Sunshine On My Shoulders….

10265528_844953325520916_2243968167020242286_oIn 1971 a young woman died at the age of 20.  She left behind a husband, a two year old daughter, and a journal of tape recordings.  A journal that told what it was to be young, and a mother, and in love…and dying.  The names of the people in her life have been changed, but we have retained her spirit, and many of the actual words from the tapes.

These are the opening words to a little known film that was released in the USA in 1973, the year I was born.  I remember seeing this film when I was young, and it was based on the true story of a 20 year old woman who lived in Colorado called Jacquelynne Marie Helton. The film was called “Sunshine”, inspired by the song “Sunshine On My Shoulders” by John Denver which is played in the film, along with other songs by him including “Take Me Home, Country Roads”. An author called Norma Klein wrote a book based on this true story, also called “Sunshine”.  As names have been changed in the film, the character of Jacquelynne Marie is called Kate, her daughter is called Jill, and her husband Sam.

The opening sequence of “Sunshine” goes on to show Kate’s funeral, with her saying the following words as they are recorded in her tape journals:

Country roads, take me home……boy, I want them to play country roads at my funeral. Dying is beautiful, even the first time around, at the ripe old age of 20. It’s not easy most of the time, but there is real beauty to be found in knowing that your end is going to catch up with you faster than you had expected, and that you have to get all your loving and laughing and crying done as soon as you can.

I pray that I live long enough to see Jill become a human being, independent of Sam and me.  At least I won’t have to reason so much on my own.

I guess I like the idea of cremation, of having my ashes just spread across the mountains……..

Her husband Sam scatters his beloved wife’s ashes across the mountains with “Country Roads” being played, just as she wanted.

The film then backtracks to show Kate with her little girl Jill as a baby, and receiving the devastating news that she has a rare form of bone cancer in her knee.  She is told that amputation is the only answer, although even this is not guaranteed, and she opts to try and treat it with chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

For some reason a couple of weeks ago I had this film in my mind.  I couldn’t remember what it was called, so I did a Google search with things I could remember such as “Kate cancer bone young woman”. To my surprise, some links came up and I immediately recognised pictures from the film, and remembered that the name of it was “Sunshine”.  I was even more surprised to find the film in its entirety on YouTube – it is split into 13 parts, but it is all there.  So naturally I watched it.  And I watched it again.

10250112_847621538587428_5444303702257055294_nI was amazed at how much of the film I remembered when I saw it again, considering how young I was at the time when I first saw it. One of the things I have become fascinated with though is the thought process and decision making process that Jacquelyn Helton went through, considering she had a two year old daughter and husband. If I was in her shoes, and it is very difficult for me to understand because of course I am not, I would have had the doctors take off every limb I had if it meant I had more time with my child and husband, and that it would mean I would live.  Or, would I decide to just make the most of what time I did have left, and die with peace and dignity with everything intact, just as Jacquelyn did? “Sunshine” is a very sad, and very thought provoking film, and really makes you think about loss and dying.  I thought I had been through enough death and loss in the last year or so to make me grounded and pragmatic when it comes to being faced with it, but thanks to seeing this film again, the truth is I’m not.

“Sunshine” has also made me think about my own funeral and what I want after I’m gone (not to be morbid or anything, but we should ALL think about this and tell our loved ones what we want). I haven’t given it a huge amount of thought yet, but I do know I want to be cremated, and I want to be laid to rest wherever my Frankie is. I want songs played such as Morecambe and Wise “Bring Me Sunshine”, Queen “Those Were The Days Of Our Lives” and Andrew WK’s “Party Hard” (I’ve got to get some rock and metal in there somewhere).  I would like some readings, although I’m not sure which ones yet, and I want everyone not to mourn my passing, but to have a jolly good knees up and a party instead.

I know that NO-ONE wants to think about their own death. But if there is ONE thing I have learnt since I lost my Frankie it is this.  NOTHING is guaranteed, and we have NO idea what is around the next corner.  I’ve seen first hand what happens when you don’t leave any wishes or provision for your funeral with my father in law.  It can tear families apart. So please, to anyone reading this who hasn’t thought about what they want when they are gone, talk to your nearest and dearest and let them know your wishes and thoughts.

The end scene in “Sunshine”, when Kate finally realises she has days rather than months, really makes me cry when she records these words:

“I’m gonna miss you Sam… the way you touch me and comfort me when I’m sad… the way you smile, and the way you dance around when you’re happy… I can’t die and leave you guys! Who’s gonna clean the toilet? Who’s gonna clean the oven? What’s the matter with you, God??? My family’s not a bunch of Boy Scouts who can figure out things for themselves! That’s what you taught me to do… that’s why I’m here!”

The film “Sunshine” can be found on YouTube via this link –  There is also a facebook page dedicated to the film –,

10422539_1046479282034985_5082085395833424260_nThe real Jacquelynne Marie.

6 thoughts on “Sunshine On My Shoulders….

  1. Hi Lisa,
    I came across your blog while looking up information about ms. Helton’s daughter. I always wondered what happened to her. I can’t seem to find out, and it may be that all the judgement made her hide away, and that is both sad and understandable. The type of bone cancer Lyn had was terminal. Amputation would have introduced a combating illness in the recovery and would have, in fact, shortened the time she had left. By saying no to that surgery, she gave her daughter just a little more time with her mommy.
    Bright blessings,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Terry, thank you for your comment on this post, it was lovely of you to leave it. I too often wonder what happened to Lyn’s daughter, it was such a sad story, Lyn was so young to be diagnosed with such a horrible and terminal disease. The film really made me think about and consider my own mortality. Funnily enough, I watched a bit of it again on YouTube the other day, it is firmly entrenched in my mind from having watched it at such a young age.
      Bright blessings to you too,


  2. Every now and then I think of Lyn Helton. She passes through my mind like a fairy dancing on the moss of a tree trunk in the forest I live in. She fades in and out of my mind like a gentle breeze and I wonder …. what if. What if someone had just told her that she was leaving this place, but she didn’t have to go so soon. What if she chose to stay and fight until the end and give her daughter more time. What if?

    The following is what I penned a number of years ago and I have decided to re-enter it here. Perhaps someone out there will gather wisdom and some understanding from Lyn’s story and my assessment of it, and decide to fight the good battle and thus remain with us just for a little while longer.

    Lyn Helton — And the country road not taken.

    Jacquelyn (Lyn) Marie Helton, a heart wrenching story of dying young.

    I remember watching the movie “Sunshine” when it first aired in 1973. Being only a year and a half older that her when she passed, I could truly relate to a life cut short. So much undone, so little of life experienced made me; and I am sure many others; ponder their own mortality. Life and death is indeed, unfair. We are all subjected to this. You, me, the Kennedy brothers, Martin Luther King Jr., the four students killed at Kent State on May 4 of 1970 and the countless young men who didn’t come home from Vietnam. This wasn’t just Lyn’s story, it’s theirs and countless others whose names we do not know.

    Like everyone else, I cried many tears as Lyn’s life slipped away and her husband and young daughter had to carry on without her. I think part of this had to do with the fact that she seamed to have finally found the happiness she truly desired, a beautiful little daughter and a man whom she loved and in return loved her back. Some of my sorrow I am sure also stemmed from the knowledge that she was not a member of a minority. As stated above, dying young is a common occurrence.

    I will admit that I only saw the movie once, never viewed the two that followed and had no idea that a very short lived television series followed. I have not read the book or anything else written on her or her family. In short, she vanished from my mind like a puff of smoke, until….last week. Don’t ask, as I have no idea why she would suddenly came to mind.

    For the past few days I have been attempting to learn anything I can about her, her very short life and what happened to her family. This is going to be a very lean obsession as there is little to discover. Considering the coverage her life and death generated just before, and not long after her passing, I find this a bit of a surprise. Oh, of course her surviving family values their privacy; and that is to be expected; but if you examine what they were willing to bring forth to the general public at the time, it is somewhat curious.

    Mind you now, with what I am about to say, I am not attempting to minimize Lyn’s death. All loss of life brings grief to those around them, and that should always be respected. But for the most part it usually only centers on a relatively small circle of friends and family. In Lyn’s case she was not an astronaut killed in a mishap or a heart surgeon saving lives. She didn’t march off to a foreign country to fight for people she didn’t know or make contact with aliens. She was a child that wasn’t old enough to drink or vote, who married twice and had an 18 month old toddler. She died from a disease that kills thousands in this country every year, and leaves behind shattered lives that are changed for ever. So I had to ask myself, what is it that is different about her? Well, nothing. Oh yeah, there is the publicity, along with the films and a book that somebody made money from. Frank Sinatra got in to the mix with a nice donation to Jill/Jennifer for her well being and I gather a college education. It was a story that was hot until it just wasn’t any more, and the principal characters vanished into obscurity as if they too had passed in to the beauty that is death that Lyn so embraced.
    Having realized this in my journey to understand Lyn Helton, I began to try to unravel what little I could discover with what little I had to work with. I ended up with more questions than answers but I think I can honestly say that Lyn might have been courageous, but I think if a closer look is taken, one might notice that her strength was in dying…not living.

    Personally I hope that when my time comes I will be as brave as she was. That was much to her credit and might have been one of the reasons I cried the way I did when I saw the movie. But with all she loved or said she loved, with all she wanted and hoped for and dreamed for, she quit. She gave up. She did not fight the good fight. She did not push the envelope. She left her husband and daughter too early, and if all she got out of having her leg amputated was another year or maybe two….well, that’s another year or two. That’s more time to talk into a tape recorder, more time to take pictures, write poems, sing songs and paint with water colors at the kitchen table with her beloved child. It might have given her the time she needed to tell Jennifer bed-time stories, splash in the bathtub, teacher her letters, numbers, shapes and colors. Who knows, maybe she could have watched her go to her first Kindergarten class and proudly display her art work on the refrigerator. You know normal mommy things. But it seems that Lyn didn’t want that without a guarantee that it would continue to continue. Perhaps someone should have told her that no one has that, sick or well. Life is a grand crap shoot for everyone. Anyone of us can walk out the door in the morning and not be home for dinner.

    Maybe at 20 she could not grasp that concept. Maybe when I saw the movie at 23 I didn’t get it either. But I would like to think that the doctors she felt were running her life and controlling her destiny might have thought to mention this. Could someone not have pointed out that in keeping her leg the only definite thing that was in her life was death, and it wasn’t too far off. Removing it most likely would have given her more time. More time to love, more time to live, and more time to create memories that were real and spoken and not on a tape that can be stolen, misplaced or damaged. In fact if they did catch it in time she might still be alive now. Teddy Kennedy’s son had bone cancer and had to have his leg removed in 1973. He is still with us, married with children and living a normal life. I am not saying that Lyn’s case was exactly the same, but it seems to be running a pretty close second right down to the time in history.

    I could be way off target here but it looks to me like she chose to show everyone how to be brave in leaving as opposed to having the strength to stay. I wonder if Jennifer thinks her mother made the best most loving unselfish decision.

    I guess what I want to bring forth here is … for those who are facing a life ending decision and you have children of any age …. stay as long as you can. Bring joy and hope to those you are going to leave behind. Fight the good fight as they may face the same choice in the years to come. As the song goes …. “Teach Your Children Well” now, as you can’t do so when you are gone.

    Thank you for listening.



    • Hi Sammy, wow, what can I say…thank you so much for writing such a lovely and long post on my blog about Jacquelyn Helton. The film really got me thinking, it still does, and if you don’t mind I would like to do a follow up blog which will be called “Sunshine on my Shoulders: Part 2”. I’d like to explore some of what you wrote about the thought process that Jacquelyn would have gone though before she died, and why she decided to do what she did. I must watch the film again soon. Thank you again, Lisa – Frankie’s Legacy xx


  3. Dear Lisa … I am so sorry I didn’t get back to you. I sort of put this aside as generally I don’t receive a response. The only reason I ended up here again is because Lyn danced through my mind early in the am of Nov. 7th. What called me up short is that while looking her up again I paid attention to the date of her passing. I had forgotten it was the 7th and I had no idea what the date was at the moment. I’m not that far from 70 so these things don’t stay in my head. I don’t know why Lyn keeps coming back to me. I might be a survivor of the 60’s but most of my friends are not. So what is it about this long departed young girl that stays with me? I was so surprised that you wanted to explore some of what I penned. I might also add a bit flattered. So of course you can use my post in any way you like. If you want to really chat about it perhaps you could use my email address. Thank you for appreciating it. Samantha


  4. Hi Sam, aww no problem at all, I’ve been really busy on other projects for my day job so I haven’t had a chance to revisit this other blog post that I want to do, but I will add it to my list of things I want to do. By all means email me via, and lets go from there on this 🙂 Best wishes, Lisa xx


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