As a businesswoman, Jackie Cheetham has always led a busy life, but her main interest is the Women’s Institute.
So when she faced no less than four bereavements in five years, Jackie turned to her WI friends for support. Jackie lost one of her closest friends five years ago, her husband three years ago, her father two years ago, and her mother a year ago. She says that without the support of all her WI friends, she’d never have coped.
"They were quite simply like a family to me, always there to offer support when I needed it," she says. Now she wants to encourage other people that membership in a social or caretaker group can help in times of bereavement and stress. "No one can cope with bereavement on their own," says Jackie.
Being a strong person "running her own businesses and being used to public speaking" may have helped Jackie cope with loss, but on the other hand, she felt people expected her to be strong even though sometimes she felt "very shaky indeed." "People think that because I’m a strong, outgoing person I can cope but believe me, I know what it is to have a broken heart," Jackie says.
She now feels her life has turned a corner and, after years of supporting other people, she’s decided she needs some "me time." Jackie has always cared for others; she looked after her son, David, who was critically injured in an accident 15 years ago. "Fortunately, he eventually recovered," and she always supported her many WI friends through their problems.
Jackie’s life has changed dramatically in the last three years, and only now does she feel able to look forward to a brighter future. As a well-known local businesswoman in Louth, Lincolnshire, England, running her own wedding dress design business and later a tea room, she was best known in Lincolnshire as county chairman of the WI — a position she held for seven years until she retired last year.
She was awarded an MBE last year for her services to the WI and for her volunteer and charity work. Jackie and her husband, Maurice, were "very, very close." They met when Jackie was just 12, and they were devoted to each other. Maurice died unexpectedly three years ago after being ill for just a few weeks. He was 63, and he and Jackie had just celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary. Jackie, 65, gave up her business to look after Maurice during the last weeks of his life.
The importance of taking a moment for yourself
"Losing Maurice after all those years together was extremely hard," said Jackie, who lives at Broughton, North Lincolnshire. "I still find myself looking for him in a crowd of people." Jackie hardly had time to begin to come to terms with her husband’s death when her father died a year later, followed by her mother the next year, but she found comfort at the WI.
"I’ve been a WI member for 36 years and my friends there have never let me down." Giving up her business and high profile WI role in order to care for Maurice and her parents has meant that Jackie has had to find a new way of life for herself. "I’ve just starting crafts and card-making again, and I love music, singing, dancing, and reading," she said. "I still sometimes have a bad day, but they are getting less and I can now look forward to doing what I want."
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