Karen England, 51, is a classically trained mezzo soprano singer. She is one half of ‘Opera Babes’, an international singing duo who sang for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. Celia England, from Duffield, was always ‘super proud’ of her daughter’s achievements.
Karen will be singing at the concert on Saturday 21st October at St. Peter’s Church, Belper and remembering her ‘fantastic and supportive mum’.
Mum made the most of every minute she hadIn 2016, Celia was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney cancer, which had spread to her lungs. She was told she had 18 months to live.
“I was devastated and confused,” Karen said. “My mum was the fittest, most positive, healthy-living lady I had ever met. She and my dad, John, shared a passion for walking in the Derbyshire Dales and she’d hike 12 miles every day.
“I truly believe that mum's positive spirit and stubbornness to never give up, gave her the strength to keep defying all the odds. When one treatment stopped working, they tried another. She flew past all her end-of-life deadlines, making the most of every minute she had.
We thought she'd always be here“She really was a force of nature and eventually she became the longest person in the UK to live with her particular cancer. We thought she'd always be here.”
In 2022, Celia started to deteriorate.
“Each new treatment became harder for her to tolerate and made her more confused and prone to infection. Miraculously she made my 50th birthday party, and even though she was given only weeks to live, she made it to my wedding last year.
“Mum and I took her last walk around our favourite park in Allestree in February. We spoke at length about how she wanted to die at home, where she’d lived for the last 40 years.
"She wanted to die peacefully and have her ashes scattered in the Peak District. It was an incredibly difficult conversation but as a family we were glad we knew her final wishes.”
We were all emotionally exhaustedIn early March, Karen was advised to travel to Derbyshire as her mum had only days left to live.
“It didn't feel real. Mum was still chatting, and eating cake, but was increasingly weak. A hospital bed was delivered. We lovingly made it up in the front lounge where mum could look out of the window, with pictures beside her of all her loved ones. It all felt deeply sad and surreal.
Mum had a wonderful weekend surrounded by her family. But by the Monday she was on more medication and asleep the whole time. It felt more frightening. My biggest fear was that I'd go to sleep, and she'd be alone when she died. But it was unclear how long she had left, and we were all emotionally exhausted.”
Hospice at Home nursing careThe family contacted Treetops Hospice for support and a Hospice at Home nurse arrived that same evening.
“The Hospice at Home nurse sat with mum through the night allowing us time for precious sleep. She promised if anything changed, she would wake us. It was like a gift from the heavens. Someone who cared, who helped, and understood what we were going through.
“Each night, a Treetops nurse arrived. On Wednesday night, when mum became very agitated, they called the Treetops Roaming Nurse Service. They drove out to give her medication and settle her, without her having to go into hospital.
Laughter amongst the tears“The night before she died, I stayed up all night with the nurse. We chatted to mum, we made friends with each other and told each other our life stories. I recalled lots of funny stories about my childhood and played her some of my singing.
There was lots of laughter amongst the tears. I hope that mum was glad in those last few hours that we tried to make it happy, not sad.
“All this wouldn’t have been possible if I had been all alone, sleep-deprived for six nights and frightened.”
Love and support of the Treetops nursesCelia died peacefully the next day with her family around her.
“It's hard to fully describe how difficult that week was. But my overriding memories are of the love and support of the Treetops nurses who lifted us through those long dark nights and filled them with a positivity I didn't think possible at such an awful time.
Treetops allowed my mum her final wish, to die at home peacefully. They gave us as a family the courage, love, strength, and support to be strong enough to be there for her in her final hours.”
On 21st October, Karen is singing at the free concert, accompanied by pianist and friend Mark Burton. The Dalesmen Male Voice Choir (including Karen’s dad, John), the Derventio Choir and A Choir’d Taste are also performing. Karen’s husband Matthew is doing the sound and filming the event.
Come, enjoy and give generously“The concert is completely free but with the hope that people will come, enjoy, and give generously. I had no idea that Treetops had to raise so much money every year and how much support and care they offer.
Mum would have been so grateful and so proud. I miss her every day.”