Jean Rookes was, with Dr Peter Rookes, BCF joint 3rd Sector Liaison Officer for 9 years and joint Secretary for 3 years, She was active in both of these roles until a few weeks before she died.
It is now a year since my best friend, soulmate & wife died. After nearly 40 years together, Jeanie lost her brave battle against Ovarian Cancer. Although, we had known her expected life expectancy for 3 years, the suddenness of her final decline still took me by surprise. We did so much during her final year, it was as if she wanted to make the most of every single day, including our usual scouting & faith related activities, several caravanning breaks, a scout camp in September, & a walk of 5 miles around Studland Point with our rambling group in October.
In November, there was an acceleration of her decline. It was a fitting privilege; after all she had given to me, to nurse her at home for 6 weeks before she was admitted to our local hospice, where she died at peace a week later.
Before Jean died, she wanted me to make 3 promises:-
- Keep the grieving to a minimum & move on with my life in a positive way.
- Continue to raise awareness of the symptoms to reduce the early mortality from Ovarian Cancer.
- Continue with the charity, advocacy & humanitarian work we did together
The first of these has been the most difficult – far more difficult than I ever imagined. As my daughter, Sara-Jane, says – “you & Mum weren’t just married for nearly 40 years, you lived for each other, you did virtually everything together, & had endless conversations on every topic under the sun” I have immense admiration for all of those widows & widowers who have, with dignity, gone before me. I thank my family & friends who have supported me throughout this turbulent year.
Grieving is a strange process and different people deal with it in different ways. In my experience there are 3 grief periods for people who die following a long debilitating condition. The first period is when the diagnosis is made. I well remember Jeanie giving me a big hug and saying “I need you to be strong Pete”. I felt anything but strong at the time. The second stage is the period surrounding the actual death when I felt that Jeanie was slipping away from me and life was draining from her body. The third period was accepting that she wasn’t here anymore, our home seemed so empty, and that I had to do things on my own and go out on my own. My initial reaction was to shut myself away as I didn’t want to face anybody, not even friends at church. Jeanie knew the difficulty I would face, and made sure that I didn’t lose contact with our networks when she was too sick to attend herself. This helped me greatly to pick up the reins when I was ready.
On the second promise, it is important that more women & their partners are aware of the early symptoms of Ovarian Cancer, principally abdominal bloating, but also urinary & intestinal complaints, which can be mistaken for cystitis or irritable bowel syndrome. Then seek early diagnosis & treatment. I have written a piece on Jean’s story, which has been uploaded to the Target Ovarian Cancer website, & can be viewed at:- https://www.targetovariancancer.org.uk/stories/incurable-ovarian-cancer-symptoms-awareness-friends-and-family/peter-and-jeans-story
More information about Ovarian Cancer can also be accessed on this website.
The 3rd promise is probably the most straightforward in that it is continuation and extension of what I was already doing, through Birmingham Voluntary Services Council; Scouts; U3A; Birmingham Council of Faiths; USPG (United Society – Partners in the Gospel); University of Birmingham; Healthwatch; Cotteridge Church Council; & our Faiths, Health & Wellbeing seminars of which we had one on End of Life Care and one on Disability this year. In one way this is more difficult in that I miss Jean’s help and support, particularly her financial skills and attention to detail. On the other hand I have more free time, & it is easier to pursue activities which involve travelling, weekends & overnight stays.
Now I have passed the first set of anniversaries (Christmas, Birthday, Wedding Anniversary, etc), I am ready to move forward, but recognising that I will still be caught out from time to time. Please don’t hesitate to mention Jean’s name when it occurs naturally in a conversation, and try not to get too embarrassed if I occasionally shed a tear!