Northumberland man pays emotional tribute to his ‘beautiful’ and ‘caring’ wife at St Oswald's Hospice remembrance event

Peter and Deborah Boyle.Peter and Deborah Boyle.
Peter and Deborah Boyle.
Longhorsley man Peter Boyle has reflected on the ‘outstanding relationship’ he had with his wife, Deborah, who sadly died at St Oswald’s Hospice in 2021 after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

The devoted husband was asked to share his story ahead of St Oswald’s Hospice’s Light up a Life remembrance event, which took place at Northumbria University.

Peter’s tribute to Deborah also coincided with National Grief Awareness Week.

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The week, organised by The Good Grief Trust, aims to raise awareness of the impact of grief while calling attention to the importance of early and tailored bereavement support.

Deborah Boyle.Deborah Boyle.
Deborah Boyle.

Peter’s story helps shine a light on the ongoing bereavement journey families endure when a loved one dies, and the unique challenges Christmas can bring.

Peter first met Deborah in 1977 in a discotheque in Whitley Bay when he plucked up the courage to ask if she’d like a drink. Four years later, Peter asked Deborah to become his wife.

The pair were married in 1981 at St Edward’s Church in Whitley Bay and they saved to buy their first home – a two-bedroom semi-detached house in North Shields, which Peter described as “our little castle and kingdom”.

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One day, the couple were blindsided when Peter was diagnosed with lung cancer, aged just 28.

St Oswald's Hospice's Light up a Life remembrance event.St Oswald's Hospice's Light up a Life remembrance event.
St Oswald's Hospice's Light up a Life remembrance event.

Peter underwent eight months of chemotherapy and three months of radiotherapy, which thankfully proved successful. But, as a result of the treatment, the pair found it difficult to start a family, and the couple began exploring adoption.

In 1991, the couple adopted six-month-old Matthew.

“We loved Matthew from the moment we saw him and knew our family was complete,” Peter added.

The family moved to Longhorsley near Morpeth, to be closer to Peter’s work. He worked at BT while Deborah worked in administration roles at Smith Ship Repairers, the local job centre and, latterly, at the Danish pharmaceutical company, Pharma Nord.

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In 2014, Peter retired from BT and set up a consultancy business. Two years later, Deborah retired from Pharma Nord. The pair prepared for the next chapter in their lives.

But in 2017, the family were devastated when Deborah was diagnosed with breast cancer.

The mum-of-one underwent extensive treatment and a mastectomy, with Peter by her side.

Sadly, 22 months later, the cancer did return and this time, the doctors revealed it had spread.

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Deborah underwent more brutal treatment but the cancer proved too aggressive.

Peter’s wife spent just one night at St Oswald’s Hospice after Deborah asked if she could go to give her beloved husband a break.

Peter explained: “Deborah was in good spirits when she went to the hospice, and when I rang her later that day, she was great. I don’t think she thought for a second what was about to happen.”

The following morning, a consultant telephoned Peter to ask if he could come to the hospice.

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Deborah’s health had unexpectedly declined overnight and Peter was told his wife was not expected to live for more than 24 hours.

Deborah died later that day.

Despite his devastating loss, Peter has rebuilt his life by focusing on the inspirational woman he married.

He said: “Deborah was beautiful both on the outside and inside, she had an amazing way of connecting with people through her caring empathetic nature and could light up a room with her beautiful smile.

“She had humility running through her veins, never believing she was better than other people. A family person who embraced togetherness, looking forward to birthdays, anniversaries or festive occasions where her extended family ‘The Boswells’ would be as one. Deborah referred to my sisters, Ilene and Anne, as ‘sisters’ not ‘sisters-in-law’. That’s how strong she felt the bond was between them.”

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Peter also reflects on the affinity Deborah had with animals:

“Deborah had a natural way of engaging with animals and gaining their trust, she was born to have pets and had the pleasure of owning many different breeds of dogs, cats and had a horse called Fluffy!

“Animals were part of Deborah’s life and when undergoing chemotherapy, she liked nothing better than a ‘puggle cuddle’ with Ernie and Betty, her beloved pugs.”

Deborah also loved Christmas and would spoil everyone around her. But this passion means the festive period can now be a challenging time for Peter.

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“I’ve always been a very positive, upbeat person and I try not to use grief as an excuse to sulk. But I do struggle with this time of year because Deborah loved it so much,” he said.

“The first year without her, I couldn’t face putting up the decorations but my sisters - who Deborah was so close to - persuaded me to put just one of our trees up.

“This year will be the third Christmas without Deborah and I still manage to put up a tree. I like hanging the special ornaments that we collected over the years. I can’t decorate the tree as well as Deborah, though.”

Christmas was also the perfect opportunity for Peter to treat his wife with gifts from her favourite beauty brand – Chanel. Her most-loved scents still take pride of place in the couple’s bedroom.

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“Fragrances can evoke such strong memories and there are certain Chanel perfumes that remind me of Deborah,” Peter explained.

He used one such perfume to remind him of his wife on November 22, which would have been Deborah’s birthday.

He revealed: “I sprayed some Chanel Coromandel and I wished my wife a happy birthday.”

Peter’s touching story of grief, especially around Christmas, resonates with the team at St Oswald’s Hospice, who offer one-to-one and group bereavement support.

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Brenda Clayton, bereavement support co-ordinator at St Oswald’s Hospice, said: “Christmas is a difficult time for any bereaved family especially if it’s the first Christmas without their loved one. Often, the build-up to the day is more stressful than the day itself. The anticipatory grief can start weeks or even months in advance.

“It’s important to recognise that life has changed and that you may need to live your life in a different way.

“Create new traditions that work with your new life. This is not about forgetting your loved one; it’s simply a way of adapting to your new situation.

“Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to create the perfect Christmas for everyone else. Find what works for you – this isn’t selfish, it’s a way of coping with the grief and the complex emotions that come with that.”

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Peter and his family joined around 500 people at the Light up a Life event, with hundreds more streaming it online.

St Oswald’s Hospice spiritual lead, Davina Radford, led the service of remembrance, which culminated with members of the clinical teams carrying bowls of memory stars that were placed by a Christmas tree ahead of the lights being switched on in a shared moment of remembrance.

Head of fundraising, Jane Hogan, was delighted to announce that, so far this year, £86,000 has been raised through donations in memory to Light up a Life.