When Gary saw our Loop the Loop challenge, he knew that it was the fundraising experience for him. Here, he explains what he loved most about cloud hopping his way through the sky and why the challenge was a fitting tribute to his wife, Jane.
One of the first times I ever met Jane was when we were floating in the sky, so it seems fitting that I celebrated her life recently by doing a ‘Loop the Loop’ in an aeroplane.
It was over 26-years-ago when Jane and I took that hot air balloon ride, gazing into the sunrise over the Yorkshire Dales. We were on a group holiday and didn’t really know each then but I’ll never forget that trip. It was just incredible – full of interesting characters and adventure – and of course, it was when we first met.
We met up a few times after that holiday – going out for meals and catching a show in London – and before you knew it, we were dating. When I asked her to move to the Midlands and become my wife, her response made me laugh – “are you sure?” she said, “have you thought about it?” But that was Jane for you. Always modest, kind and unassuming. She was the sweetest person you could ever meet, everybody loved her.
So when she found a lump, I was devastated. She was told it was breast cancer and after a lot of tests, scans and chemotherapy, the hospital told us that there was nothing more they could do. It was our 20th wedding anniversary and I was completely heartbroken.
That’s when we were first referred to Birmingham St Mary’s. Jane had been in and out of hospital quite a bit but it wasn’t where she wanted to be. Instead, she wanted to come to the hospice. As soon as we got here, we just felt so reassured. The staff were brilliant – they made us feel safe and were so positive, thoughtful and considerate.
I know being at the hospice is never a normal situation but the nurses allowed Jane to enjoy the things she would normally do with her friends and family. Family meant everything to her, so we decided to have a small gathering in the hospice’s conservatory. Everyone was there, including our two daughters, Lucy and Emily, Jane’s mom, and her sister and brother-in-law. We all brought in some nibbles and drinks and despite the circumstances, we had a really lovely day.
Jane also used to love having a curry with her girlfriends – so the hospice allowed the girls to bring the curry to her. They all sat together one evening and tucked into their meals, samosas and drinks. It’s a small gesture but I know it meant so much to her.
One of the things that I was really grateful for was being able to sleep over at the hospice. Jane was never one to make a fuss, so I wanted to make sure I was there should she ever want or need anything. But mainly, I just wanted to be with her. It was a strange time in both our lives and so it was important that we were together.
When Jane passed away, it was the hardest time of my life but the hospice was still there to support me and the family. I received bereavement counselling which helped a lot – I really don’t think I could have got through it without that support.
That’s why I wanted to do something different and give back to Birmingham St Mary’s. I was so impressed with the support they gave to Jane and our family – the care was amazing and the staff were just brilliant. Although my daughter Emily and I both volunteer here now, I wanted to do some fundraising so that more families can receive the expert support that ours did.
For me, running a marathon or completing a bike ride isn’t up my street but as soon as I saw the Loop the Loop challenge, I knew it was what I wanted to do. I just thought ‘that looks brilliant!’ and it really was. Flying in an original RAF Slingsby Firefly was a terrific experience – it was like nothing that I’ve ever done before and it was so much fun. The views were just spectacular and it was a strange feeling when the sun goes under the nose of the plane as you go upside down. I don’t think I stopped smiling for the whole of the flight – which is a pretty big achievement for a grumpy, old man like myself!
I know Jane would have been happy to see me do the Loop the Loop challenge. She would have been saying ‘are you sure about this, have you thought this through?’ but she always supported my love of adventure. It was an experience like no other and for such a good cause too. I’m so chuffed to have done something different for the hospice.
Thank you Gary for sharing your story with us! If you’re feeling inspired and want to do something loopy for the hospice, why not take a look at our adrenaline-packed challenges? Your generous support could ensure that more local families living with life-limiting illness can receive the care they need during the most difficult of times.