The final goodbye
Thousands gather at Breslin Center to celebrate life of "Princess Lacey"
Don’t call it a memorial.
T hat was what the Holsworth family of St. Johns wanted to make clear to everyone who attended Lacey Holsworth’s life celebration at Breslin Center Thursday night.
It was not supposed to be a memorial — it was instead supposed to be a celebration of one 8-year-old who inspired a town, a team and made national headlines.
Lacey Holsworth died last week after a battle with neuroblastoma, a nerve-cell cancer that is most commonly found in children.
Thursday at Breslin Center, under the banners of the team she loved so much, thousands of people filed into the stands to reflect on what her life meant to the community.
The men’s basketball team was in the front row, all except for one. Former star forward Adreian Payne, Lacey’s adopted “big brother,” sat next to Lacey’s parents.
Lacey’s mother Heather Holsworth said when she and Lacey’s father, Matt Holsworth, discussed who their daughter might become in the future, only one word came to mind: princess.
“She was shy, yet outgoing,” she said. “(A) tomboy with a tutu ... Lacey loved because she was loved.”
Many of those in attendance were MSU students who have come to think of Lacey as a lifelong role model.
Kinesiology junior Danielle Bott and a group of her friends organized a painting of the Rock on Farm Lane the day after Lacey’s death. Nearly 1,000 students came for a candlelight vigil that night and hundreds have painted messages for Lacey on the Rock since.
“Through all her struggles, she never failed to have a smile on her face,” Bott said. “We can all learn something from her. For someone so little to go through such heartbreaking events and push through spoke volumes, even though she didn’t have to say anything.”
Bott teamed up with public policy senior Brooke Corbin to organize the rock painting. Corbin said driving by Breslin Center the morning after Lacey died nearly brought tears to her eyes.
“She was so happy at Breslin, thinking about it gave me chills,” she said.
Corbin said the greatest thing about Lacey was her incredible ability to stay happy despite all odds.
“She showed so much happiness for a girl who shouldn’t be happy,” Corbin said. “We wake up every day and complain about homework and things like that, but we don’t get up just hoping to get through the day.”
Many of the students who painted the rock and showed up to Breslin Center never met Lacey but were still touched by her life.
Some people, however, did get to meet her. Accounting senior Suzie Schfelter said her encounter with Lacey was brief but powerful. She met Lacey at the young girl’s Buffalo Wild Wings fundraiser in East Lansing because her cousin was a friend of Lacey’s.
“When I said my cousin’s name, her face just lit up,” Schfelter said. “Obviously she touched a lot of people through her smile, strength, beauty and how she was able to love everyone no matter what.”
A special bond
The day the MSU men’s basketball team visited Lacey Holsworth at Sparrow Hospital in Lansing two years ago, she only wanted to see one towering figure.
When the rest of the team left she asked forward Adreian Payne to stay. He was her favorite player, after all.
“She said she liked me because of my smile,” Payne said in a statement. “It was her smile that made America fall in love with her.”
After that day, the two began texting regularly.
Those texts turned to visits, the visits turned into tickets to games, and before long Lacey was the team’s number one fan and inspiration.
“In eight short years she inspired an entire country,” head basketball coach Tom Izzo said during the student’s rock-painting ceremony. “ She came back (from the Final Four in Dallas) and said ‘Dad, I’m tired, let’s go home.’ Now she’s home.”
Payne released a statement following her death.
“Words can’t express how much I already miss Lacey. She is my sister, and will always be a part of my life,” he said. “My princess is now an angel.”
A special night
“We’re here tonight to celebrate an incredibly unique life,” said federal agent and family friend Jeff Perryman, beginning the service by addressing the Holsworths. “What your daughter gave us is an incredible gift.”
Although not as highly publicized Lacey’s relationship with Payne, she also struck up a friendship with a S.W.A.T. dog named Ike when he and Perryman visited her.
“I was trying to give myself a pep talk before I visited her. I even gave Ike a pep talk,” he said. “Then I saw a smiling face and knew I would be fine.”
Perryman was the emcee for Lacey’s life celebration and introduced the second guest, MSU guard Travis Trice.
Trice told a story about a difficult loss to North Carolina last year and how seeing Lacey’s face made the disappointment go away.
“To Heather and the whole family, we’re going to see her soon,” he said.
Trice became emotional even before he came on stage, and that emotion was shared by almost everyone who came to the podium Thursday night.
As for those who attended, there wasn’t a dry eye in the arena.
Video’s of Lacey dancing played as the crowd entered Breslin Center, and dancing also was a big part of the celebration, as Lacey’s dance class instructor Heather Reed performed a routine Lacey would have done in her spring recital.
The basketball team paid tribute to Lacey through one of her favorite basketball plays — a silent dunk — to let her know they were thinking about her.
“Most people will know you as basketball players, but we know you as great young men,” Perryman said.
The rest of the service consisted of poems, videos and remarks from loved ones. The celebration ended with an emotional, roughly 30-minute video highlighting Lacey’s life, including her battle through cancer.
The video showed the darker side of her illness, including her hair loss and her struggles to walk. But one thing persisted: the infectious smile she was so well-known for.
“Matt and Heather attempted to show the world their beautiful daughter,” Perryman said. “She never gave up, even against the smallest odds.”
Lacey left parting words to other children in the world fighting cancer. “Just keep believing in God,” she said during her family’s home video. “Just keep praying and staying strong.”