Remembering fire captain Brian Tracy: How do I do justice to the man who stole my heart in minutes?

Santa Cruz firefighter Brian Tracy, flanked by wife Stephanie (top) and daughter Stella
Late Santa Cruz firefighter Brian Tracy, flanked by wife Stephanie (top) and daughter Stella.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Brian Tracy, a 16-year veteran of the Santa Cruz Fire Department, lost his two-year battle against brain cancer on April 27. He was 43. His wife, Stephanie, remembers him — and offers a lesson for all of us.

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On April 27, 2023, my husband, Brian, lost a two-year battle against brain cancer. He was a 16-year veteran of the Santa Cruz city fire department, a devoted father to our 13-year-old daughter, Stella, and a born-and-raised Santa Cruz native. He lived and breathed this town. He sacrificed his life for it.

How do I adequately capture the 43 years of a tremendous and bountiful life in just a few paragraphs?

The countless lives he saved. The everlasting impact he had on the community he served. The fearless heart and soul he shared with everyone he touched. How do I do the man who stole my heart in minutes justice with a couple of sentences?

I won’t. Brian was bigger and better than any tribute I can make. He was louder and warmer than any memory I can share. So, I will try to just tell you what I think he would have wanted you to know about him.

A screengrab from a vide memorializing late Santa Cruz firefighter Brian Tracy
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

He would want me to tell you all how hard he fought to be here. He had so much to live for. Me, Stella, our menagerie, our home, our travels, our backyard oasis, his thriving leather business, our memories. He was terrified to lose the life we had created together over the past seven and a half years, so he fought like a warrior against cancer for two years.

It wasn’t an easy fight.

It brought him to his knees in tears. It brought him to church seeking God. It cost him his hair and his appetite. It stole his legs from him, and eventually his arms and his hands. But he kept bravely fighting, demanding to be the miracle case where the cancer just disappears. Please never forget how strong he was.

He would want you to laugh.

He would want me to say a Guido-ism for him, most not church-appropriate. He would be brash and bold and loud. He would want you to think of him healthy and happy and goofy, and doing something impressive and manly. Telling a raunchy joke at an inappropriate time, wearing his pants too low and telling you not to look if it bothered you.

Forget the Brian in the hospital bed. Please remember Brian in a Pendleton and cowboy boots, Newcastle in hand, chewing on a toothpick, bossing you around the firehouse. That’s what he would want.

He would want me to say “thank you.” Thank you to the hundreds of people who have wrapped us up in your arms during this terrible fight against cancer, cooking us meals, cleaning our house, upgrading our backyard, walking our dogs. The list goes on and on and on for the support we have received during this time. It’s tremendous.

The public safety community is miraculous, like nothing I’ve ever seen. Especially in the face of tragedy. You guys are angels, heroes, life savers. You’re magic. You are my family. We couldn’t have survived this without you.

Your continued support and presence in my life now is all that gets me through some days. Brian and I both want to say thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Please never forget how thankful Brian was for you, and proud to be a part of the fire family himself. He became a captain in 2020, something we were all proud of.

What I want you to know is how Brian made me feel. Weak in the knees, butterflies in my stomach. He stole my attention and my heart instantly. It was the hair, it was the walk, the smile, the eyelashes. It was the charisma and the wit, the heart-melting, greenish-brown “I love you” eyes. I was sold.

And Brian looked at me like I was the greatest prize in the whole world and he couldn’t believe I was his. He revered me, he relished in me, he was proud of me. He wanted to show me off to everyone. I was the most important woman in his life, and he never let me forget it. The guy who was never going to get married, married me. How special must I be?

That’s how he made me feel. That’s what I miss the most. He made me feel wanted, loved, cherished. He was always in my corner, ready to go to bat for me, show up for me, love on me, defend me. He was the absolute best husband and my absolute best friend. And I miss him so much.

I have with me now colorful, enveloping memories that visit me in my waking hours and during sleepless nights, and life lessons that Brian taught me. Believe it or not, he taught me a thing or two.

Brian was wheelchair-bound at the end of his life. I had to pull or pick up all 200 pounds of him on my own to transfer him from chair to chair or chair to bed. I’d grab him by his wrists or bear-hug him up, shuffle him to where he needed or wanted to go, set him down and tuck him in.

During one of these transfers, I got him up out of his wheelchair, turned his little hips about to plop him down on the bed like we got so used to doing, and he stopped me while he was propped up standing. He just hugged me. He told me how much he missed this, the simple act of hugging his wife, whom he loved so completely, while standing up, and he started crying.

I started crying. I had gotten so caught up in caretaking, in handling business, in doing it on my own as much as possible, I failed to show him love in those small moments at the end. In those small ways. Too busy trying to get him from one place to the next.

So that’s my message for you, my lesson that Brian taught me. Slow down. Just slow down. Never take those small moments for granted. Never pass up a chance to give that hug or that kiss. Such a small act of love can heal a breaking heart on the hardest day.

To give him a million more hugs, or even just one, weighs heavy on my heart now. I wish I had hugged him more.

I’ve been saying that all I have wanted since Brian passed was to have him back, to feel him with me again. To feel his presence on my shoulders, in my hands, next to my hip, on my heart. I couldn’t feel him, I couldn’t see him yet.

The first evening alone in my house, after my mom left, I was sitting on the couch looking at pictures of him. Begging him to show himself to me, to press his weight against me, to finally fill me with his spirit and his energy.

In that moment, the sun broke through the clouds and the normally still glow shimmered through the trees and through my window and I felt his heat on my face. I could see him in the tears I wiped off my face. I knew, in that moment, he was finally with me.

And that’s where I see Brian now. In the sunsets, in the crashing waves, in the blooming flowers, in the wind, in the hummingbirds.

So if you’re looking for him, too, that’s where he is now. He will be with us, in the hummingbirds and in the setting sun.

Stephanie Tracy works at Santa Cruz Regional 911 as a lead 911 dispatcher. She has served the community of Santa Cruz for nine years, and has lived in Santa Cruz for 15 years. She spends her free time now with Stella and with their family dogs, tinkering around in her garden, catching the evening sunsets on the beach, and searching for hummingbirds.

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