From Friend, Claire McCutcheon

My name is Claire and I met Nicole when Brooke and my daughter Ella started grade one at Frank Hobbs. Brooke and Ella were instant friends as were their little sisters, Jada and Charlotte and so started many years of friendship for our families. Nic and I spent hundreds of hours at play dates, carpooling, on the sidelines of soccer, horseback riding, swimming, band concerts and other school events and, of course, 4H. We found our own activities too – ballet classes, family ski trips and dancing at 2am after ‘small amounts’ of tequila. When our girls got to grade 4 we set up the mother daughter book clubs and loved the opportunity to watch our beautiful girls tackle important issues and celebrate together at the insights they gained. This also gave us an opportunity as mothers to share our hopes and dreams – and yes, sometimes our fears – of raising daughters.

During all this time, I learned what all of you know about Nicole. She was kind, generous, thoughtful, funny, loving and, let’s face it – totally gorgeous! But for me, the real testament to Nicole’s character was how she faced the last few months of her life. I was very privileged to have spent a lot of time with her through the crazy ups and downs of the diagnosis and treatment and I would like to share some of what I learned.

Over the years of our friendship, I was shocked to learn that Nic didn’t always see what the rest of us saw and she had doubts and insecurities about her own self-worth. This probably shouldn’t have surprised me – knowing how modest she was. It didn’t matter what I said, she still questioned her ability to be “cool enough” or “popular enough” to fit in.  After her diagnosis she was flooded with emails, texts and phone calls from friends and family who shared with her not only their love – but their respect for who she was as a person. It finally gave her insight into the fact that we viewed her as “the coolest” and “most popular” of our friends. This is a gift that you gave to her.

Nic approached the last few months as a journey with all its ups and downs – not a grim and bitter battle. She struggled through the difficult times with grace and threw herself wholeheartedly into the good times. There was no wallowing for Nicole. A few days after the initial diagnosis in September, I asked her what she wanted from us – expecting her to ask for some space or a box of kleenex. But not our Nicole – she wanted to go out and see friends and have fun. So – we threw her a party! I seem to remember some tequila and I think there was a crazy ride in Allison’s volkswagon van? She made sure that she kept making great memories for us as long as her body would let her.

What is extraordinary is that Nicole kept up her positive attitude the entire time – even when she knew that the treatments were not working and that she had very little time left with us. The last time I saw Nicole was less than a week before she died and we had a long conversation about how she was approaching the end of her life. I told her that I hoped she took pride in her incredible ability to cope with the situation and she gave me a very Nicole response – “How else would I have done it?”  This was very typical – she did something completely amazing and couldn’t see how extraordinary her behaviour was. I tried to explain to her that most people faced with terminal cancer go through periods of bitterness, anger and self pity – all completely justified – but she had expressed none of that. And that’s when I learned her real secret – she wasn’t afraid.

She was sad to be leaving her family but she trusted in them to support each other and she was ready to find eternal rest and peace. Her faith never waivered and I know with all my heart that she is watching over us. You know, I believe that there is a reason that we had such a lovely snowfall last week – Nic wanted us to remember that there is still beauty – and fun – in life. And there is no better reminder than the two beautiful pieces of her that she brought us. I see her clearly in Brooke’s quiet modesty and Jada’s “jump in with both feet” enthusiasm.

I will cherish all the time I spent with Nicole and hold those memories as precious and valuable – like great masterpieces of art. It is tempting to tuck them away safely – protected and sheltered, but that is not the way to honour memories. So keep taking them out – shine them up and show them off! That way we can make sure Nicole’s beauty continues to surround us.

Thank you for letting me share my memories with you. As I mentioned, Nicole and I had mother-daughter book clubs with both our girls and I’d like to invite the girls from the book clubs to come up and share their memories with you as well.