Mum’s book tells life story of Steyning student who died from a brain tumour

The mother of a former Steyning girl has published a book in her memory to help others coping with the death of a child.

Emma MacDonagh, née Mabbutt, was deputy head girl at Steyning Grammar School and a Sunday school teacher at St Andrew’s Church.

She has been remembered as a remarkable person who left a trail of happiness wherever she went, having lived with a brain tumour from the age of 11.

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Emma died in Australia in August 2005 and her mum, Jan Wright, has found poetry has helped her a great deal over the years. Her book is described as ‘a mother’s journey through her child’s terminal illness, showing her own recovery through poems’.

Emma MacDonagh left a trail of happiness wherever she went

Jan self-published Emma’s Endurance, a collection of artwork, articles, letters, photographs and tributes, and the paperback is now available on Amazon, priced £9.95.

Jan, who lives in Burwash Common and helps run a bereavement group there, said: “I am hoping that my book on Emma could help others coping with the death of a child. Everyone has their own journey and at times will cling to anything. We did. I hope to show that there is life after death for the living.

“To write a book on my daughter, who died in 2005, aged 30, has been for me a therapeutic and healing experience.

“An inoperable brain tumour was detected at age 11 and after various treatments and remissions, she lost the battle 19 years later.

Jan Wright with her book, Emma’s Endurance

“When Emma was extremely ill in her last two years of her life, I suddenly wanted to express my feelings and emotions in poetry.

“My background of being dyslexic and a slow learner to read, plus shocking speller, made it all the more surprising that I could produce words that flowed poetically.”

Jan wrote her final poem five years ago, at the scattering of Emma’s ashes on Chanctonbury Ring, on what would have been her 40th birthday, in April 2015.

Emma’s brain tumour was inoperable due to its position but she had a shunt operation in New York after it was first discovered, at the age of 11.

Her teenage years were interrupted with radiation treatment but she achieved nine A grades in her GCSEs at Steyning Grammar. She was unable to complete all her A-levels but did manage to pass art, following in her father’s footsteps.

She met her husband James, an Australian photographer, in Hastings in 1993. Emma had long planned to go to Australia and went to live with James’ family before touring parts of the country with him. They were married in October 1999.

A memorial service for Emma was held in late November 2005 at St Andrew’s Church, where George Cockman, who conducted the service, said: “We were able to share with her family our memories of Emma in Steyning and we learned about her life in Australia.

“It gave us the chance to say to James what a consolation it had been to us, who were so far from her in the last years of her life, to know how wonderful he had been in caring for her.

“Emma was a remarkable person who left a trail of happiness wherever she went.”

Emma’s sister Beckie is still local, living in Shermanbury, and runs her own business as a farrier.

Jan said: “There could be people local to Steyning who would like a follow up on Emma’s life, described in the book. Also, there are paintings and poems written by Emma.

“The book is a collection of artwork, articles, letters, photographs and tributes to build up the picture of Emma, the influence she had on friends and family, and her strong religious beliefs.

“Bravely she battled life from a diagnosis of an inoperable brain tumour at 11. Her determination to live life to the full, travel and marry is hopefully an inspiration to the reader.”

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