Lindsay devoted her life to helping others, but died tragically young at just 23... now her family are raising funds for the projects she cherished
A decade after her death from a brain tumour, the family of Banbridge woman Lindsay Emerson have organised an online auction with many star bids and a gala evening to raise funds for the causes that were close to her heart. Her sister Zoe tells Una Brankin why they want to celebrate her life - and of their enduring grief.
With no need for artifice, Lindsay Emerson's beautiful chestnut hair would stand out among the extravagant coiffeurs at L'Oreal sponsored competitions in Belfast and London, back in the early 2000s.
And even when suffering from severe headaches and fatigue, and with her long hair shorn, the charitable student's natural radiance was undimmed. The inner beauty and positivity exuded by the caring young woman made her devastating brain tumour diagnosis all the more shocking for her husband, Alain, a pastor, and for her parents and siblings.
Eldest sister Zoe, a managing director of a Scottish investment firm, flew from Edinburgh to spend as much time as she could with Lindsay in her final weeks. Along with her parents, Arthur and Liz Anderson, sister Sancha (38) and brother Nik (36), Zoe would sit by her baby sister's bedside at the family home in Banbridge, watching helpless as she faded away. "Lindsay had surgery and chemo, and we were very hopeful," Zoe recalls. "But then we were told there was nothing more they could do. She deteriorated very rapidly and we had to accept it.
"It was a bit of a blur. For us, it was, 'Is she eating?' 'Is she drinking?'. And then, she couldn't speak. It was heartbreaking."
Lindsay died at home on April 2007, seven months after her shocking diagnosis, not long after her 23rd birthday.
To mark the 10th anniversary of her death, Zoe, Sancha and Nik have teamed up with Alain, lead pastor at the Emmanuel Church in Lurgan, to organise an online auction and gala evening in their sister's memory, for Fields of Life, one of the charities close to Lindsay's heart.
During her short life, Lindsay worked with several charities in the Philippines, Burkina Faso, South Africa and Albania. She made her last charity trip in 2006, shortly before her diagnosis, when she and her husband led a team of volunteers from Emmanuel Church to Uganda. The couple travelled with Fields of Life, which provides education, child sponsorship and protection for girls, and clean water for communities and churches in East Africa.
"The Spring Ball we've organised in the Culloden hotel is our opportunity to continue the work with the schools that Lindsay and Alain started together in Uganda," says Zoe (40), a mother-of-two. "I think Lindsay would love the fact that although I live in Scotland, and Sancha, Nik and Alain live in different parts of Northern Ireland, we've made time to work together on this, to build on something she started.
"We're raising money for a secondary school built in her memory. We are hoping to raise enough to build a computer room for the school, which has over 200 secondary school pupils. Lindsay loved working with the schoolchildren and Alain is still very active there."
Lindsay married Alain Emerson, then a youth pastor at Emmanuel Church, in 2005. She was 21; Alain was 25.
"Yes, she was young - but Alain was quite a catch!" laughs Zoe. "He was so good as a young husband. We're so happy that, five years after Lindsay died, he met his second wife, Rachel. They have two beautiful children; he deserved it. They call to see mum and dad often. We all have a good relationship with Rachel, too."
After she died, the Anderson family spoke of Lindsay's desire to help the deprived and described her life goals as revolving "around loving God and loving people. She did not invest a lot in pleasing herself but rather chose to invest in others".
Academically gifted, Lindsay was well-known in Banbridge and church circles as a warm-hearted person with a real sense of justice for the oppressed and the marginalised. After school at Banbridge Academy, she studied Dietetics at the University of Ulster, taking a year out in 2003 to work with Christian Aid in the Philippines and Burkina Faso, where she was involved in helping establish Fair Trade links and giving educational presentations in local schools.
On her return, she enrolled at Queen's University in International Studies and psychology. But, two years into her course, she began to suffer from severe headaches and tiredness.
"She'd be falling asleep at university and put it down to the migraines she was having," Zoe remembers. "It was very debilitating and she struggled, but she kept on at uni.
"She continued having them throughout her trip to Uganda in 2006 and when she came home, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She had two major brain surgeries and even when she was having chemotherapy, which isn't pleasant for anyone, she was extremely positive.
"We all were hopeful at the time, thinking she had youth on her side. We were so shocked to find out that nothing could be done to make her well again." Lindsay was nursed at home by her parents and Alain, with the support of Macmillan nurses, whom Zoe praises as "incredible".
She recalls: "I don't think we felt we were coping, we were just taking each day at a time. Lindsay had an extremely strong faith in God which gave her enormous comfort and peace. She was incredible and worried more about those around her.
"She loved her church community and being at home with friends and family. Despite all her exciting adventures, she was actually a very gentle and quiet person."
After her first brain surgery, Lindsay had seemed to recover well, but the surgeons could remove only 95% of her tumour. They told her to go and have children and to fulfil her dreams, but in the run-up to Christmas 2006, she started to go downhill and have seizures.
Scans showed the tumour had grown again, so she had more surgery and started six weeks of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiotherapy.
As Alain recalled in a podcast for the Christian New Wine Ireland organisation: "At 26, I found myself caring for a bedridden wife who was 22, and she couldn't do anything. I had to wash her and care for her in every way. All her hair fell out and yet I found myself loving her more than I had ever loved her." Lindsay was surrounded by her husband, her parents and Macmillan nurses when she passed away on Sunday, April 22, 2007, aged 23, leaving Alain a widower at 27.
"My brother, sister and I arrived at the house shortly after we heard," Zoe recalls. "It has taken us 10 years before we all felt ready to talk openly about what had happened and to celebrate Lindsay's life in some way.
"Your world changes for ever and your grief never goes away. We had to let each other grieve in our different ways. Some of us liked to talk and some didn't. There is no one way to grieve but we all greatly appreciated the support of our community, especially from the church.
"I have never seen such love and support from a community as I did from Lindsay's church. I don't share Alain's faith but we're all very united behind the charity. I am open to the idea of seeing Lindsay again. I just don't know for definite, but I'm hopeful."
Zoe regrets that Lindsay didn't get to meet her eight nieces and nephews, but she is thankful for "the many wonderful experiences" she had in her life.
"She modelled for L'Oreal in hair competitions in Belfast and London; she worked with charities in the Phillippines, Burkino Faso, South Africa and Albania.
"She would have been as amazed as we are at what we have been able to organise, thanks to the generosity and help of many - even some sporting celebs and authors.
"With their help, we also hope to secure more sponsorship for the pupils in Light For All, a programme run by Fields of Life charity. For £24, you can sponsor and be in contact with a Light for All pupil, putting them through their education and letting them know that they matter.
"That's what Lindsay did. She gave people confidence. She made them belong. She was beautiful on the inside, as well as the outside."
Going, going... super deals and all for a great cause
Open to all, the Fields of Life online auction, which is open for bids now and runs until May 27, has an impressive range of lots, including a luxury break at the Gleneagles in Scotland; a family break in the French Alps; golf with Ireland rugby captain Rory Best; tickets to BTCC (British Touring Car Championships) with Colin Turkington; a Tag Heuer Formula One watch, signed gloves and tickets to an evening with Carl 'The Jackal' Frampton and lunch with author Cathy Kelly at the Merchant Hotel, Belfast. The charity's Spring Ball gala event, hosted by broadcaster David Blevins, takes place in the stunning surroundings of Culloden Estate on Saturday May 27. For further details go to www.SpringBall2017.com and fieldsoflife.org