A joke saved me from sui­cide

Real People - - NEWS - n As told to Kelly Strange & Miyo Padi (sto­ries@re­alpeo­plemag.co.uk) San­dra Man­ning, 57, Rochdale, Gtr Manch­ester

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.

It didn’t.

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!

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