'Three years after death of my sister, we'll remember her in great style'
Newcastle woman Colleen Smith is staging a charity vintage fashion show in tribute to her late sibling.
Three years after losing her only sister and best friend Anne-Marie McCavigan to renal failure, Colleen Smith is hoping to keep her memory alive with a charity event that embraces all of her little sister's favourite things.
Fashion, shopping, buns and girly fun will all be part of a spectacular event being staged in Anne-Marie's favourite venue -- The Ryandale Hotel in Moy -- where she loved to eat and enjoy nights out.
For Colleen (50), who runs Coolgreeney House B&B in Newcastle with her husband Colum, it's a night which will say thanks to the staff of the renal ward in Daisy Hill Hospital who nursed her sister but more importantly for her, it is a way to keep Anne-Marie alive in people's hearts and minds.
Colleen, who has a stepson Gary and three grandchildren, lived miles away from her sister in Lurgan but the two girls couldn't have been closer.
She still struggles to accept that she has lost her sister and since her death in September 2011 she and her family -- twin brothers Stephen and Gary Heenan and parents Rose (76) and Noel (83) -- have raised money annually for the renal ward at Daisy Hill Hospital in Newry.
But this year Colleen has been driven to do something extra special in her sister's memory and has teamed up with the Living Vintage Company to stage a unique fashion show which she knows her style-loving sister would have adored.
Colleen says: "Anne-Marie was an incredible person.
"She was ill for so long but none of us ever realised just how ill, because she protected us from it.
"No matter how she was feeling she would have always smiled and said she was OK.
"We never knew exactly when she was really sick because she always hid it.
"She was an awful wee girl for keeping it from us.
"I couldn't describe how good a girl she was. I have an ability to block things out and my way of coping is to tell myself she is just sick and that's why I haven't seen her.
"That has helped me to deal with it.
"She was taken from me too soon; I didn't get long enough with her. I just want to do this show for her so that her name won't be forgotten and will be in people's thoughts."
Anne-Marie was 25 when she developed problems with her kidneys. In her 30s she had a transplant operation which gave her five quality years before, tragically, her body rejected the organ.
She then had to go on daily dialysis at home and was so protective of her family's feelings that she refused to let them see her receiving her treatment.
Even towards the end she never gave a hint of how ill she was.
A couple of weeks before her 40th birthday she spent a lovely weekend with her mum, sister, sisters-in-law, nieces and best friend Joanne Fearon at the Galgorm Manor as an early birthday celebration.
No-one guessed how little time Anne-Marie had as she joined in the fun and once again masked how she was feeling. She died on September 17, just three weeks after turning 40.
Colleen says: "She was fantastic company that weekend and she looked great and had so much fun that none of us imagined that just over three weeks later she would be gone.
"She was the one who organised the Galgorm weekend and she wanted all the girls there and she made the most of it. On her 40th she was so ill that I just left flowers at her door and didn't disturb her because I knew she wouldn't want me to see her that way.
"As a family we were just all so shocked and devastated and we still are.
"It gets worse as time goes on. My mum and dad are just heartbroken; they will never get over it. Their spark has gone.
"As a family we bought a coffee machine for Daisy Hill Hospital's renal ward the first year after Anne-Marie died and last year we bought iPads for the patients.
"This year I felt I wanted to do something special to remember her.
"She loved her style and was always well turned out.
"She loved shoes and handbags and shopping and I think the fashion show will be something she would have really enjoyed and we are going to have craft stalls at it and refreshments as well as staging it in the hotel she loved to go to in the Moy."
The Living Vintage Company will be displaying their private collection of authentic clothes and accessories at the event which will raise money for both the renal unit in the Daisy Hill Hospital and Cancer Research UK. Living Vintage is a travelling fashion show where models 'put on the style' and show off a magnificent collection of some of the most stylish haute couture of the Forties and Fifties in a great atmosphere of fun and nostalgia.
Owned by sisters Bridget Owens and Marian Keenan, Living Vintage is a not-for-profit organisation and all money raised is donated to the designated charity.
Bridget of Living Vintage says: "We are extremely proud of our collection of authentic Forties and Fifties fashion and all the outfits are accessorised with the appropriate vintage hats, gloves, bags, jewellery and of course, seamed stockings.
"The evening will also feature day dresses, suits and evening wear and is rounded off by a stunning bridal show." Colleen adds: "We are also having a big raffle with lots of prizes and a tombola table.
"It is so appropriate for Anne-Marie because of her love of fashion and fun and I just want to keep her to the forefront and not let her be forgotten."
The event is being held on Friday, March 7 in the Ryandale Hotel in Moy at 7.30pm. Tickets cost £10 and are available by calling Colleen on 07851 365027 or the Ryandale on 028 8778 4629.
* For more information on Living Vintage fashion shows go to www.livingvintagecompany.com
THE URGENT NEED FOR KIDNEY DONORS
* In August last year there were 156 people waiting for a kidney transplant in Northern Ireland
* Between April 2012 and March 2013, 76 patients in the province received a kidney transplant, with 50 of the organs from live donors
* Kidney function is recorded on a scale of 0-100% and if the level of function falls below 10% there is a need for dialysis or a transplant
* In August 2013 there were more than 800 people receiving dialysis in Northern Ireland
* Of those, 700 received the therapy regularly in hospital with the remainder on home dialysis
* Around 95% of kidneys transplanted in Northern Ireland were still working well a year after the operation. Kidneys are more robust than other major organs and the success rate of transplants is higher
For more information on Living Vintage fashion shows go to www.livingvintagecompany.com