A joke saved me from suicide
As the waitress plonked down a foot-long rack of ribs slathered in barbecue sauce, I could see my hubby’s comedic cogs turning.
Kenny, 56, took a bite and threw his head back, Homer Simpson-style. Tongue poking out, a dribble of sauce running down his chin, he drooled in ecstasy.
It was my Kenny all over. Why be sensible when you could crack a joke?
‘It was love at first laugh,’ I always told people who asked how we’d met.
The longer story was that Kenny had been a waiter at the working men’s club my parents would go to for a tipple.
I was 16, he was 18. And we just got each other. Two years on, we were married.
Since then, we’d laughed our way through the good times and the bad.
Like when we ran an offie… Kenny had spotted some bloke pinching the stock.
Before I knew it, he vaulted off after the lowlife and came back with a big grin on his face.
‘He got on a bus, so I got someone to give me a lift and chased him down,’ he laughed, handing me back three tins of dented lager – the loot!
Another time, my sister was complaining about not having a bedside lamp.
‘How’s that, then?’ Kenny said,
leading us all into her room that afternoon.
A full-size 6ft Christmas tree, decked with hundreds of twinkling lights, sat by her bed – despite it being summer.
Now, in August 2013, we were enjoying this holiday in Florida. But, after only a few bites of the ribs Kenny had been Homer-ing over, he wiped his mouth and put down his napkin.
‘That’s me done,’ he smiled. Eh?!
Kenny had never been a big bloke – it was me who carried all the extra pounds in our partnership. But he loved ribs. This wasn’t like him. Now I thought about it, my life-and-soul hubby had been weirdly quiet and tired lately.
Still, we weren’t getting any younger, and the Florida heat was oppressive. Must be that, I reasoned to myself.
Only, once we got back home to Rochdale, Kenny’s tiredness continued.
One night, as we ate dinner, I noticed that his oncesnug wedding band now slid past his knuckle.
I worried myself silly googling symptoms.
Loss of appetite… pain between the shoulder blades…
Gastric cancer kept popping up. Kenny’s dad had died of that when he was just 29!
I pushed Kenny to go to the doctor, who referred him for an endoscopy.
A week later, in December 2013, I sat in the waiting room of Fairfield General Hospital while he went in for the results of his tests.
As soon as he came out, I whipped the paperwork from his hands.
‘OK… OK. A gastric ulcer,’ I sighed, relaxing as I read the doctor’s notes.
‘There’s life in the old dog yet,’ Kenny smiled. ‘Come on, let’s get home.’
Back at ours, he put the kettle on straight away.
‘That’ll be your sister,’ he said when the door went. Psychic now, was he? Kenny ushered her inside, then sat us both down with a cuppa each.
‘I couldn’t tell you at the hospital, love,’ he said. ‘But it’s gastric cancer.’
I ran out of the room and into the street in bare feet.
Then I stood there in the road. Where would I go? My whole life was Kenny.
So I went home again.
Turned out, he’d heard the worst news of his life but only thought of me. He’d asked the doctors to fib on the paperwork, as he knew I’d snatch it off him!
When the shock wore off, I took a leaf out of Kenny’s book and looked on the bright side.
Doctors planned to blast him with chemo, then remove his stomach altogether.
It was a treatable cancer, not life-or-death or anything!
And Kenny managed to find the fun even in this.
A lifelong Manchester United fan, he crowed to a Man Cityloving friend when the chemo drugs turned his urine red.
‘Nothing better than peeing red!’ Kenny laughed. ‘The sign of a real fan.’ In March, we went for a check-up, thinking we’d maybe schedule a date for the stomach op. We’d been laughing and joking on the way in. So it took me a second to register what the doctor was telling us. ‘I’m sorry, but the cancer has spread to Kenny’s pancreas. It’s now inoperable.’ Just six months to live.
‘Bummer,’ Kenny shrugged. To him, there was just no point in wasting time being down. But I was desperate for a cure. Kenny began one last round of chemo, in a bid to eke out more time. Meanwhile, I scoured the internet day and night for anything that could help him.
I looked at the Macmillan Cancer Support website so often, I could recite sections off by heart.
Never having so much as sniffed a Pritt Stick in my life, now I accosted a teen neighbour about where I could buy some cannabis.
I got some and made it into oil for Kenny in our kitchen, in the hope it’d help.
I found a renowned surgeon and convinced him to meet Kenny at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. But there was nothing they could do.
Kenny left hospital on 10 July 2014 – his 57th birthday.
He was thin and weak, set up with a feeding tube. But still, he smiled.
Six weeks on, he turned to me with that grin.
‘I’ve had the best time, and I hope you have, too,’ he said.
The next day, 12 August, as we sat listening to his favourite Neil Diamond songs at home, Kenny gave up his fight. He took a breath. Then he didn’t.
In one second, I’d gone from the happiest woman in the world to a widow at 54 – devastated.
I’d thought about it before Kenny died but, now he was gone, it was clear to me. It was time for the curtain to come down on my life, too.
Sounds funny to say, but it wasn’t going to be a sad suicide.
I wasn’t depressed. I’d just had so much happiness and joy, laughed more than anyone else I knew. I’d had my share. It was time to call it a day.
On 19 August, I told Kenny’s loved ones so many funny stories at his funeral that the whole room was in hysterics.
Then, a few days on, I bought a big bottle of vodka and piled up every painkiller I could find around the house.
‘That’s it, then,’ I thought, not a bit unhappy.
Logging on to the net, I tied up a few loose ends. I closed accounts and put passwords where they’d be found.
Then I visited Macmillan, the cancer charity’s website that I’d spent so long poring over in my search for a cure.
Now, I saw a group on there for bereaved spouses.
Knock Knock, I typed. I don’t want to come in.
I thought no one would reply, but hang on – who was this?
You might as well come in, as the floor behind you is burned up,
one woman wrote. That gave me pause, and I posted some more.
Somehow, hours passed. I didn’t take the pills – I fell asleep at my computer instead.
When I woke up, my late-night keyboardbashing had provoked a stream of witty banter from the group of widows and widowers.
They were all saying how they’d been afraid to laugh since their loss, and
that my humour had helped them.
Maybe I should take a visit to Widow World and see what it’s
like, I posted back.
We chatted most days. In April, I even went to Harrogate to meet some of the members. As we sat in the coffee shop, though, 30 people joined by nothing but grief, it just wasn’t for me. How long’s it been? What kind
of cancer? Blah, blah, blah... ‘Kenny would hate this,’ I thought.
Then I got chatting to Jayne Benge, 58. She’d lost her husband, Steve, 62, just two months after Kenny.
‘God, I just want to laugh again,’ Jayne said.
‘Me, too!’ I agreed.
We talked about our hubbies, their habits and funny quirks.
That’s when I decided to launch our very own group. GOWNS – short for ‘Grieving Overwhelmed Widows Negotiating Stuff’ – was born.
We’ve got a website, a forum and a Facebook platform.
Me and Jayne began posting funny videos. In one, I try to assemble flat-pack furniture while wearing a sparkly gown, heels and long false nails.
In another, we laugh about the pitfalls of the solo holiday.
We down big glasses of wine, shoot the vids – and laugh until our sides hurt.
We even took a laughter therapy course and spent the day learning about the physical benefits of a good chuckle. It turns out laughter really the best medicine.
When Kenny died, I couldn’t see the point in carrying on. We’d been the perfect double act and I thought the joke was over.
But I’m laughing again, and helping others get through their own grief by laughing, too.
And do I hear a chuckle up in heaven? It’s Homer saying, ‘That’s my girl…’
I thought the joke was over… but no
Kenny was my reason to live We were married aged 18 and 20
Me and Jayne – the merry widows! Daft videos have saved me You gotta laugh!