When I checked my phone on Wednesday morning, and photos of Tracy Chappell popped up in my Facebook feed with words like “gone” and “missed”, it did not compute. I momentarily thought perhaps she had left her job at Today’s Parent, though that didn’t seem likely. Because surely such a young, vibrant woman could not be “gone”. Not the woman who had posted that beautiful picture of herself and her two little girls among the cherry blossoms the day before.
I met Tracy when we were both students in the post-graduate Print Journalism program at Sheridan College. I was immediately impressed by her positive attitude, her amazing writing, and her good taste in movies.
After graduation, it seemed she was always one step ahead: when I turned down a corporation communications position with a pension fund for a more “fun” job at CANOE.ca, I soon learned that they’d offered the job to Tracy first. She’d turned it down too, for a more “fun” job at Chapters.ca. Less than a year later, I found myself in a cubicle down the hall from her—at Chapters’ short-lived online home and garden shop, Villa.ca. Which meant lunch dates and shopping on Queen Street! As a content writer for the movie section (perfect for such a film buff), Tracy often got free passes to new releases, and I was fortunate enough to attend some of those with her. She confided she had fallen for a cute techie guy in the office. They attended my wedding–just two short months before Tracy and I and 70+ other employees were laid off when the Internet bubble burst in 2000!
But it wasn’t long before Tracy found her home on the Today’s Parent website (confession: I had applied for that job too.) In fact, she was one of the first people to know I was pregnant for the first time—because I had posted a question on the community forums she moderated and she recognized my “anonymous” handle. She feigned annoyance that I wouldn’t be able to make the trip to her hometown for her wedding because I was due the same day! But she was thrilled for me. And I saw the photos–she glowed with happiness.
Meanwhile I had found my own great job at Harlequin.com. We continued meeting every now and then for dinner or a movie (Tracy didn’t mind that I was already bawling during the opening montage of Love Actually). She was also one of the first people to know I was pregnant for the second time when we both attended a seminar on freelance editing and I confessed my secret plan to become a work-at-home-mom.
In recent years, we interacted mostly through social media, and of course, I kept up with her family like so many others through her blog. That thoughtful, positive, loving person that came through in her writing was the real deal. I loved the gorgeous photos she posted of her girls, who look so much like her, and so much like their dad at the same time. The perfect combinations. Her birthday letters to Anna and Avery reduced me to tears. And some of my own posts were inspired by hers. With kids about the same ages, I completely understood why she decided to stop blogging.
I must take full responsibility for not making more of an effort to stay connected in person, because if you knew Tracy, you know she was an amazing friend. I often envied her closeknit ties with high school girlfriends and her mom’s group. No, envied is the wrong word. Envy implies you think the other person doesn’t deserve what they have. Admired is better. She encouraged me to attend the Blissdom conference, but I chickened out, worried I would feel like an outsider, or a fraud. Another missed opportunity.
The last words we exchanged were via Facebook on May 18. Upon seeing my post about relocating, she replied “Oh, that’s great! Closer to me!” And I definitely planned to take advantage of the shorter drive to invite her for lunch, or a movie. To reconnect. You hear life is too short, but how often do we think, I’ll do that someday?
I have typed and retyped this last paragraph expressing my sympathies to those closest to her, her family and friends, but I don’t have Tracy’s way with words. Though maybe there just aren’t any for tragedies like this. So I will just say she touched so many people, in life and through her writing, and her grace, kindness, humour and friendship will be greatly missed.