‘My husband’s cancer wasn’t curable – we knew we wouldn’t be silver-haired together’

There is something a little disconcerting, but terribly moving, about Janet’s ability to talk so openly about her loss. She is, she says, incredibly grateful that she was with John when he died, and has huge sympathy for those families who – due to Covid restrictions – were unable to be with their relatives.

‘In the morning I sensed something. I mean it’s not a big thing when it happens, but it is precious. It was tiny and big at the same time. I sat there for a few minutes so that I could just be with him before I told anyone, before everything that follows a death happens.’

In the autumn, with restrictions lifted, the family held a memorial service for John. After his death they had found a speech he had written, which he requested to be read by his close friend Paul Roseby. 

‘It’s funny because John never wrote a single love letter or billet-doux to me in all the years we were together, nothing, nothing. I knew I was loved but that wasn’t who he was. And then a huge part of this speech he had written was the most wonderful love letter directed at me. I had to wait 35 years and him dying to get a love letter, then it was a really big one, really big and public,’ she says with evident emotion.

The loss of her beloved husband has made Janet an even more impassioned supporter of Maggie’s. John benefited hugely from the charity’s advice on pain control, learning a process of self-hypnosis that he used daily in the later stages of his cancer. And visits to Maggie’s West London will play a part in her ongoing attempt to deal with her grief.

‘There are things I need to work on that I can’t really share with my children, who have been wonderful, or with my friends because it is such a particular grief losing your husband. 

People are lovely and say things like, “I know how you feel – my father died of cancer.” But losing a parent is not the same. I have lost the person who saw me, who fancied me, who touched me. I have lost all that.’

Maggie’s Cancer Care – and how you can help 

Maggie’s is a group of support centres offering professional advice, from well-being to finance, to those suffering from cancer and their loved ones. It was co-founded by writer, gardener and designer Maggie Keswick Jencks in the 1990s, after she was told her breast cancer had returned five years on from her initial diagnosis. 

It was her own traumatic experience that moved her to create calm and friendly spaces for patients, a contrast to the stark waiting rooms many found themselves in.

There are 27 Maggie’s centres in the UK – a number the charity hopes to increase to 30 next year – as well as three abroad.

Maggie’s is one of four organisations supported by this year’s Telegraph Christmas Charity Appeal. The others are Dogs Trust, Alzheimer’s Society and The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. To make a donation, please visit telegraph.co.uk/2021appeal or call 0151 284 1927.

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