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PARTY SPIRIT It's my party and I'll die if I want to: Terminally ill Sharon is star guest at her own wake

'I will fight to the last dying breath in my body and I will go out shouting ‘yee haw’'

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Sharon was determined not to miss her own awake wake

Sharon was determined not to miss her own awake wake

Sharon was determined not to miss her own awake wake

Sharon Jackson plans to live life until the very last drop.

The 59-year-old was the star guest at her own wake last week, enjoying the glowing obituaries written by her family and friends.

She's lived with cancer for six years and knows she only has a short time left.

But Sharon was determined not to miss the craic, so she organised her awake wake with a party, a DJ, a photographer and all the people she holds dear - and her story has now gone viral.

Sharon has also built and decorated her own coffin, and organised her own funeral, which will include a guard of honour of her nephews dressed like the cast of movie Reservoir Dogs.

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Friends and family came to Sharon’s wake

Friends and family came to Sharon’s wake

Friends and family came to Sharon’s wake

 

And she hopes her tenacity and party spirit will help other people living with terminal illness to make the most of the time they have left.

"My story might help other patients who have terminal cancer to re-evaluate their lives, not to let cancer dictate who you are.

"I've heard stories of people who have been given a diagnosis of terminal cancer of eight weeks and they physically and mentally just stop.

"They don't live anymore because they don't see the point, but they need to see the point because you are not dead yet."

Sharon, who has lived in England, America, Dublin and then Belfast for the last 20 years, was given her terminal diagnosis in 2016.

She had most of her stomach removed when the cancer was initially found there, and it spread to her lymphatic system, spine and bone marrow.

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The former hospitality worker, who was on the staff of Ten Square and Made in Belfast, carefully considered her treatments and the effects they would have on her life.

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"I knew I was at stage four and it was only a matter of time before I died. I figured I wanted to have quality of life over feeble quantity," she says.

"I have always had a love of life because you only have one chance.

"To choose to give up is not in my vocabulary. I will fight to the last dying breath in my body and I will go out shouting 'yee haw'!"

She had been having transfusions at the Cancer Centre in Belfast to help strengthen her bones, but when they became too much, she stopped them.

"My veins weren't taking the big needles and I decided I can't do this. It's too emotional and it's too painful.

"They told me I had six to eight weeks in December and now I just have blood transfusions, but they are just a stopgap.

"I call them my go-go juice. They are filling a bucket which has a hole in it."

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Sharon trying out the coffin from the Netherlands

Sharon trying out the coffin from the Netherlands

Sharon trying out the coffin from the Netherlands

 

Sharon was dangerously ill in January and needed six units of blood and two of platelets. After leaving hospital she hit on the idea of her throwing her own wake.

"I wanted to make it funny and do an awake wake and I was present for it. We had a DJ and flowers and balloons.

"I didn't want a tearful event. I wanted a lot of black humour and laughter. My friends came from all over, and my family.

"I asked people to write an o-bitch-uary and some did, and some didn't. Some friends went into the other room and came back because they couldn't have handled it.

"They did funny stories about how we met. My neighbour told a story about the first time we met when the gates of the parking lot downstairs were locked, and I climbed on the rubbish bin and over the gate. Just as the gates opened, I was on the top of them shouting 'freedom'!"

Sharon has also assembled her own coffin, bought flat-packed from a company in the Netherlands, assembled on her dining table and decoupaged with pictures of her friends and family.

She bought fabric and took the coffin to a local upholsterer, explaining that she wanted the interior to look like teardrops which will hug her when the time comes.

All of her funeral arrangements have been made, from the choice of hymns and Biblical readings to the service missals.

"My nephews are all dressing up like the lads from Reservoir Dogs in the black suits, white shirts, black ties and sunglasses.

"Everyone knows what they have to do, and I have made a booklet for my sister so all she has to do is open it and all the numbers of who she needs to call are there."

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Sharon says she's able to approach the end of her life with such strength because she has no regrets.

For years she travelled all over the world, across America, Australia and Europe. Her most precious memories are of climbing the Pyramids of Giza and the view over the rainforest from the top of the ancient Mayan city of Coba in Mexico. Her yellow mac always went with her and it will be buried with her.

"I have lived a great life and I don't have anything left that I want to do. I have gone out on a high."

She received another blood transfusion last week and says it's now up to her whether to have another.

"I have to make a major decision about whether to stop the transfusions because after that I will be dead in a matter of weeks. I will go out on my own terms. I will know when it's time.

"That's why I wanted to have an awake wake. I knew I wanted to get all my friends together because this is going to happen and I'm not going to see all of those people again.

"I hope to God it catches on," says Sharon.

roisin.gorman@sundayworld.com

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