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Tuesday, 21 October 2014

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Carlisle character goes to sleep after 20-month cancer battle

When Gerald Little learned he had inoperable cancer, nearly two years ago, he proposed to the woman he loved.

Gerald Little photo
Jayne with Gerald Little

He died this week in Eden Valley Hospice, telling her to keep the fun in her life and promising he would always stay close.

Now Jayne Little, his long-time partner and wife of 20 months, is planning a funeral, celebration of life and birthday party for her husband, who would have been 71 next Thursday.

“He will be cremated on his birthday and his ashes will be buried alongside those of his mother in Crosby,” said Jayne, 54, who is manager of the Hoopers department store restaurant in Carlisle.

“And then there’ll be a party. A birthday party; a celebration for Gerald, who loved life, who loved people – and who loved me.”

Gerald was well known and well liked in Carlisle. One of the city’s characters. A self-employed plumber and heating engineer, he and Jayne used to run the Lemon Lounge restaurant, in Fisher Street, together.

A gregarious man with a ready laugh and a limitless stock of wise-cracking jokes, he dealt with his illness with characteristic humour and optimism, in spite of often debilitating chemotherapy.

But Gerald was also a realist.

“To be honest I didn’t even feel poorly. But I knew immediately it was time for Jayne and I to stop being man and woman and start being husband and wife,” he said when he was diagnosed in August 2010 with advanced stomach cancer.

“Something like this wakes you up to what’s really important.”

The couple married at Carlisle Register Office just two weeks after his diagnosis, shared a home in Kingstown Road and crammed as much joy as they could into their life as husband and wife.

“Only two weeks ago we were on holiday in Lanzarote,” said Jayne. “We had a ball. We did everything we had always done on holiday – restaurants, bars, walked the harbour, watched the fish, took in the sun. He kept saying: ‘We’re like an ordinary couple.’ ‘Gerald,’ I said, ‘We are an ordinary couple’.

“He was determined to have that holiday. We have been going to Lanzarote together every year for 15 years and he wasn’t going to miss it. He hired a mobility scooter and zipped around the place like a mad man.

“His doctors hadn’t been too keen on him making the trip but he insisted and in the end they conceded he had very little to lose.”

It was when he returned, Gerald realised the end of his life was near. Deteriorating rapidly he fell ill at home and Jayne called an ambulance.

“It was two hours before it arrived and he waited another eight and a half hours on a trolley in the Cumberland Infirmary before they found him a bed.

“The following morning at 8am they wanted to send him home. He was in no state to go home and I called his social worker. It was lucky that a doctor from the hospice was on the wards. The social worker brought him to see Gerald and he immediately suggested he should go there.

“The last three days at Eden Valley Hospice were so peaceful, tranquil and happy for Gerald. I can’t speak highly enough of the people there.

“Similarly, all at Hoopers have been wonderfully supportive and friends to us both.”

After three days at Eden Valley Hospice, Gerald told Jayne he felt like sleeping for a long time.

“He chose his own time to die,” she said. “That was so like him. He had done what he’d wanted to do. He decided against the transfusion he was due to have, told me to keep fun in my life and promised he would never be far away.

“I told him I loved him and he went to sleep.”

Gerald leaves a son Ian, a daughter Deborah and three grandchildren. His funeral will be at Carlisle Crematorium on Thursday at 11am, with a celebration of his life – and birthday – at the Gilded Lilly, Lowther Street, with an open invitation to all who knew him.

“Only one condition,” said Jayne. “Please dress up. Gerald always insisted on dressing up for a celebration.”

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