When Michael Archer was told he was dying of cancer it was a devastating blow for him and wife Evelyn.
A devoted dad and grandfather, Michael was told he had mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer usually associated with being exposed to asbestos.
To his knowledge, Michael had never come into contact with asbestos during his working life as a lorry driver. This made the diagnosis all the more crushing and perplexing for himself and his family.
Realising they didn’t have much time, Michael and Evelyn resolved to cram as much life into his remaining days as possible.
During their life together they had been tireless campaigners for the restoration of the Winter Gardens theatre, a role Evelyn still performs as the chair of the Winter Gardens Preservation Trust. Then Morecambe MP Geraldine Smith knew the Archers, so she invited them to the Queen’s Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in summer 2010.
Evelyn said: “The taxi driver who took us from the station to Buckingham Palace had noticed that Michael was finding it difficult to walk, so he stopped at a front entrance and asked a policeman if he could get a wheelchair for him.
“They were sorry that they were all being used but instead they had a golf buggy!
“Mike felt so chuffed that he was doing something different and of course he gave the queenly wave.”
The couple also took holidays whenever Mike was strong enough, going on a Scandinavian cruise and to Jersey.
Then one night while they were watching TV, Michael turned to Evelyn and asked her to marry him again.
“I said of course I will,” she recalled.
“He said well let’s have our marriage blessed and have a reception.
“He wanted to invite all our friends and I knew it was his way of being able to say goodbye to them.”
The couple arranged the renewal of their vows for November 28 2010.
But in the days prior to the service, Michael became weaker.
This was when St John’s Hospice first entered their lives.
“The doctor and Macmillan nurse suggested he go into the hospice to sort out his medication because he had a blood clot on his shoulder and it was making his hand and arm swell up.
“Before Mike’s illness neither of us had been to the hospice and we were both nervous.
“People build a picture of a sad place. How wrong.”
When Mike was taken into the hospice, the staff made the entire family feel incredibly welcome.
“When you go in, everything is so relaxed and calming. Nothing was too much trouble. It was wonderful.
“My family and I cannot thank everybody at the hospice enough for the care they give to the patients, for their kindness and support they give to the families.
“Mike was a private person, he usually didn’t like anyone doing anything for him.
“But he was also quite chatty and he enjoyed talking to other visitors and patients.
“He had a bed right next to the nurses’ station and he loved things going on around him. He always had something new to tell us when we went to visit.
“I was surprised how many young people there were in there.
“There was a young girl in there who was ill, she must have been about 26. One night he sat up with her and watched a football match on the TV.”
But Evelyn was worried that Mike would be too ill to go through with their wedding service.
“I asked the sister on the ward if I should cancel the blessing. She said ‘No, you mustn’t he is so looking forward to it’.
“She asked me to bring his clothes to the hospice and they would get him ready. Michael’s best friend John Doherty took him to the church and we had a wonderful day.
“At the reception my daughter played us all a slide show that the family had put together made up of family photos, our children when they were growing up, the family holidays we enjoyed, our grandchildren.
“And he was happy and laughing at some of the funny ones. He was able to see the wonderful life we had together and happy to see all our family and friends were there.”
After their special day, Michael wanted to come home to the couple’s house on South Grove in Morecambe. The hospice made all the arrangements.
But he was only at home one night before he asked to return to the hospice.
“When I asked him why, he said: ‘Evelyn, it’s the only place I feel safe’.”
Michael went back in to the hospice as his condition deteriorated.
On December 5 2010, Michael was in bed at the hospice surrounded by Evelyn and his family.
He opened his eyes and smiled, then peacefully passed away, aged 73.
“As we were leaving his room I could hear carols being sung in the ward,” said Evelyn. “The nurses were all on the corridor in tears.
“They hugged us one by one.
“I went to the office to thank the sister and the doctor. As he gave me a hug I told him that Michael had opened his eyes and smiled, he wasn’t in pain.
“He told me to hold on to that memory. I always will.
“At least he died smiling.”
THE Winter Gardens will host a ‘Light Up a Life’ service for St John’s Hospice on December 6 from 6.30pm.
A Carols by Candlelight service at the theatre on December 22 will also raise money for the hospice and Morecambe Warblers.