Damian Lewis’s beautiful tribute to his late wife, Helen McCrory, who died last week at the age of 52, came as a shock to many who had not known she was ill. “She has exhorted us to be courageous and not afraid,” he wrote. “As she said repeatedly to the children, “Don’t be sad, because even though I’m about to snuff it, I’ve lived the life I wanted to.” McCrory, a star of stage and screen from Peaky Blinders to Harry Potter, and the National Theatre, sounds much like my late mum, Maggie. Like McCrory, my kind, fearless mum kept her cancer a secret from many of her closest friends and family. The only person she really shared it with prior to her death 16 years ago was her husband, my stepfather, who happened to be a GP. She didn’t tell me about her bowel cancer until two months before she died and underplayed the trauma of it; the cancer, she said, was quite treatable and they had hopefully caught it in the early stages. She hated putting people out, and was always adamant that my siblings and I should carry on enjoying our lives rather than worrying about her. I was in my 20s when she died, and fully ensconced in my life in London, but I would have dropped everything if I’d known how ill she was. I would have comforted her and gone to see her in hospital on that final, fateful weekend, and remain devastated that I never got the chance. The church was packed with friends and family at her funeral a few weeks later – it was standing room only at the back as many students of Mum’s, a much-loved teacher, came to pay tribute. Many were as stunned by her sudden death as we had been. Having to deal with their grief on top of my own made it even more difficult.