Grief is a Freight Train (a tribute to Jackie Rose)

This weekend was full of joy and laughter, campness and sunshine. This weekend was a celebration of life and an anniversary of sorts. You see, this time last year an amazing lady and a friend who I really only got to know in the last handful of years, lost her long-running battle with cancer.

Luckily, very few people I love and care about have died in my lifetime. Most of them were elderly relatives who probably had a pretty good innings and who probably wouldn’t feel too cheated by their death. There have been a couple of friends who I’ve lost to cancer way before their time though, and one of them was Jackie. Death cheated us all when we lost her.

Jackie had suffered a collapsed lung towards the end of 2011 and whilst that was a cause of some concern to us all, she had brushed it off as if it were a minor inconvenience and certainly nothing to worry about. She’d been such an expert at drawing attention away from her health, that in between the occasions we saw her, we hadn’t had cause to discuss her health more than a couple of times.

When I discovered I had breast cancer and was dealing with the subsequent life-implosion that goes along with that, I truly had no idea that Jackie had fought cancer for many years, bravely and without so much as a complaint. I didn’t know she had the same consultant I was about to meet, and that she’d been having chemo in the Primrose Unit just like I was about to do. I also had no clue that she was about to lose her fight.

She’d been so amazing at keeping the extent of her illness quiet, that none of her friends or family even knew about it. The only person who had known was her other half, Guy, who is as bright and vivacious as she was and between the two of them even on their bad days, they had more energy and laughter than most people have on their good days.

She chose to take away all the risk of people focusing on her, by refusing to even let on that there was a problem. I have no idea how Guy managed to maintain the secret for her but I admire him hugely for being so strong and supporting her choice in the way he did.

Initially when I found out that she’d not told anybody, even her family, about her breast cancer I wondered whether that choice robbed her of the chance to be surrounded by love and support the way I was. Having spoken to Guy, I have been reassured. I know now that she was such an expert at not complaining, even with him, that just getting on with everything was what made her comfortable and that she definitely wouldn’t have wanted anyone fussing over her.

It meant all the time that she did have with friends and family wasn’t marred by their concern for her health and talking about cancer bullsh*t all the time, and instead we were focused on having fun.

It also meant the news of her death was a complete shock, to pretty much everybody.

On a sunny day on 27th May last year I got a call from Scov, to tell me he’d heard some bad news; Guy had called him to say he had lost Jackie who had died the night before. I can vividly recall where I was, sat in my sunny back garden staring at a rose bush, not really able to think, and feeling that yet another bit of my rickety world was crumbling away thanks to cancer.

So yes, I’ve had a bit of a crap time on and off for the last 18 months, but I suffered nothing in comparison to what her other half had to go through, and it’s hard to imagine the depth of his feelings about losing her. His rock, anchor point, sounding board, other-half-of-a-double act has been taken from him. For me, his way of being stoical and trying to celebrate her life rather than just mourning, really helped me to set the tone for my own year. Guy has been so brave that it’s impossible not to draw strength and inspiration from it.

It’s not a false bravery either, he talks about Jackie a lot and I think it’s really great that he does, because she’s someone none of us want to forget. And he is allowing himself to be sad as well, which is important. If he bottled it up all the time I would worry more. Whilst he doesn’t do a lot of bawling in front of people, I certainly know the value of a good wail to bring down your stress levels a bit, and I hope he does too. Most of the time though, he and Jackie’s sister try to find the fun in life and gee each other up, and just occasionally they shout out, “Oh, GET OVER IT!! :D”

“We look for love, no time for tears
Wasted water’s all that is
and it don’t make no flowers grow
Good things might come to those who wait,
not for those who wait too late
We’ve got to go for all we know”

Lyrics from “Just the two of us” – Bill Withers – played at Jackie’s funeral

Guy and Jackie got married on 26th May 2012. It was his second proposal, the first one on a beautiful bridge in Paris hadn’t elicited the same response because Jackie had thought it daft… but they’d been devoted to each other nevertheless. Jackie was Guy’s person for 23 years, they’d had an absolute ball together and it was rare that they were apart. The fact that they got married on the morning of the day she died is yet another indication of their strength, love, and their insistence in getting every last ounce of fun and life out of their universe.

Grief is a part of anyone’s story, but hopefully for most of us, the majority of our lives can still be remembered with happiness and laughter and that’s the bit we should focus on if we can.

So if you’re thinking that you don’t make the most out of your life and you aren’t enjoying yourself, remember that happiness is not a thing someone else gives you, or you get by waiting for it, it’s a thing you embody because you decide to live your life that way. For some people, that may require some extra help – so the best thing to do is ask for that help. Happiness is infectious. You can spread it by noticing the good stuff in life and telling other people about it. You find it when you remember everyone you love. You can make it grow by making the most of the people who are still here to enjoy life with you. And now is a very good time to start.

Remembering Jacqueline Anne Rose
16th December 1961 – 26th May 2012

Grief is a freight train,
no, what’s a little pain
when you’ve got so much to love?
Grief is a freight train,
no, what’s a little pain
when you’ve got so much to love?

Forever is a slow dream
oh what a vivid thing,
when you’ve got so much to lose.
Hope is a fast car,
only takes you so far
well, you’ve got a lot to learn.

Close your eyes…
Take to the sky like a big blue kite;
leave your woes behind.
Close my eyes…
Try to remember what you said to me,
before you said goodbye.

Love is a slow song,
playing on the radio,
I know every word by heart.
Happiness is soft light
that way we see our lives by
only fading to the dark.

Close your eyes.
Take to the sky like a big blue kite;
leave your words behind.
Close my eyes.
Try to remember what you said to me,
before you said goodbye.

Lyrics to “Freight Train” by Sara Jackson-Holman