Sleep tight Jackie

Yesterday we buried our friend and fellow, original bum bandit member. It was expected and yet horribly unexpected at the same time.

The words that still haunt me as we said our farewells were “Is this all my life amounts to? A plaque on the wall of a cancer ward?”

Jackie was rallying against death and the unfairness of it, at that moment when she described tracing her fingers along the name of the mother on the engraved plaque, despite fighting harder than anyone felt was humanly possible for so long.

I wish more than anything, that she could pop her little curly head up one last time – to watch over us all yesterday. She would have been left in no doubt what her life meant to so many. And how much it had and will continue to amount to.

Jackie was humble. She was utterly selfless and very funny.  She was a devoted mother of 6… A very private, loyal friend.  A self effacing, humble, friend with a wicked sense of humour. And yet at times so misunderstood.

Her dearest and most loyal mate, the utterly wonderful Di, was her support and advocate most days, especially this last year, and 2 more opposite people you couldn’t hope to meet.

Di is a natural story teller and carer who wears her heart on her sleeve. And asks LOTS of questions.  A warrior who wants to understand everything from the needle to the thread!  And she would gather Jackie, Liz and myself together regularly over the years to support us with legendary lunches that finished at 3am, no subject too taboo! We loved them.  And we loved each other.

We would all be there waiting for Jackie after yet another of her interminable ambiguous medical meetings trying to understand what on earth was going on with our friend’s insides. But Jackie couldn’t be less interested – she would hold our attention rapturously at the start and then lose interest herself a sentence of two in and deviate down multiple dead ends until always ending up talking about her menagerie of animals. Leaving us scratching our heads once more and pouring another glass of prosecco washed down with olives, cheese and the famous salmon mouse.  This continued for many years, which is why I say it was both expected and unexpected.

Despite their unlikely pairing, they were wonderful friends and as we left Di’s house for the funeral I couldn’t help but wonder where that impish looking women, trying to balance on the bar stools propped up against the breakfast bar with a drink in her hand was.

Her bonny radiance was deceiving. Even after the 2nd line chemo had finished and her hair grew back ginger and curly, and she in her words, looked like Mrs Brown’s boys…she would always look well. Here’s a picture of her before the cancer got her – she was really beautiful.

Beautiful Jackie

Jack also wasn’t in the least like Liz and I. She trusted authority and didn’t like to be pushy.  She couldn’t get her head around our approach which could have resulted in either of our medics taking out injunctions on us at any stage.  “I expect they’ll get back to me, I don’t want to push them” was her constant reply to our ever more urgent questioning.

She was also a contradiction. She would accept all manner of excuses, put offs, sidelining.  Until one day.  And then she wouldn’t.  And you have never seen anything rev up so quickly from mild mannered sorry to bother you to fiery Irish terrier faster than Jackie.

Would it have made any difference if she had fired up earlier? We may never know.

But all I know is when she should have been relaxing into the caring arms of the NHS, she was trying to make sense of a broken system. To try and find which drugs she could be on.  To figure out what other treatments might help her when all other hope had been removed.  To sort through endless pages on the internet to figure out fact from fiction.  To stay awake at nights worrying about how she could afford it.  And to chase. And chase. And chase.  That is what hurts the most of all.

But we can’t do much about that now, so instead this is how I’ll remember her;

  1. Her perfectly round hairless head after chemo
  2. Never knowing the names of drugs or the exact location of her cancer
  3. Always diverting any story of her health back to her animals
  4. Taking against someone for some reason and NOTHING could persuade her otherwise
  5. Always, always wearing a smile, a slightly nervous giggly smile
  6. Always being awkward about being kissed or cuddled
  7. So gentle and always apologising
  8. Never wanting to put anyone out – standing in the lane waiting to be picked up rather than have us go to all the trouble of walking up her drive and ringing her bell!
  9. A sharp and funny observer of character

And finally as I sign off, there have been some wonderfully dedicated medics helping Jackie, but some less so. So in the hope it might make some difference to someone, here is what I would like to say;

  • Don’t assume that because someone doesn’t want to educate themselves about their illness, they don’t care. And that you should care less (I know this doesn’t apply to most medics)
  • Don’t assume that lack of questions means lack of interest
  • Don’t treat denial so harshly – there must be other ways to break news more compassionately

So here’s to you Jackie. Your life mattered very much. Thank you for sharing it with us. Sleep tight.