Sisters take on Wing Walk challenge in memory of their parents

When sisters Wendy Anderson and Sonja Osborne achieved a long-held ambition to wing walk this summer, it represented a significant milestone. After losing both parents within 10 days of each other in 2022, they had resolved to raise funds for the hospice that had cared for their mother, Margaret. Their wing walk has now raised £4988 for local hospice care.

When Margaret Wallis – a skilled amateur artist and tennis player from Southwick – was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in November 2018, her doctors initially didn’t think she would live for very long. “She was very stoic,” says Sonja. “And she did very well at first. She wanted to celebrate her next birthday and her diamond wedding anniversary, both of which she managed to do. When her GP first referred her to St Barnabas House, the nurse who came for a home visit was pleasantly surprised by how well she was, and we talked about her coming to the Living Well centre to take part in some art groups – she loved to paint.”

The family rallied round. “Dad just adored Mum,” says Wendy. “He had testicular cancer himself in the Seventies and mum got him through it. Now it was his turn to support her. It was a journey that they endured together.”

Very sadly, Bryan died suddenly in his sleep in January 2022 and just a few days afterwards Margaret received the news that she wasn’t well enough to continue with chemotherapy.

Initially, the sisters hoped to care for Margaret at home, but when it became difficult for her to use the stairs, they decided that St Barnabas House was the best place for them all to be. “Mum was still in shock from Dad’s death,” says Sonja. “And we promised we wouldn’t leave her on her own.”

The family made the room cosy – like a spa, one of the nurses said – and filled it with home comforts, including Wendy’s dog, Milo. Margaret reconciled with a sister she hadn’t seen for 20 years and FaceTimed another sister in America.

“The level of support that they gave us at St Barnabas meant that Mum didn’t feel panicked about passing. I think it was almost a relief for her to be told that the chemotherapy wasn’t going to happen the next time because when she heard that, she said ‘Pops is waiting for me.’ She felt his presence here,” says Sonja.

Margaret died at St Barnabas House, 10 days after losing her husband.

“It knocked us for six,” says Sonja. “But I think, hand on heart, we can say we did everything we could. Dad would have been proud of us.”

Image of a family outdoors

While they were still at St Barnabas with Margaret, Sonja and Wendy decided to take on a fundraising challenge in honour of both their parents and chose a wing walk – something Sonja had always been drawn to since seeing aerobatics formation teams at the Shoreham Air Show.

After signing up early this year, the pair had a long delay due to poor weather in the spring and to allow Sonja to recover from surgery. But for both sisters, it was worth the wait. Wendy describes the experience as “crazy, adrenaline-fuelled euphoria – it’s the closest I will ever get to feeling like a bird flying through the air!”

“It feels like there’s nothing between you and the ground,” says Sonja. “But you know you’re in safe hands and I would recommend it to anyone, I really would. Anyone considering doing something like this, I’d say just go for it. Just do something outside your comfort zone and make a difference.”

Wendy and Sonja plus friends at the wing walk

Could you take on a Wing Walk?