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Life is what you make it

Pauline and Jim Lawrence had 57 happy years together, enjoying their time spent out on the barges.

When Pauline’s illness became worse, she chose to be cared for at their home in Brightlingsea so she could be with Jim, and they remained together right up to the last moment when Pauline died in his arms.

Jim shares their story:

Jim Lawrence


I've been very impressed with the people of St Helena. They just do some much for you and then they go off and do something for someone else too, all day long.

Everyone who came to our home said they loved their job and always made sure Pauline was very comfortable. She loved them too and thought the world of them. 

I was caring for Pauline and I was so proud of the way I looked after her myself until St Helena had to come in, because I couldn’t physically lift her in the end. I was so proud because we’d grown so close together, and when she died, she died in my arms and we were so very sure of our love for each other. That made it easy for me really. I’m finding it harder now than I did at the start.

When the nurses asked if she wanted to go in the Hospice, she said ‘no, I want to stop here with Jim’ and I thought that was the greatest compliment she could pay me. We did enjoy our last bit of time together. And actually she did have a bit of respite – we went off to Yarmouth on holiday together and we didn’t talk about illnesses once. We carried on as if there was nothing wrong.

It was her choice, she urgently wanted to stay at home. I can understand that. You’ve got your own surroundings. She could look out of the window and see her own garden, which was getting a little overgrown at the time, I wasn’t really paying much attention to the garden, but she just loved being there.

She didn’t really want to see anybody, she wouldn’t let her friends see her when she was ill, so it was only me here really.

It might have been tough on me but you didn’t really feel it at the time; Pauline’s needs were greater than mine. You’re thinking about Pauline all the time really. I used to go out shopping, I used to run. I was afraid of meeting anybody and being delayed, or I was afraid of meeting anybody with a cold.

Our nurse Andrea was absolutely steadfast. She was wonderful, a very efficient lady. I’d give her 10 out of 10 because she could read the situation much quicker than me. She realised I was trying but I couldn’t cope any longer and she read it right away. She got the hospital bed in and we got Pauline her downstairs for the last time. I knew it would be the last time Pauline would go down the stairs but it was for the best. There are some sad things that you’re aware of but it’s a progression that you need to go through.

Andrea was very experienced and had prepared me long before Pauline eventually died, so I was ready for it to happen. Andrea could understand the situation all the time she knew exactly where we were at any one time and she kept me up to scratch on that. With the help you get it’s so much more, it makes it all possible. We had a lovely finish, Pauline and I.

It was the most amazing attitude from the St Helena people; how they do really care and keep nice and cheerful, it really makes a world of difference. We had the medication here and the nurses kept coming down two or three times a week making sure we had everything. 

Pauline was 82 and I think I have to be very grateful because we had 57 years together, so I think it’s important to count your blessings. Dying is a natural thing to do and so you have to be very grateful when you do get a nice bit of time together.

I know Pauline had a lovely life and I’m grateful for what I had with her. Life is what you make it and we did put a lot into it. I’ve spent my life barging and sailing. Pauline used to sail with me. 1963 I think was her favourite year because that was a very, very cold winter. She was on the barge with me and the barge was made of wood so it was lovely and warm and snug.

I know now I haven’t got her, that people around the town thought the world of her. She’d go up the town with a big basket on her bike and get a pound of sugar, then she’d come back home, and go back for a loaf of bread. That was a social thing really.

It was strange because the people up the town would say ‘oh you’d never see Pauline without a hair out of place or without her make up on’. Well she got so she didn’t have make up on and she did have a hair out of place, and all I can say is as she went down she got more and more beautiful. Her skin was lovely, she looked absolutely gorgeous, and I just used to lay and hold her. There was something very special about her.

Pauline Lawrence

I couldn’t be at the funeral. I looked after her for six months, arranged the funeral, spoke to the vicar, crossed all the Ts and dotted the Is, and then had a stroke and I was in the hospital for the funeral. It’s all been recorded and filmed, the undertaker did that so one day when I’m ready I’ll be able to see it. I’m not ready yet, not for a bit.

When I get sad and have a little cry, it’s a very nice feeling, a very warm feeling. I’m not at all unhappy. I feel very warm about everything because it all went so nice. We’d been lucky, we’d done some lovely things. Life should be good, it has been good for us and we know it can’t go on for ever, don’t we? I think Pauline wold agree if she was here now.

When you’re young, you don’t think about it but as you get older nearly every couple has to go through this. One or the other gets taken and the other one has to survive on their own. I think we should be prepared and I’ve told younger people don’t be miserable about it, realise you can’t all stay together all your life. And what you do, is you have another chapter, you do different things, you live your life different. It needn’t be miserable. It is another chapter and I think there’s lots of lovely tings you can do and your friends are there to support you.

St Helena was here at the right time, that’s most important. It felt like they were always here, always in touch, and insisted I rang up any time I had any little problems night or day, 24 hours. I always knew that was there. It gave me a lot of strength that did, I couldn’t have managed without it. I think that’s a wonderful thing.

It was just the two of us at the very end. She died in my arms and you couldn’t actually tell the exact moment it was because it was so gentle. I just looked at her and hugged her and she was absolutely so beautiful. I kept talking to her, telling her how much I loved her and I think she heard me and I think she was well pleased. She knew that I loved her very, very much and I knew she loved me in return.  

This story may not be published elsewhere without express permission from St Helena Hospice.


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