But it wasn’t just her family who adored Helen. She was someone who had dedicated her whole career to helping others and her colleagues at North Tyneside Council were devastated when she became ill. Helen’s manager and friend, Sandra Kay, was one of the many people that knew and loved Helen. They worked together in the Children’s Public Heath Team at North Tyneside Council, where Helen, a nurse, was part of the ‘Healthy4Life’ team.
“Helen worked with local children and families to promote and support a healthy lifestyle. She very much practiced what she preached, as you’d often see her bouncing into our work canteen in her work tracksuit with a healthy snack in her hand. She had so much energy and enthusiasm for everything that she did.
“When I received the call from Helen to tell me of her diagnosis, I just remember being overwhelmed by her strength. The doctors had explained there was no treatment and palliative care was all th they could offer her. There were no tears, no anger, she was so calm and positive and I knew I needed to be there for her and support her however I could.”
Helen didn’t return to work after her diagnosis but Sandra kept in regular contact with her by phone. She continued:
“I bumped into Helen and her family at a café on the beach one day and I was shocked by her weight loss. As a nurse myself, I could clearly see that she was unwell, but she was still smiling, I noticed she was enjoying a sausage sandwich, which was so unlike Helen. When I pointed it out to her, it gave us both a much needed laugh.
“Not long after I saw her on the beach, I visited Helen at home. We both knew how poorly she was and this would likely be the last time we would see each other. The pandemic meant that we were unable to hug, which felt so unnatural given the circumstances. Helen answered the door smiling, telling me ‘there’s no tears in this house’ and we spent a wonderful hour together talking about her boys and her family. She even asked about work, which is so Helen! Her oldest son had just got his A-Level results and Helen was delighted he was going to university, although sadly, it would be his auntie rather than his mum who would be helping him move into his room and get him settled in. Leaving that day was so hard.
“Helen had been keeping in touch with many colleagues on Whatsapp groups she had set up, but when I hadn’t heard from her in a few days, I knew something had happened. I received a message from Helen’s husband Richard to tell me she has gone into St Oswald’s Hospi. Her three boys, Hugh, 13, Ben, 17 and Robbie, 18 and her three sisters, along with Richard, were able to spend time there with her in her final days, before she passed away, aged 51, on 18th September, just two months after her diagnosis.
“I was at work when Richard informed me that Helen had died. It was a Friday afternoon and I shared the news with three immediate colleagues and we decided to tell the rest of the team on Monday. The Chief Executive of North Tyneside Council sent out a personal email to the whole organisation, where he described Helen as ‘one of the loveliest people you will meet, and missed by so many of us.’ It was extremely moving to hear his words. We then put one to one support in place for colleagues who needed it over the following weeks, especially those who had worked closely with Helen.”
Due to Covid restrictions, friends and colleagues were unable to attend Helen’s funeral. Instead, they decided to remember her in other ways, with the council holding a minutes silence in her memory as her funeral took place. Sandra attended the cemetery where Helen was buried, to pay her respects along with her Senior Manager and the Director of Public Health. The team are now planning to plant a tree in the grounds of the council building as a permanent reminder of their much-loved colleague and have been collecting their favourite stories and memories of Helen in a jar to share with Richard and the boys.
“Losing Helen has left such a void in the team, in all of our lives. She was such a wonderfully warm character that everyone enjoyed being around and her positive attitude rubbed off on those who spent time with her.
Helen worked on the Healthy4Life team and she truly lit up all of our lives, as a colleague and a friend. We will all miss her dearly.”
Sandra will be taking part in Light up a Life, St Oswald’s Christmas remembrance campaign, by lighting a candle in Helen’s memory. Find out more about how you can light up the life of a loved one at www.stoswaldsuk.org/light-up-a-life