A daughter is paying tribute to her incredible mum by ticking off her bucket list whilst supporting St Catherine’s Hospice.
Along with her brother Luca, Nina Di Niro is following in her ‘fearless’ mum’s footsteps and has raised a fantastic £5,000 for the charity in her memory after braving a skydive.
The pair were inspired to do something to support the hospice which ‘went above and beyond’ for the family, organising date nights for their mum Vijya and dad Giovanni, a birthday party and an emotional wedding blessing, which have given them treasured memories.
“Mamma was all about living life to the full,” Nina said. “She was always up a mountain or out at a bar. She was a social butterfly and she had friends everywhere! She had a bucket list which included doing a skydive, so Luca told her he would do one for her and they persuaded me to do it as well. We feel like we’re following in her footsteps; she is definitely our inspiration and I know she’d be really proud of us for trying new experiences.
“Her advice to us was to always be kind and live our best lives, so that’s what we’re doing.”
Vijya, from Preston, who worked in HR for Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service before joining the team at the University of Central Lancashire in 2020, started feeling unwell in June last year, when she collapsed at home. She was later admitted to hospital for pneumonia in December, and during a routine scan she was found to have kidney cancer which had spread to her lungs and lymph nodes.
“I didn’t really realise how poorly she was,” Nina said. “Two weeks before being diagnosed with cancer she’d done the National Three Peaks Challenge – she was still so active – so I was shocked when the hospice was mentioned. I hadn’t realised we were looking at end-of-life care.
“I was worried because I just expected it to be a very sad environment, but it was truly amazing. Mamma didn’t want to be looked after at home because she didn’t want home to become a sad place, and we couldn’t have asked for a better place for her to be. When I first visited her at St Catherine’s, she looked the best I’d seen her in a while. She was so happy and comfortable.
“The care was next level, and the staff would do everything they could for us. We always used to have Di Niro Date Nights on a Tuesday so they helped us re-create that. They set up a table in the gorgeous grounds with roses in a vase. They dyed Mamma’s hair and she had lovely lipstick and perfume on. Papa is a chef so he cooked the meal at home and brought it in, and she wanted my mash potato so I brought that.
“It was her 46th birthday while she was in the hospice, and we had a small party for her in the gardens with balloons, Prosecco and cake, which she really enjoyed. And she got it in her mind that she wanted her and Papa to renew their wedding vows – there’s a beautiful pergola in the grounds and she mentioned it would be a lovely setting for a wedding. She said she wanted to show Papa how much she loved him; he knew already, but it was important to her and the hospice made arrangements for a chaplain to come in for the ceremony.
“All four of us got wooden rings for the blessing. Papa is Italian and they don’t have metal wedding rings, so that was a way for me and my brother to be part of the occasion as well. It was about us as a family and was really special.”
Vijya spent two weeks in St Catherine’s, and died peacefully on July 16, just days after her birthday party and wedding ceremony.
Luca and his friend Jake Whitlock decided to do the skydive to help the charity, and convinced Nina to join them. Family friends who run Skydive Northwest in Grange-over-Sands offered the trio the chance to do the jumps free of charge, so they could focus on raising sponsorship for the hospice.
Nina, 24, who’s a model from Preston, added: “We weren’t nervous at all about the skydive on the day because we were just so excited to be doing something which Mamma would love and be proud of, and to support the hospice. It was an amazing experience; I felt like I was flying, and I just felt so close to her in that moment. It was a really nice feeling. I also completed the Pretty Mudder Race for Life obstacle challenge that weekend as Mamma use to do it every year.
“We’re looking forward to having more adventures in the future in Mamma’s memory and to give something back to St Catherine’s, to thank them for going above and beyond for our family.”
Vijya’s friends organised a fitness-themed fundraiser in her memory earlier this month, called #BeMoreVij. They took part in three of her favourite activities including a 90-minute exercise class, cycling the Guild Wheel, and a six-mile walk.
Emily Bate, community engagement officer at St Catherine’s Hospice, said: “We’d like to say a very big ‘thank you’ to Nina, Luca and Jake – along with Vijya’s fitness-loving friends and everyone who’s sponsored them – for their incredible support! Vijya sounds like a truly inspirational woman and she has left a very special legacy.
“Her family and friends have already raised such a fantastic amount for our cause, and we’re thrilled to hear that more challenges could be in the pipeline. As an independent local charity, we depend on the generosity and efforts of our communities to enable us to continue providing our specialist palliative and end-of-life care, as we look after the big issues as well as the small details which make all the difference to families like the Di Niros.”
– If you would like to sponsor Nina’s skydive, please visit www.justgiving.com/luca-di-niro and if you would like to arrange your own charity event, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01772 629171.
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