A mother killed in the Manchester bomb attack was "always the glue” that “brought the family together”, the arena inquiry heard.
A series of hearings have been taking place where relatives of the 22 people killed in the 2017 bombing have provided personal insights into the lives of their loved ones and how their lives were changed forever by the attack.
The final day of "pen portraits" ended with 45-year-old Alison Howe from Royton.
Husband Steven told the inquiry that “she will always be in our hearts” and became “mum” to his four sons. The couple also had two daughters.
Mrs Howe, 45, from Royton, Greater Manchester, was killed while waiting in the foyer with her friend, Lisa Lees, who also died.
They had gone to the arena to collect their teenage daughters from the Ariana Grande concert.
Childhood friend Tracy Green, who read out family tributes at the inquiry, said they had been planning their 50th birthday trip to New York.
They met as five-year-olds and would sing songs from the musical Fame with Alison on the piano.
“Alison was my best friend and always will be,” she said. “We have been through so much together but I wouldn’t change any part of it.
“She had such an amazing talent, especially the piano and violin.
“Life was a rollercoaster full of fun and laughter with some sad times along the way.
“She was so happy and so proud of them all [the children]. She brought the family together.
“She had such a dry sense of humour and made everyone smile, even when it wasn’t appropriate.”
'Best of friends'
Mrs Howe’s mother, Sue Cann, said they would have “mum and daughter time” on Fridays when they would “put the world to rights”.
“She was a very talented musician, loving and kind and someone people wanted to be around,” she said.
“You could never feel sad or depressed when Alison was with you because she would always know the right things to say and do to snap you out of it.
“We went on spa trips together, shopping trips and out for dinner – we were the best of friends.
“She adored her family – Steven and the children were her everything.
“The gaping hole that is left is unbelievable – we don’t live any more, we just exist.
“Nothing will take away the pain and loss – when someone shouts ‘Mum’, I still turn round. It’s like being stabbed in the heart.”
'Fantastic wedding day'
Mrs Howe became close to her future husband Steven when he had an accident.
“She took me to hospital and when I regained consciousness I told her I loved her and one day we would be married,” he said in a video tribute.
“The wedding day was fantastic and Alison became all the kids’ mum, and couldn’t have done a better job.
“She will always be in our hearts. She really was fantastic, both inside and out.
“It [the bomb] has absolutely destroyed what we had – I don’t think we will ever get over this.
“It’s not going to get any easier. There’s no-one I have met who was so caring and well-liked.”
The inquiry was read a poem written by Mrs Howe’s stepson, Harry, from her “super six” that said she was “always the glue”.
The poem also included the lines: “Our tree only blossomed from the strength of its roots. Without you, there would have been no laughs and no biscuits. So special, so wonderful, so beautiful and so true.”