Sunday, 30 September 2018

Write now, before it’s too late.

This is the *extended column, first published on Tuesday, September 11th 2018.

https://www.yorkpress.co.uk/news/16695695.column-say-thank-you-before-its-too-late/

Last week I heard some sad news. As it has been reported widely, you may be aware of the news too. A BBC Radio 5 Live presenter and newsreader, Rachael Bland, has died. 40 years old, married and with a 3 year old son, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in November 2016. Rachael has been writing a blog and contributing to a ground-breaking and award winning BBC podcast, ‘You, Me and the Big C’.

I first encountered Rachael on late night radio. In 2008/9 I was regularly travelling between London and York, keeping an eye on my father who was unwell. I needed the radio to help lull me into sleep. At the time, Richard Bacon was a presenter on BBC 5 Live and Rachael was the newsreader. The partnership developed and a silly segment was introduced from 12.30am to 1am. Listeners took part and I became a regular contributor. This programme carried me through difficult and distressing times and the listeners became known to one another through social networking. Richard proved mercurial, but was kept in order by Rachael. Such was the ‘specialness’of these thirty minutes of radio, that members of the community were invited to a recording of the programme at Richard’s home and also to the recording of the last ever broadcast by the team, at the BBC Theatre. All in the early hours. It was fun, surreal at times and special.

Everyone’s lives have moved on and through Facebook, the community saw Rachael marry and have a child. Then cancer arrived.

I have no idea what this diverse group of people meant to Richard and Rachael. I thought that I must write to her to say thank-you for her radio contribution. She wouldn’t have known what it had meant to me. In the same way, in 2010, I wrote a thank-you to a friend’s mother who had been wonderful to me, a rebellious teenager with an unhappy home life. She replied, saying it was one of the nicest letters she had ever received and that she had no idea what she had meant to me.

Is there anyone you would like to say thank-you? Don’t leave it another week. Do it now…before it’s too late.

*I wasn't going to extend this article. All that needed writing was written. Except that I was invited to Rachael's Thanksgiving Service, held after a private funeral.  As we used to say on the radio programme mentioned, 'it was an honour and a privilege' to have been asked. It was a very beautiful, but heartbreaking service with two to three hundred people in attendance. Three other people who had taken part in the programme nine years ago sat with me, as a tribute to the part Rachael's talents had played in our very different lives. Her husband, Steve, has said, "at the time when Rachael's body was at it's weakest, her mind was at its strongest." The last few months of Rachael's life have left a priceless legacy. If you haven't listened to the podcast series, even if you don't have a particular interest in cancer and death, try to listen. The final two podcasts are extraordinary radio, due to the honesty and humour of Rachael, Deborah and Lauren. Thank you girls. This is my thank-you letter to you, with love.

©AlisonLeaman2018

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