep my new girlfriend's attention, sometimes focused elsewhere, when it might have been devoted all to me.
Some of Tracey’s antics back then could take up quite some time with the trouble and concern she caused her family, with her dubious choice of pleasures, and her even poorer choices of male company.
In any case Mandy and Tracey came together as a pair. Put simply it was a package deal. Mandy’s devotion to her pain-in-the-arse kid sister and their love for each other, plus Mandy’s motherly instincts towards protecting and caring for Tracey, weren’t about to end due to my arrival on the scene and rightly so.
Not that any of that would affect our friendship forming anyway, not from my point of view in any case. Tracey always was beguiling.
I guess we just clicked pretty quickly. I think she liked me for some reason. It helped that we shared a few things in common. Our love for Mandy being the main one to start.
We also shared a wicked and gleeful delight in a dark sense of humour. Tracey always laughed at my jokes, especially the unsavoury stuff.
Plus we met at an important time in most people’s lives - our formative years. A time when our opinions about life are shaped and when life-long friendships are forged.
We all remember our first love. The music from our adolescent years never leaves us. And your teenage friends seem to be the closest and most important.
Up until 3 weeks ago how lucky was I, that I still had all of those things in my life? And I also have to realize just how lucky I have been for all that time, that our friendship formed and my love for Tracey grew because my best friends were sisters and inseparable best friends themselves.
Having dismissed the mundane, every day, routine of life, it is the daily patterns of our lives and those shared experiences, common goals, hopes and dreams that really shape our feeling toward one another.
Raising our kids together so that cousins, I hope, think of each other as brothers and sisters. Aunties and Uncles as parents.
Making each other’s homes, a home from home for our kids. Being able to go to each other for advice and counsel. Visits to catch up and talking about what’s happened to us since we last spoke.
Phone calls to share gossip. Christmases, birthdays, holidays and anniversaries. Eating and drinking and spending time with each other. The laughter we shared and the tears we shed with each other.
All this day to day stuff forms the bonds of love that are so precious to us, yet we take so much for granted. It is a precious short time we are afforded with each other. We should cling to THESE people, and THAT love as if our lives depend on it, because our lives really do depend on it.
Our pain since her death has been torturous but pales by comparison to what Tracey endured.
I hope you all understand what she went through in those two years to try to hang on to life, not primarily for her own sake, but for the sake of her children and all of us that loved her.
But there are only so many times that you can be kicked and beaten down, yet continue to defiantly get back up.
It’s a testament to Tracey’s strength, determination and sheer force of will that the only thing that could eventually separate her from her children and grandchildren, and all of us, was 2 years of bearing unimaginable levels of pain from a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Pain that I had to watch my dear friend endure. Pain that I hope none of us ever have to experience.
Not only debilitating pain, but crushing mental anguish as well. Grieving for her own losses to come. Facing, as she did, her own mortality, when she should have been enjoying life to its fullest.
And worst of all, to grieve for the children and grandchildren that she would lose. Who in turn have been robbed of her love and guidance. And to know that they would have to go through this, and the rest of their lives, without her.
Yet she faced it all with such strength and courage, determined to reach the end on her own terms. Not to die, as she’d seen many others pass away, in the hospice.
(A place whose staff put months of care in to trying to alleviate some of Tracey’s pain. And for which the whole family owe a debt of gratitude.)
But to die peacefully, I’m honoured to say, at the last place she called home. Her home from home. With us, at our house, with Lewis, Hannah, Megan and Alfie at her side.
The way she faced her death knowing the terrible outcome was near and how she stoically faced up to the inevitable outcome of fate's cruel plan was unbelievably courageous. Put simply she’s the bravest person I’ve ever known.
I can’t see Tracey now, as she was in her final days. Fighting for her life. Suffering in pain, and utterly dependent on her sister, her children and her family’s support and care.
I witnessed the most bittersweet thing it’s been my misfortune to see.
My friend, my sister, take her final breathe but in doing so to know that her torment would finally end.
I’m just going to have to remember Tracey as she was when we met. Remember when she was so young, so full of life and so beautiful. Remember the joyous beginning, rather than dwell in the senselessness of the end.
Remember things as they were on a day probably very much like today at the end of the summer holidays, exactly 32 years ago, when we were kids ourselves, during the summer of 1985.
Perhaps appropriately allow me to borrow some Elvis lyrics and just pretend.
Let’s just pretend that it is 1985 again so I can run around the corner and through the alley from my house to Underdown Avenue. And if I pretend enough maybe Paul will come out on his bike ….Karen…. will bring little ‘un out with her. Mandy can go and get Tracey to turn off that music and tell your Mum that we’re all going out up the park.
You’ll always be there in my mind Tracey. And I’ll be there waiting for you.
I love you Trace, I’ll see you later.