The Spartan princess Lacey Holsworth held court for the final time Thursday.
At the place her mother, Heather, called "Princess Lacey's Palace," the life of the unique, inspiring 8-year-old girl was celebrated in fitting fashion. An estimated 2,500 people came to the place commonly referred to as Breslin Center – most decked out in bright colors, as the Holsworths requested – to honor the life of a self-proclaimed princess described as "a mixture of grace and grit."
"She loved every second of being your princess," Heather Holsworth said in a recording. "It was something she took somewhat seriously. As soon as that blonde wig went on, it was time to go to work."
Given the relationship built with Michigan State forward Adreian Payne – her "big brother" and "superman" and the reason Heather said Lacey wanted to be a princess at Breslin – and the Spartans basketball team in the past couple years, it was little wonder she took the role to heart. But it was hardly the only thing Lacey, who passed away on April 8, took to heart.
With family, Sparrow Hospital staff and Michigan State fans in attendance, Thursday's celebration of her life showcased her fierce passion for music, dance and life itself. Videos of Lacey dancing and singing to Taylor Swift and Bruno Mars played as people filed into the arena. Her aunt, Julie Konieczny, played the song "Let It Go" from the movie "Frozen" on the piano. Her dance teacher, Heather Reed, performed a dance to the song Lacey was set to perform at her spring recital.
Heather shared stories of dance battles with Lacey in the living room of the family's St Johns home and how she would wait until they got to their car following Michigan State games before Lacey would fully let out her excitement – contained so she would never embarrass Payne.
"The Spartan princess, sweet, adorable Lacey rocking out with 2 Chainz," Heather said.
She also shared what it meant to her to "Love Like Lacey," a common phrase coined since her passing nine days ago, in the most emotional and stirring of the many tributes paid to Lacey.
"Without hesitation and unconditionally," Heather said, adding "to love when things are hard and ugly."
Lacey did just that, holding a smile in the most trying times and remaining optimistic through two years of battling cancer, as was depicted in a lengthy video put together by her family for the celebration of her life.
"Lacey never feared the future because there was nothing to be afraid of … nothing not a part of God's plan," Heather said. "She had hopes of better times coming, love never ending and of beauty unimaginable."
The 43-minute video chronicled her life from birth and featured sections dedicated to her with her three brothers, William, Mitchell and Luke, as well as each of her parents. The main portion, though, gave insight to what Lacey went through in her first bout with cancer, the struggle to regain her ability to walk and all it entailed.
As she worked to walk with a walker, she said, "Hi Daddy, I'm walking. I'm going to beat my record today and it's going to be legendary."
She ultimately did walk again, but her cancer returned last fall and wound up claiming her life after another battle. But Thursday was set out by the Holsworths to be a celebration of a girl who made the most of a short time.
"This is a pure celebration of their daughter, who brought so much life to so many of us," said emcee Jeff Perryman, a federal agent who met Lacey after hearing her story last year and became a family friend, as well as his dog, Ike.
The tributes were numerous and varied. Opening with Konieczny's piano solo and a prayer from Lacey's great aunt, Cynthia Hennessey, it led up to Heather's recorded tribute.
"My heart is screaming at me that this is so unfair," she said. "My heart hurts so bad I can barely breathe, but I know have to because I'm the only one who can show everyone who Lacey Joy Elizabeth Holsworth truly is because I'm the one who fell in love with her first."
Even as she said "there's not enough words in the whole world or pages in a book to do her justice," she shared stories of Lacey's life. From her eclectic music taste – loving slow ballads, but "she would have been bored without her rap" – to how she always saw the good inside people and how she was confused when someone told her how she and her big brother Payne looked different.
"‘What do you mean,' she said, ‘because he's a boy and I'm a girl? I'm tall for my age, too,'" Heather said.
As she closed her tribute, it would have been hard to find a dry eye in the crowd.
"I miss you, Lay Lay," she said. "My heart is lost without you. I will never be the same, but that's okay because I'm still learning from you. I hope you like your special party today. We tried our best to show who you really are. I know you'd be rolling your eyes because you'd be expecting a dance party and I'd be telling you it's inappropriate.
"I love you Lacey. I love you more. I loved you first. We can't wait to see you again. Save a dance for me. Love, Mommy."
Spartans junior Travis Trice quoted a pair of bible verses (Matthew 19:14 and John 14:1-3) he went to as he wrestled with Lacey's death and how to reach out to her parents. He told the story of leaving the locker room after MSU lost to North Carolina in December, seeing her smile and the frustration leaving – "that was one of her blessings," he said.
Payne, who was seated with Lacey's family, dunked a ball through a hoop as a "silent dunk" tribute from the basketball team, which was assembled behind the hoop.
"Lacey's favorite part of the game were the dunks and as we all know, this team dunked on a lot of people," Perryman said.
A video featuring the members of the team was played, as each mentioned things about her and prompting Perryman to say "Most people will know you as basketball players, but we know you as great young men" before leading into the video put together by the family.
From pictures from family vacations to videos as she learned to walk again to blowing plenty of kisses, it led to the finish as Heather asked Lacey questions. They talked about her favorite music, books, movies, her brothers and what made her different from other kids her age.
Heather asked her what she would tell other kids with cancer and the courageous little girl offered up her advice.
"Just keep believing in God and keep praying and just try to stay strong," she said.