“Coming to St Oswald’s Hospice for bereavement support has given me the tools to help me cope with my grief for Norman and Lee.”
Sixteen-year-old Ailsa was sunbathing on the school field with a friend when she first saw Norman.
She said: “We were sitting on a blanket and Norman and a friend came to talk to us. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He had this beautiful long hair and gorgeous brown eyes.
“Afterwards, I turned to my friend and said: ‘I’ve just met the man I’m going to marry.”
But the relationship didn’t get off to the best start when Ailsa got Norman’s name mixed up and her friend set her up with the wrong person.
“I went to meet Norman and when his friend arrived I had to admit I’d got their names wrong. He was very understanding and said, ‘It’s probably for the best because Norman hasn’t stopped talking about you’.”
Norman and Ailsa became boyfriend and girlfriend soon after and they had a daughter, Donna. But their young relationship wasn’t to last and the pair broke up. Norman married another woman but he and Ailsa remained good friends. When Norman’s marriage ended, he and Ailsa reconciled and this time, their relationship was to last.
The couple had two more sons, Paul and Lee, and married in Newcastle Civic Centre. Paul was named after Ailsa’s sister, Pauline, who sadly died of breast cancer. Norman worked in removals and Ailsa worked as a classroom assistant. The family settled in Kenton, Newcastle.
When the couple’s children grew up, Norman took up photography and he and Ailsa loved visiting National Trust properties.
“Wallington Hall was very special to us,” Ailsa explained. “We went all the time. Norman loved taking photos of the red squirrels.”
Then one day, Lee’s fiancé called to say that Lee was having a seizure. A week later, he had another. At the hospital, a scan revealed the devastating news – Lee had a brain tumour. He had just turned 30.
When Norman and Ailsa weren’t helping Lee and his family, they found solace in visits to their beloved Wallington Hall.
Not long afterwards, Norman began feeling unwell. When he found a lump near his neck, he visited the doctor, who sent him for a scan.
Ailsa was at school when her husband called asking if he could meet her. The pair had planned to get fish and chips that night but Norman wanted to go straight home. There, he revealed the tragic news that he’d be diagnosed with lung cancer.
After visiting an oncologist, the couple was told the cancer was terminal.
Norman underwent a course of radiotherapy followed by chemotherapy. He visited St Oswald’s Hospice for pain management while he and Ailsa benefited from our complementary therapies.
“We came to St Oswald’s Hospice for a look around and they suggested Norman could have some reiki. He agreed and I said I would just sit in a chair next to him. Then they said I could get reflexology. I wasn’t expecting care for the both of us.”
When Norman’s health declined, he was taken to hospital where it was discovered he had developed double pneumonia.
He returned home for a brief time but was rushed back to hospital again. Ailsa and the family were told Norman didn’t have long to live.
Norman sadly died 48 hours later.
“I knew he was ill and I knew I was going to lose Norman, but not that quickly,” Ailsa reflected. “The GP and the Macmillan nurse were shocked he had died so suddenly.”
The death of her husband and son has understandably took a huge toll on Ailsa and she has turned to St Oswald’s Hospice for support.
“I had one-to-one sessions with Brenda [our Bereavement Support Coordinator] when Norman died, and when Lee got very ill, I got back in touch with her and was able to start seeing her again,” Ailsa said.
Over the years, Ailsa has also attended group sessions to help her comprehend what has happened.
More recently, she has been a regular attendee to our fortnightly Bereavement Cafés.
The informal drop-in sessions have taken place 10am to 12pm at St Oswald’s Hospice in Gosforth since the summer. They have been open to anyone who is grieving.
Ailsa has found comfort meeting others in a similar situation, speaking about Norman and Lee, and sharing how she feels.
“Everyone grieves differently. There is no right or wrong way to do it. It’s always there and never goes away. But being in a group, you can get support from people who knows what it feels like. They know what you’re going through and can say, ‘I understand’.
“The cafés have helped me to realise how far I’ve come in my grief. Of course there are bad days, but coming to St Oswald’s Hospice for bereavement support has given me the tools to help me cope with my grief for Norman and Lee.”