The first notes filled the air and everybody took a deep breath. This wasn't a scene from The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy sings to Toto about a better place far far away. We were in a crowded church saying goodbye to my cousin Ciara who died on Tuesday 3rd October. I said my own personal goodbye to her a week earlier in hospital and told her I loved her millions and billions, amongst other things.
Ciara was four years older than me and as I was the oldest in my family, she was like my big sister. Although small in height, she made an impression on everybody she met and it was testament to how much people loved her that the church in which her funeral was held, was standing room only. Ciara, of course, would have laughed it off and just got on with things, because that's the type of person she was. She was always good at art, while my daubs resembled cavemen stick drawings and turned her love of drawing into a proper grown-up career as a wedding dress designer. In fact, Ciara won the Bridal Designer of the Year award in 2003 and her dresses were a work of art. Ciara was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005, shortly after we got married and she didn't take it lying down. She got up and got on with life because it was business as usual and she had a thriving business and three beautiful children to take care of. She had the 40th birthday party to beat all parties and we celebrated her reaching that milestone age because that was a true achievement. I'll never forget the smile on her face as she danced like a maniac on the floor.
Ciara always liked to have the last word and it was bittersweet to discover that she took part in the Today FM Surviving Cancer series and her story was aired two days after her funeral as part of Episode 3. You can listen to it here - she starts talking at about 15 minutes into the show.
Don't get me wrong, she wasn't a saint - she swore like a trooper and loved her Malibu. I have her to thank for my love of gin and bitter lemon, because it was at her 21st birthday party that I had my first one. She decided I needed to try a proper grown up drink, so at the tender age of 17, I was handed a glass of a shimmering blue-green perfumed heaven and developed an unending love for all things gin. Thanks for that Cuz. I'll always raise a glass to you xxx