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Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
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Mother & Daughter in Double Tragedy

Posted Tuesday, June 12, 2007

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Mother & Daughter in Double Tragedy!

For most of her adult life Jan Grace was a pub landlady. She had two children by her first husband; a son, Mark, and three years later, a daughter, Simone.

Jan was a very popular landlady in a lively town centre pub, and over the years she built up a nucleus of friends, some of them fellow landladies and barmaids known as the `sisterhood’. When she was a teenager Simone became part of this group of special close friends, and both mother and daughter were central characters in the weekly meetings of the sisterhood for over a decade. It was frequently said of them that they were more like sisters than mother & daughter, but then the whole group was more a family than simply a collection of unrelated friends.

As the years passed it seemed that nothing could break the bond of the sisterhood; they went on holidays together, shopped together, drank together, frequently stayed at each others homes, and shared one anothers joys and sorrows.

Then late in 1997 Jan was diagnosed as having breast cancer and began chemotherapy treatment. The sisterhood rallied round, encouraging her to remain optimistic in the face of the nasty side-effects. Jan’s hair fell out. She became withdrawn and reclusive. The sisterhood, led by daughter Simone, encouraged her to remain optimistic, urging her to fight the illness and not to give in. She bought a selection of wigs so that she could continue going out with the girls, and their encouragement gave her the determination to continue trying to live life to the full, even when her illness was pronounced terminal last year, - when she was just 49 years old.

The sisterhood, though devastated, remained resolute and the bond between them was only strengthened by this latest adversity. Jan was now being prescribed morphine for the pain, and as her 50th birthday approached it remained doubtful whether she would be around to celebrate it. Simone and the sisterhood planned a surprise birthday party and Jan seemed to rally as her 50th birthday arrived in April this year.

The party was one of the best that the sisterhood had ever arranged and on the night everything went superbly, - until Jan arrived home. During the night she got up to go to the bathroom – but drowsy after taking her cancer pills, she fell down the stairs suffering multiple fractures. Simone found her the next morning and she was rushed to hospital where x-rays revealed several fractures, including most of the rib cage on one side. In great pain and with extreme breathing difficulties, Jan was placed on a ventilator. Her lungs were being crushed by the broken ribs, but because she was terminally ill with cancer surgeons could not operate. For three days and nights Simone sat by her mother’s bedside at Chesterfield Royal Hospital, relieved occasionally by other members of the sisterhood. Jan lapsed into a coma and four days after her 50th birthday she quietly passed away, with Simone holding her hand to the end.

The vicar who conducted Jan’s funeral service said that in 31 years of ministry he had never seen such a large gathering at the crematorium. Over 400 people gathered to pay their final respects to a very brave and much loved lady.

Simone, her brother Mark, and the sisterhood were devastated.

But this was a `family’ of friends who had lived life to the max; a sisterhood that celebrated life together every single day. Jan would not have wanted them to mourn and mope, and out of love and respect for her memory they decided that the weekly gatherings should continue. But it was a strange and subdued sisterhood that met in the weeks that followed. Simone, always the life and soul of the party, had lost not only a mother but a best friend, and no one could imagine the weight of the heavy burden of grief that she carried although she appeared to be putting on a brave face.

That burden sadly proved intolerable and just a few weeks later Simone, in a fit of depression, commited suicide by taking massive doses of her mother’s remaining morphine pills. The circumstances surrounding her death were tragic in themselves;

She had taken the pills and then telephoned her boyfriend’s mobile ‘phone to leave a message which said, “I’ve taken all my mother’s morphine pills, - I’m out of here”. This was around midnight, but boyfriend Kevin’s phone was switched off and he didn’t get the message until he switched it back on the following morning. He dashed over to Simone’s house to find no one answering and all the doors locked. Frantically he ran to a friend’s house, hoping that Simone was there. She wasn’t, and together they went back to Simone’s house and broke in only to find her lying on the sofa. A friend tried in vain to revive her whilst paramedics rushed to the scene, but all their efforts were in vain and Simone was pronounced dead on arrival at the same hospital where her mother had so recently passed away. She was 29 years old.

Mark and the extended `family’ of friends, including the nucleus of the sisterhood gathered together to say their final farewells to Simone this month (July) in the same chapel, at the same crematorium, at the same time and day of the week, (11-30am-Wednesday) where they had all gathered just seven weeks previously to say goodbye to Jan. This time the auditorium was packed to capacity. People were standing in the side and central aisles, and the doors had to be left open so that the one hundred or so who couldn’t get in, could nevertheless witness the proceedings.

The sense of tragedy and grief hung like a pall over the gathering, everyone seemed numbed by shock and disbelief. Cancer, it seemed, had added two more victims to it’s list of grimly-reaped souls. Mark had lost a mother and sister in the space of a few short weeks and the dignity with which he bore his grief and with which he conducted his affairs and discharged his duties was remarkable. The sisterhood was bereft and some almost delirious with remorse, but they all rallied around Mark and the family and sought – and found - consolation in one another as they mourned their loss.

If only Jan hadn’t fallen downstairs after taking her medication; If only she hadn’t had cancer; they would have been able to save her life; if only Simone hadn’t had access to the morphine pills; if only Jan hadn’t died so tragically, neither would Simone!

The double tragedy doubled the grief and multiplied the sense of loss.

The sisterhood remained strong; Mark retained his sanity; life went on.

The sisterhood and friends raised over £850 for a memorial in tribute to mother and daughter, and a week ago they buried Simone’s ashes alongside those of her mother in the little cemetery beside the United Reform Church at Calow, near Chesterfield.

Then the following day another bombshell exploded that shattered all credulity, - and turned the grief and sorrow of mourning into a fury of impotent rage and disbelief.

The Coroners report following the post mortem on Jan, which had been postponed from June (when Simone was still alive) was finally published, - and showed that there was no trace of any cancer to be found anywhere in her body!

In fact the only damage to the internal organs and tissues appeared to have been caused by the chemotherapy treatment and the medication prescribed – for the `terminal’ cancer that she never had in the first place!

If the autopsy report had been published on schedule would Simone still have commited suicide? Not on your life! Knowing that her mother had been mis-diagnosed and as a consequence had suffered two and a half years of hell believing that she was dying of terminal cancer; two years of absolutely needless torture, - she would have fought tirelessly to find out who was responsible,- and why?

Now Mark is left to pick up the pieces of this latest debacle of mis-diagnosis which has cost the lives of his mother and sister in such tragic circumstances; a double tragedy which should never have happened, - and which should never be allowed to happen again.

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