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Being a romance fan, there’s nothing I love more than a great love story, and usually I find those stories between the pages of a book, but this morning, I read the most moving, awesome real life tale about one of the most beautiful examples of true love there is. The friendship kind.

When Julie Jones’ best friend died, she left behind five children. Julie herself had three of her own, but that didn’t stop her from taking them on, and becoming a mother to them.

When I read this story in the Mail this morning, it moved me to tears. In fact I was sobbing practically from the first paragraph. I challenge you to read Julie’s story, without your heart breaking.

The mantelpiece in Julie Jones’s living room is crammed with pink, sparkly birthday cards. At the centre are two with the word ‘Daughter’ written across the front. One is addressed ‘To my beautiful Emma’, the other ‘To my beautiful Chantelle’. Both are signed ‘With lots and lots of love and kisses, Julie’.
At a glance, they reveal Julie’s remarkable devotion to these two little girls who aren’t, in the strictest sense, her daughters.
Their real mother, Caroline Atkin, died of cancer two years ago, six months after their father also died suddenly.

She had been Julie’s best friend for 30 years and it was their incredible bond that led Julie to promise Caroline she would take in not only Chantelle, who was five, and Emma, who was seven, but also their three brothers – James, eight, Keiran, nine, and Michael, ten. Overnight Julie – already single-handedly bringing up three teenage boys – became a mother of eight.

Somehow, despite her own grief, she had to find the space for all the children, and juggle working full-time as an RAF administrator with looking after them. It was an act of tremendous loyalty and kindness for which Julie, 46, has received the accolade of Tesco Compassionate Mum of the Year, which she will receive next Sunday at a ceremony in London.
The challenge might easily have daunted a lesser woman, but for Julie, who exudes an aura of calm, gentle capability, it was a simple decision.

‘I never wonder for a second if I did the right thing. There was never any question. What kind of a friend would I have been if I’d turned my back on Caroline’s children? I couldn’t have lived with myself.’

At the heart of Julie’s extraordinary situation is a friendship that began in 1979 when she was 11, and lasted through jobs, marriages and babies.

She and Caroline met on the first day at their Catholic secondary school in Grantham, Lincolnshire. Julie lived in Sleaford, 15 miles away, and turned up without knowing anyone.
‘Caroline included me in her group of friends,’ Julie recalls. ‘From that day, we shared everything – French exchange trips, trips to the youth club and, later, the disco. It was the Eighties and we’d spend hours round at her house listening to music, dressing up and plastering on make-up together.’
They were so close that, after leaving school, they both went to a local college to study the same hotel and catering management course.

Julie later began working at the RAF College at nearby Cranwell and Caroline found a job in Lincoln.
When Julie married in 1988, Caroline was her bridesmaid. Julie and her RAF husband – who divorced seven years ago – moved around the country but often invited Caroline to visit.

In 1998, Julie was maid of honour when Caroline married David Atkin, a caretaker with whom she already had two children. She went on to have three more, with Julie as godmother.

‘They were a devoted couple,’ says Julie. ‘Caroline lived for him and the children.’
At the start of 2009, Caroline began to suffer headaches. She tripped and fell on more than one occasion, so Julie encouraged her to visit the doctor. Then one morning, at Easter, Julie received a call from David to say Caroline had been suffering seizures and had been admitted to hospital.

‘They operated straight away to remove part of a brain tumour and, when I got there, she was drifting in and out of consciousness. I knew it was very serious. Dave was distraught. I told him I’d do everything I possibly could to support them.’
Over the following months, with Julie by her side, Caroline received chemotherapy, but it became clear she would not survive.
Then, suddenly, just before Christmas 2009, David collapsed on Lincoln high street, having suffered a massive stroke which Julie believes was stress-related. On January 8, 2010, he died.

‘Caroline called me and said, “It’s my husband, he’s died,” which was an odd thing to say. She was at home and on very strong medication, so I don’t think she quite understood what had happened. I was absolutely stunned.’
At Easter, Julie went to Caroline’s house with eggs for the children and, as the children played outside, Caroline broke down. Julie says: ‘She couldn’t bear the thought of leaving the kids, so she never discussed dying, but that day she said, “I’m so scared for my life.”

‘I told her she would be fine and she said, “What about the children?” I said they’d be fine too.
‘She said, “Will you look after them for me?” I said, “Yes. Let’s call that Plan B.”
‘I wanted her to have that hope because I knew that was how she was coping. I wasn’t surprised she had asked, and I didn’t even have to think about it. I knew she would do the same for me.’
Caroline had no other relatives aside from her elderly mother, Irene, who gave Julie her blessing that afternoon. Caroline and Julie visited a solicitor to make arrangements for Julie to be the children’s legal guardian in the event of Caroline’s death.

The following month, Julie invited the whole family to stay at her new four-bedroom house in Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire, for a week.
While Caroline rested, Julie organised picnics and barbecues and a birthday party for Keiran, who had just turned ten.
During the week, Julie noticed that Caroline had started to direct her children’s requests for drinks or to play outside to her. ‘I think she was handing me her children,’ says Julie. ‘She seemed at peace with it. I’m so glad we had that week, so she could see life would be OK for the kids.’

Caroline died the following Monday, on June 7. A family friend was looking after her children at home. Julie arrived at the hospital ten minutes after her friend died. ‘She would have laughed and said, “You’re always late,”?’ she says.
‘The children had no idea that their mummy was dying, so I had to tell them she was gone and that she was with the angels in heaven.
‘I said, “Who wants to come home with me?” and they all said, “I do.”?’

This is just part of the story, for the rest of it, go here.


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