Fred (75) and Margaret (71) Clarke of Kirton saw in another new year for the 16th time without their youngest daughter Katie (24).
It was just like Christmas Day when, also for the 16th time, Fred and Margaret sat down for a festive meal with an empty chair at the dinner table.
The couple’s sense of loss, along with that felt by their surviving daughter Joanne Butler and her son Matthew, never eases despite the passage of time since Katie’s nine-month struggle with a second brain tumour finally ended at home in Kirton on Tuesday, June 27, 2000.
Margaret said: “As a parent, the first stage of my grief was relief because Katie had lost her sight and hearing by the time she died.
“I came to terms with it fairly quickly before the torment came in the first year after her death.
“That was quite a difficult time and fifteen years on from her death, we still think Katie’s going to walk through the door.”
Katie Clarke was born on October 10, 1975, and grew up in Wyberton where she went to primary school.
She also joined the Brownies and Guides, became an active member of St Leodegar Church choir and the village youth group.
Margaret said: “There were ten years between Joanne and Katie so she was always what we called ‘our miracle child’.
“Katie had two mums, me and Joanne, so she was very much loved, very spoilt and a wonderful little girl.
“Joanne got married when Katie was ten which left her at home with us where she became a musical girl, learning to play the flute, organ and recorder.
“But Katie was also shy, quiet, always with her head down and I remember one teacher at Boston High School who said: ‘One day, Katie held her head up and smiled at me which made my heart melt.”
It was during her years at Boston High School where Katie’s talent for languages emerged, ultimately resulting in her ability to speak five languages other than English.
One of those languages was Swedish which Katie learned as part of her degree at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, a city both full of promise and fate for the Clarke family.
“Katie went off to university in September 1994 but when she came home for Christmas, she wasn’t very well.
“She had a terrible cold and by the time Easter came round, Katie was really poorly.
“We took her off to see Dr Martyn Walling at Parkside Medical Centre, Boston, then some tests were done on Katie at Pilgrim Hospital.
“It was Dr Cyril Nyman at Pilgrim who told us that Katie had a brain tumour and she went for a biopsy (where a small sample of body tissue is taken and examined under a microscope to check for a medical condition) at Queen’s Medical Centre (QMC), Nottingham.”
Katie underwent an eight-hour operation to remove the tumour, led by neurosurgeon John Firth, followed by 36 sessions of radiotherapy at Nottingham City Hospital.
“After the last session of radiotherapy, Katie was straight out of hospital and on a plane to Ibiza with her friend because she wanted to live the moment,” Margaret said.
“They partied every night and never went to bed so that when Katie got home, she was exhausted.
“Katie also decided to go back to university in September 1995 but because of her health, she changed from doing European Studies with Swedish to doing it with Japanese.”
Fred and Margaret were proud parents when they attended Katie’s graduation in October 1998 and never suspected that their daughter would only be with them for a further 20 months.
“Katie got a job as a recruitment consultant in Derby but then had to move to Boston when she started to get headaches,” Margaret said.
“In October 1999, the doctors at QMC decided to do an operation but they found a second tumour which had spread throughout Katie’s brain.
“A week later, Katie had a stroke down both sides of her body and I knew then that we were all facing the end.”
Four days before her death, Katie was the centre of attention when 40 of her schoolfriends were invited to a garden party at the family home in Kirton.
Margaret said: “Katie went to bed after the party was over and, overwhelmed by it all, she said: “I’ve been treated like the Queen.”
Vital funds spent on important research
The Katie Clarke Memorial Fund was set up by Fred and Margaret Clarke to help keep their daughter’s memory alive.
So far, a staggering £95,000 has been raised through events, including a charity bed push, birthday balls and an annual golf day every second Thursday in August at Boston West Golf Centre.
Fred said: “During Katie’s youth, we gave her everything we could and now we’re glad we did because, at the time, we never knew what was going to happen to her.
“I didn’t want to believe it, whereas my wife knew we had to face the fact that Katie wasn’t going to get better.
“We set up the charity because we were frightened that Katie’s name would die and, by raising money for charity, it would keep her name alive.”
The charity’s three beneficiaries are the Pilgrim Hospital, Nottiingham City Hospital’s Oncology Department and the Children’s Brain Tumour Research Centre at Nottingham University.
Emma Pearson from the university said: “Fred and Margaret are huge supporters of our research programme and we are sincerely grateful for their continued support in tackling this devastating disease.”