Bittersweet time for Enniskillen family as mum Helen realises her dying wish to live to see niece marry
The heartbroken husband of a breast cancer victim has revealed that his late wife had one of the best days of her life shortly before she died.
Inspirational mother-of-two Helen Cooper (59), from Enniskillen, succumbed to the illness on January 14 after being diagnosed almost a year earlier.
She initially believed she had beaten the disease but, following a biopsy last September, she was told in a devastating diagnosis that the cancer had spread.
The occupational therapist feared she wouldn't be here for her niece Kerry Connor's wedding, but was able to attend the ceremony on Lusty Beg Island on December 15 - and passed away almost a month later.
Jeweller Stephen Cooper (63), her husband of almost 36 years, told the Belfast Telegraph that she had "a tremendous day" at the nuptials, where their daughters Sarah (28) and Hannah (23) were bridesmaids.
"Helen was very worried that she wasn't going to make the wedding but she actually got to go and she had a tremendous day," he said. "She was extremely happy and she said it was one of the best days of her life."
Mr Cooper said that when the extent of Helen's ill-health was revealed to them both in September, her survival came with no guarantees.
"When she was diagnosed in late January last year, they told us they could treat it," he said.
"She had chemotherapy and radiotherapy and they thought they had got all of the cancer but it came back with a vengeance.
"She was in an awful lot of pain during the radiotherapy and it was only when they decided to do a biopsy that they discovered that it had returned and spread.
"When Helen asked if she'd be around for the wedding we didn't get a reply, which was absolutely devastating, and that's why she was so worried in the run-up to it. She didn't want to put a dampener on the day but I think it gave her a focus to get there and she did, thankfully."
The businessman said that Sarah, a London-based occupational therapist, and Hannah, who's studying radiotherapy in Leeds, have given him great strength despite their own grief.
"The girls are managing; it's difficult but they have been a great support to me," he said. "We knew this was coming ... but it doesn't make it any easier, even if you do know it's coming. We got time, which some people don't."
He added: "We've had lots of support from family and friends but when the girls go back to England and I'm here by myself, things will sink in. I'm not looking forward to that but we have to get on with it. This happens to so many people."
He also told how Hannah almost died two years earlier following complications after an operation, which caused them all, including Helen, a lot of worry.
"We nearly lost her two years ago," he said. "Her whole system was completely poisoned and the stress of that certainly didn't do Helen or any of us any good."
Mr Cooper described his late wife, whom he met when she was a pupil at Enniskillen Collegiate Grammar School, as a very caring person. "She organised everything for us; she spent her time trying to put everything in order for me and the girls," he said. "She wrote her own eulogy to help the minister who was new; she was only trying to help her because she knew she hadn't known her for that long.
"She spent a lot of her life caring for other people. Her father died at a very young age and her mother had Multiple Sclerosis so she spent an awful lot of time caring for her mother."
Although there "are so many things" he'll miss about Helen, the father-of-two said the loss of her friendship and companionship in particular would hit home hard, especially the next time he visits their holiday home in Portnoo.
"When we go to Donegal and she's not there... there will be a big gap," he s aid.
He also said the couple, who lived together beside Lough Erne, would now never make the trip down the river Shannon in the boat they'd bought.
"That was one of the things we were going to do in retirement," he said.