Tragic Ellie Rice's family to spend first Christmas without mum
One year on a family are planning to rally together as they spend the first holiday without 'Queen of Christmas' mum Ellie Rice.
Ellie was 76 when she passed away last year on December 29 after succumbing to cancer.
The Lisburn woman had been bravely battling throat cancer since 2009. Having such a desire to make every festive period as special as possible for her family, she was determined to fight on to enjoy one last Christmas.
Now remembering their music-loving mum as this Christmas approaches, daughters Jennifer (50) and Samantha (48) are planning to ensure the family celebrate together in honour of Ellie.
"When mum was first diagnosed, it hit the whole family hard. She had her voice box removed and couldn't speak for the last 10 years of her life," explained Samantha.
"She coped with that surprisingly well and her health then improved for about six years. Then three years ago, a lump came back and, at the start of 2018, mum was told she had six to 12 months to live.
"Mum said she wanted it to be 'business as usual'. She wouldn't talk about it as she didn't want to dwell on it.
"Her way of coping was to use humour - everyone knows mummy for always having a laugh. She became very accepting of it and we're a very close family, so we were all there for each other."
Despite the devastating diagnosis she had received, the independent-minded Ellie wanted to continue enjoying the past-times that always made her happy - attending country music gigs and catching up with friends at the Marie Curie day hospice in Lisburn.
"In November 2018, mum's condition started to really deteriorate," said Samantha.
"We went to a country gig on the Friday night and she wasn't great the next morning. She texted Jennifer and for mum, you knew it was serious, as she would rarely ask for help.
"She went to the Royal Victoria Hospital that day and it became clear mum wasn't going to get better."
It was at this point - in the run up to Christmas - that the grandmother of three was forced to accept she would be spending her last few months of life at the Marie Curie Hospice in Belfast.
However, despite the worries the family had about her being away from home, Samantha explained that they, "felt peace as soon as they arrived" and were able to make that last Christmas a memorable one.
"Mum arrived at the hospice on December 13. The room was beautiful and it was looking out over the courtyard, which had a great big tree and was filled with fairy lights, like Santa's grotto," said Samantha.
"We brought Christmas trees with us and mummy sat in her chair like Mrs Claus with her Christmas earrings in.
"One of mum's passions was music. Over the few weeks she was at the hospice, she got to see so many performances, from a bagpiper, to a harpist and local school choirs - she really enjoyed it.
"The staff at the hospice asked us our plans for Christmas Day and the chef offered to make us all a turkey dinner.
"On December 21, one of the doctors asked if we would like to have mummy home for Christmas.
"On Christmas morning, we all opened our presents in our PJs at the hospice, we had the Christmas tunes on and mummy was loving it. Jennifer left to get the dinner on and we all arrived a few hours later.
"We ate dinner together and played our family tradition of bingo, which we rigged, so mummy won. It was such a joyful day for us all.
"The next day, things dramatically changed. It was like mummy had used every ounce of strength to reach Christmas and now she was ready to go.
"Mummy passed away peacefully on December 29. She was surrounded by her whole family.
"This Christmas will be business as usual and we'll all celebrate together at my house. It won't be easy, but we'll all be there for each other. There was no way we could cancel Christmas - mummy would be fuming."