Carole Haw, 71, from Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, explains how her wonderful, funny daughter Natalie left their whole family smiling...
I was sitting with a cup of tea, about to turn the telly on, when my mobile went off.
I fumbled around in my handbag to find it. It was a text from my daughter, Natalie Bailie, 45 at the time.
Hi Mum, I’ve just been to the doctor. I’ve got breast and lung cancer. It’s terminal. But don’t worry about me. There are lots of treatments available, she wrote.
I dropped my phone in shock.
It was typical of Natalie to be so matter of fact. But nothing prepares you for hearing that your child has cancer.
Natalie was a mum of three – Hannah, now 26, Joseph, 24, and Isaac, 15. It was so unfair. I couldn’t help sobbing.
She’d been suffering with lots of chest infections and antibiotics weren’t working, so I knew something might be wrong, but I never expected the diagnosis to be so devastating.
And it only got worse.
Over the next 12 months, further tests showed she had six tumours on her brain, as well as some on her neck, jaw and kidneys. The cancer was everywhere – and there wasn’t much they could do.
‘I’m so sorry, Natalie,’ I said, reaching out to hug her.
‘Don’t get all soppy, I just want to carry on as before,’ she replied.
It’s what my girl wanted – so that’s what we did.
Even through her chemo, we didn’t dwell on her illness or even talk about it much.
She had a wicked sense of humour and loved cracking jokes about it, though. When a friend popped in to see her one afternoon, they said they’d call again soon.
‘Well, don’t leave it too long – I’m dying, you know,’ she told them with that twinkle in her eye.
I guess finding opportunities to laugh was her way of coping with the thought that she didn’t have long left.
Then, in June 2015, Natalie’s dad Alan Haw, 73, passed away. He’d had cancer, too.
We went to the funeral directors together to make the arrangements.
‘Have you got a coffin catalogue,’ Natalie asked the lady helping us.
‘Sure, but you’ve chosen the one for your dad,’ she said.
‘Yeah, but I might as well pick mine while I’m here,’ she chuckled.
Natalie had smiled through the pain since her diagnosis but, after her beloved dad had gone, her spark seemed to die a little.
Over the next few weeks, she got more poorly. I was supposed to go on holiday to Menorca, but cancelled because I was afraid something would happen to her if I was away.
When Natalie found out, she went bananas.
‘You are going on holiday! No arguments! It’s on my bucket list that you have a good holiday!’ she said.
So I followed her orders and went on a two-week break.
When I came back, Natalie looked awful and, though she denied it, I knew she was in pain.
‘I’ve written my obituary in my notebook, Mum. Put it in the paper when the time comes,’ she said.
‘Whatever you want, darling,’ I said.
‘I love you, Mum,’ she replied, squeezing my hand.
I watched helplessly as she deteriorated over the next week. Then, on 3 August this year, Natalie passed away peacefully in hospital. I knew it was coming, but it still hurt so much.
Her sister Sally, 50, and niece Lizzie, 20, went to Natalie’s and found the notebook. She’d called it My Journey Down Under Plan.I couldn’t help but smile at that.
And there was the obituary she’d asked me to put in the paper.
If you’re reading this, I have died, it began.
I burst out laughing. It reminded me of the words comedy legend Spike Milligan famously had on his gravestone: I told you I was ill.
An invitation to her funeral followed. I just had to fill in the ‘where’ and the ‘when’.
Ever practical, Natalie also filled her notebook with DIY tips, recipes for Sally…
The rest of the pages had details of what she wanted for her funeral – she specifically requested a bottle of Lambrini and a roll-up cigarette in her coffin.
She asked that a mobile phone was put in, too – and that one of us ring it during the service!
We couldn’t put it inside the coffin, as she was being cremated, so we hid it behind a bunch of flowers on top.
You should have seen everyone’s faces when it started to ring – she would have loved it!
As we left the crematorium, we played I’ve Had The Time Of My Life, at Natalie’s request, of course.
Everyone started tapping their feet. It was wonderful, a real comfort for me and her kids.
Then we all went to a local club, where we played all Natalie’s favourite music and danced for hours. Her final instruction was that we celebrated her life, not mourned her death – and that’s exactly what we did.
A huge hole has been left in my heart since losing Natalie, but I’m so proud of the positive, loving, light-hearted person she was – not just in her life but in her death, too.
Natalie will be my inspiration forever.