Monday, 21 July 2014


I recently watched Jo Beecham's video interview (view it here if you've not seen it yet: ).  She explained in it how she has fought to live and now feels she has to fight to die.  She has terminal cancer and knows her prognosis however, she would like the choice to have a dignified death.

Jo explained how she would like to die.  On the face of it, it is quite a morbid thought but we all know we are going to die however, some of us have an indication of when that could be.  As she explained her ideal death though it made me reflect on Stephen's death.

Would Stephen consider that he had a good death?  It was the best that was possible given the circumstances but, I doubt it is how he would have wanted.

When he was given his terminal prognosis we spoke about many things, they type of funeral he wanted but, more importantly the type of funeral he didn't want.  He was very clear that it was to be a fun reflection on his life but, knowing Stephen, I knew his mantra for any performance we gave, "make em laugh and make em cry..." I'm pleased to say his was the first funeral I had attended where people genuinely laughed as we reflected on the deceased's life and also shed more than a tear or two as it dawned on us how lucky we were to know him and how different life will be without him.

There were elements of Stephen's death that I guess would be characteristic of most peoples wishes.  He was hugged and held by his partner and surrounded by his family.  Friends had visited during the preceding few hours to say their farewells and, as far as we are aware, he was free from pain.  All that being said though he wasn't 'present' and hadn't been for some time.  

Stephen was effectively in a coma from the very early hours of Tuesday morning and took his angel wings in the early hours of Wednesday morning.  The last real conversation I had with him was Sunday evening as he asked me to take him to hospital.  He hated being in hospital so I knew he was struggling when he asked to go to hospital knowing that it was certain he would be admitted.

As soon as his bed had been allocated he was given medication to tackle the pain which, understandably, made him drowsy.  There were a few brief moments of consciousness from then until I kissed him goodnight on Monday night but these were mainly just one word answers to my questions.  Asking him after his medication, "how are you feeling now?" His answer simple and concise, "Shit!" 

Later that night, during the early hours of Tuesday morning Stephen suffered a seizure.  We know now that it killed him, his first seizure was also his last.  From then until his last breath we went through a roller coaster of emotion.  The despair of losing him, the disbelief of what we were being told which meant we went through periods of thinking that there may be hope and we shouldn't give up and then almost convincing yourself that it is just a dream, a very bad one, and we will wake up soon, hug and live happily ever after now that we'd been reminded what we stood to lose.  Of course it was real.

Sharing someone's last moments with them felt like a privilege, one I'd rather not have experienced but, unlike Jo, I don't think Stephen had considered how he wanted his last hours to be.  Stephen died in a small side room of an intensive care unit.  He was connected to several machines monitoring all sorts of things. He had been under continuous monitoring by at least one, mainly two, nurses throughout his stay there.  Not once were we, as his family and loved ones, left alone with him until after he had passed.  I and we took comfort from that at the time as it meant we felt he had received the best possible care.  With hindsight though I wonder whether we were monitored too?

Because Stephen had been well, relatively speaking, on the Sunday morning but had died on Wednesday morning we are aware his suffering wasn't long and protracted.  His passing was swift and, whilst I am guessing, it made it more difficult for us, I would have hated seeing him suffer.

That's something Jo mentioned, she will not suffer.  Why should she?  As human beings we can empathise and have compassion for one another but in this country we are not allowed to help them end their suffering.  We can attempt to ease it but, sometimes even the strongest painkillers can only take the edge off.  If someone is unable to talk how can they convey that?

Death is a subject most of us would rather not discuss but some of us have had to.  Dealing with death and indeed discussing my own death has made me feel stronger.  It puts you in control, a box ticked on the "to do" list and something you can put aside as done.  That being said though I cannot comprehend how difficult it must be for people like Jo and Stephen, having to make those arrangements after being prompted by a terminal diagnosis.  

Furthermore, I cannot imagine the turmoil in having to even contemplate choosing your own death.  With this in mind, why do we have to make it even more difficult AND illegal?  Surely the Assisted Dying bill, if it ever became law, is a step toward a truly humane society.  A society in which we not only try to ease the suffering of those who are ill but ending the suffering of those facing a terminal diagnosis.

Those campaigning against it seem to have really not considered the bill fully.  This isn't about finishing Great Aunt Maud off because you're bored of looking after her but it is about giving victims, unfortunate enough to have a terminal diagnosis, a choice.

I am sure each and every person with a terminal cancer diagnosis would prefer the choice to not have cancer but unfortunately that isn't possible.  The second best choice seems to be to give the cancer no place to go.  I know Stephen would consider he had won the fight against cancer.  He may have died but, the cancer didn't get an opportunity to take his dignity.  He fought to the end to make sure the cancer didn't win.  

Those facing terminal diagnosis have my admiration.  Often facing an inevitable end with fortitude.  If I could do anything to help then I will, so, I've signed the Dignity in Dying petition.  If you believe in giving choices instead of prolonging suffering then I'd urge you to sign too.  If you're unsure then please re-watch Jo's interview.  If you're still undecided then just consider how lucky you are to have the time to consider your decision..... Or should I say, your choice? 

Click on the link and make your voice heard:

Until next time, 

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