Tribute to Kayleigh by Nina.
Kayleigh was my closest friend and I loved her dearly. I valued her wisdom, I loved her humour and I was inspired by her faith. Her courage in the face of her illness and the severe pain she lived with for years was nothing short of incredible. I am so privileged to have known her.
We all know different aspects of Kayleigh I’m just going to talk about the parts of Kayleigh’s life that I knew, parts of her life she was very open about as many of us here know.
In her early twenties Kayleigh suffered major mental health problems. She had psychiatric help but nothing seemed to improve her mental state. The pain that she felt in her mind was so bad that it felt unendurable. She self harmed to try to block the pain out and when that did not work she attempted to end her life several times.
Following massive injuries due to a suicide attempt Kayleigh was taken to Preston Hospital. She was angry when she came round and didn’t want to live. The injuries incurred now meant that she was severely disabled and subject to chronic pain.
A hospital chaplain came to Kayleigh’s ward and went round patients to inform them that there would be a service in the hospital chapel the following day. It was a routine visit, just a few words.
Kayleigh told me she did not know what happened to her but the next day she knew she had to get to that service no matter what. It was like she was being drawn by a giant magnet – she just had to get there. She could still walk with the help of a frame at that point, but walking was incredibly slow and painful. She reckoned it took her well over an hour to get along the corridors to the chapel.
Once there she had no idea what was said or what the service was about but she met God’s love for her in a very powerful way. She said she felt it. It enveloped her, like a huge hug inside, and meeting that love, feeling it as a reality, was a massive turning point in her life.
She said that encountering that immense love for her gave her the will to live. She now wanted to live and be reunited with her children. She now had the motivation to use whatever help was available to get better.
She was referred to a psychologist and completed 4 very intense gruelling years of psychotherapy. It was hard. Many times she wanted to run away from it all but that will to live to get her family back made her determined to battle her way through it. Along with other support, including that of the MIND Centre in Blackpool, she worked her way through to recovery from the causes of her mental illness.
After her recovery, she wanted to train to be able to help other people facing mental illness and she enrolled in a 3 year course at Blackpool and the Fylde College to train as a counsellor. She could walk, with great difficulty, in the house but had to use a wheelchair outside.
Part way through her college course she had an accident at the college. In her wheelchair she reversed out of a faulty lift which had stopped and opened its door half a metre above the floor. She and the wheelchair were thrown backwards and the back injuries she sustained made her wheelchair bound and greatly increased her pain. Despite this devastating accident she completed her course, doing a lot of her coursework in a hospital bed, and qualified with an Advanced Diploma in Counselling.
As a qualified counsellor she worked part time at Grange Park Medical Centre. She loved counselling and felt incredibly fulfilled by her work. She saw the need for support for the countless women who self harm and suffer in secret and she applied for funding to start a support group. She was awarded a grant that gave her funds for the group plus access to training for herself as facilitator and regular supervision meetings in Manchester. The group was called ‘SHUSH’ standing for ‘Self Help and Understanding of Self Harm’.
She went to Manchester regularly at that time and through the people who awarded the grant, she was invited to an awards ceremony. She was persuaded to go as it meant a free ticket to a posh night out with a nice meal and a party (she always enjoyed a party!). When awards were being given out for excellence in community initiatives her name was called out. She was stunned! She propelled herself up to the front in her wheelchair and was in a state of shock to receive an award for ‘Most Innovative New Group in the North West‘.
Her understanding and her professional training and expertise in the issues of self harm meant that she became sought after as a speaker.
She was invited to London to the Royal College of Psychiatrists to assist in developing new guidelines for psychiatrists in how to respond to people who need to self harm. She did a presentation to a room full of psychiatrists and said later that it was so strange to have the tables turned and have them looking to her as the expert and asking her questions!
Following this she had a lot of invitations to speak to groups of doctors and nurses in London, Liverpool, Manchester and other places. She helped to change accepted thinking and to improve medical and nursing care for people who need to self harm.
Locally she contributed to the MIND centre, which had helped her so much during very dark times in her life. She was proud to become a trustee of MIND and help in the running of such a valuable centre.
Kayleigh achieved her most cherished dream – that of being re united with her children, Keiren and Sophie.
The happiest times of her life were spent with them as a family. She was overjoyed to attend Keiren’s army passing out parade in Harrogate and faced a long wait on the parade ground in near Arctic temperatures to proudly watch her son go through his paces.
Despite her increasing disability and pain she was able to be with Sophie when Lyra was born. She was delighted to be able to be there for Sophie. Later she said that seeing Lyra come into the world was one of the most wonderful moments of her life.
She loved being a Mum to Keiren and Sophie and later to Paul who was like a second son to her. She totally doted on Lyra. She was in and out of hospital very frequently and I think almost all the staff at the Vic have had regular updates on Lyra, complete with photographs of course.
I mentioned Kayleigh coming to faith by discovering a deep sense of being loved by God in the midst of that terrible time in hospital.
Kayleigh tried to find a church where she could express her spirituality but, due to her orientation she could not find a church home where she was fully accepted. About 8 years ago she came to Liberty Church. Her first impression was that it wasn’t like a ‘proper church‘– it was far too informal. However, she stayed and found her spiritual home with us. She was able to share her faith and find that we understood her spiritual experience.
As Kayleigh’s health deteriorated her pain levels continued to worsen and take more out of it seemed that her faith got stronger. We could see that deep down she was drawing on an unending supply of strength and peace and love which could not be destroyed by the pain and limitations of her life. God was indeed the rock that held her firm and safe in her spirit no matter what.
Earlier in my life I was an oncology nurse in London. I’ve nursed many people in severe pain with cancer but I had never seen anything like the pain levels Kayleigh’s had to endure, pain that no medication could take away. There were several times when I went home to Jim and sobbed my eyes out on his shoulder at the unfairness of it all. I’d be angry and livid with God for allowing her to suffer in this way.
I asked Kayleigh if she felt that anger. Her answer blew me away. She said how could she when she knew without a doubt that He loved her and she felt His love deep in her being. She said that she believed that one day He would explain to her why this had to be and it would make sense to her. Until then she was able to accept what happened and totally trust in His love for her.
Her acceptance and trust helped me in wrestling it out with God and helped me eventually to get to that trust also – it wasn’t easy.
When Kayleigh spent three months in Trinity Hospice two years ago for pain control she read a book by Corrie ten Boon, a woman who survived Ravensbrook concentration camp and came out with her faith in God even stronger than before. The poem ‘The Weaver’ was in that book and when Kayleigh saw it she said ‘ that’s it, that’s just how I feel’.
She loved words and language and was a formidable opponent at scrabble. She was a master of the acronym. When Blackpool Pride wanted an acronym for an exhibition about equality she said leave it with me and I’ll mull over it for a few days. She did and came up with ‘Pride Stride’. STRIDE stood for ‘Standing Together Respecting Individual Diversity and Equality.’ Very clever!
I said earlier she loved a party. She loved getting glammed up and I remember a few riotous Christmas Parties at the Cliffs Hotel with Kayleigh wheelchair dancing and dragging Jim, and anyone else in range, onto the dance floor.
She played the part of a gangsters moll at a Chicago 1920’s murder Mystery Party. Her character had a party piece to sing after the dinner. She burst into, at full volume, ‘the White Cliffs of Dover’ deliberately totally out of tune. It was terrifying! I think some people’s hearing hasn’t recovered yet after such an onslaught. I remember it still as the funniest part of the evening.
Kayleigh loved butterflies and Sophie wanted to have butterflies here today. That’s why we have used them to decorate the blossoms in her honour. Some of you are wearing butterfly lapel pins.
Kayleigh died peacefully in hospital after three days of being free of pain.
The song ‘Faithful One‘ is a song Kayleigh loved; we sing it at Liberty. One evening, years ago when Kayleigh was still able to travel by bus in her wheelchair, on her way home from church she re wrote the words of the song with her own words. She didn’t have any paper and I think some of the words got scribbled on the back of a fag packet. I’ll end with the words she wrote below. They express her deep faith.
‘Gracious One so accepting
Eternal One keeper of my soul
Lord of all I depend on You
I sing out to You again and again
I sing out to You, again and again
You are my home when I am lonely
You are my fire when all is cold
All through the dark
Your love illuminates me
My hope is in You alone’