As I sat speaking to a very special friend of mine, my phone buzzed with a number I didn’t recognise… I picked up the phone to answer expecting that it was another person amid a housing crisis issue as the phone has been almost manic the past few weeks with requests. “Aaaawwwrrriiiight TITCHY!” came the booming greeting! In my weirdness I responded with the same accent “Awwwwriiight, WHO’S THIS?!” –
A friend I hadn’t heard from in a long time. An absolutely inspirational hero that has literally been through hell and back for the majority of their life time. I nearly burst I was so happy to hear from him. “Well kinda ringing for the sociable but kinda not at the same time Titch, I’m afraid I’m calling in that favour that we spoke of way back when, d’ya remember?”
I didn’t, this was a friend that I had many long winded conversations about life with, someone who always guided me in the right direction when I was an anxious mess and unable to overcome the hurdles in my life, this favour could have been anything! Although I knew that I would grant it as this person means the world to me. “You know I’m not well girl, and you know how I hate to be lying around feeling sorry for myself… well the time has come. I’m checking out…”
As I stood there on the phone listening to him describe this with a jovial voice, I felt my knees slightly buckle. I wanted to shout “BUT I DONT WANT YOU TO GO!” Instead I found a feeble “oh fuck…” come out of my mouth as my heart raced and my body felt weak at the thought that my friend was telling me they were ready to die, but on their terms. More than that, they wanted me present, to have a cuppa, a chat, and sit with him until he did what he had to do… I felt sick, I could feel the tears pooling in my eyes. I felt like I wanted to hang up the phone and bounce it off the wall and start screaming about how unfair life was. But instead I listened and as he tried to cheer me up by filling me in on the trials and tribulations of hospital life that led him to checking himself out, out of complete frustration, I found myself laughing along with his anecdotes. I discovered the more I spoke to him that he wasn’t afraid that he was at peace with his decision… so I agreed to be his companion and company for the night until he did what he needed to do to find peace. He gave me a time to arrive and we ended the conversation.
As I returned back to the living room of my friend, they stood up gave me a warm hug and I tried hard not to cry. I was telling myself that I’ll be fine… this was his choice not mine to make. I think my friend picked up on my need to cry because as we both sat on the couch he wrapped me up in his arms and held on tight telling me it would all be ok. With that, the floodgates opened and I sobbed for a bit, unsure as to whether or not this was something I could go through. But knowing full well that my conscience wouldn’t let me back out. I spoke to my friend about this over a cup of tea, they were supportive but wanted to make sure that I was ok with what was happening. After a lengthy conversation, I hit the road to make it to my friend for their final journey…
As I walked in the door, he was sitting in his usual spot, pink floyd blasting and the smell of cannabis and insense wafting through the air. “TIIIIITCHHHYYY! FUCKING GREAT TO SEE YOU GIRL YOU LOOK A MILLION YO-YOS! C’MERE N’ GIVE YOUR OLD PAL A HUG,” we embraced tightly and I started to cry again. “Hey c”mon now, you know what it’s like girl, we reach a point and that’s it, BOOM, DONE! You know I’m fine with it. I can’t let this monster take me it has to be on my terms…” as I went to turn the tunes down so we could talk, he boomed “NO IF I ONLY GET ONE MORE CHANCE TO ANNOY MY NEIGHBOURS THEN WE’LL LEAVE IT PUMPING, IF THEY ARENT HALOY WITH IT, LET THE, KNOCK, ITS NOT LIKE ITLL BE HAPPENING AGAIN!”
“I’ll make the tea so” I said grinning, hitting 60 he was still very much that skin head youth from his hay-day, the rebel, the I-don’t-give-a-fuck-what-you-think-of-me, the fuck-the-establishment-anarchist, and even though he was full of bravado, his eyes told me that he was scared, even if he was too “macho” to give that away in the moment.
As I was stirring in the honey into the cups I could hear Bohemian Rhapsody take over the speakers and I smiled, I knew what this meant. This meant he was expecting a sing-along… this was “our tune” as I went out to the living room I took my place behind the drum kit and he took up his bass and we blasted from the top of his lungs and the top of my one lung the tune with such vigour it lead to sufficient head banging for the chorus… “You’ve not lost it girl, now pick a fuckin’ tuuune and let’s have a little sess, clear the cobwebs and then we’ll get down to business! As I hooked up the iPad to the aux cable, he put his hand on my arm and I turned to look at him. “This means the world to me girl, you’re one in a fucking million, and d’ya know I’m fuckin’ petrified. When I get to the other side I’ll be looking out for you…” “You’d do the same for me bud, honestly, no thanks needed, I just want you to be happy…”
“You’re a fuckin’ angel girl, now pick a decent track!” So I hit the playlist and chose Snow Patrol “This Isn’t Everything You Are…” I drummed, he bassed, we both sung, rolling into The Killers – Mr Brightside and finishing with Matchbox 20’s – 3AM… we gave it our all and I loved it, I could tell he was too. Getting lost in the music and not feeling anything other than that.
As we rounded up we went into his room and he went through the boxes of medicine he had been stockpiling for the occasion. He laid it all out on the bed and then he sat on the bed himself, put his head in his hands and cried, big heaving sobs, asking out loud “what did I fucking do in life to deserve this? I was a good dad, I was a good husband, I was a good worker, I helped anyone I could, why am I suffering…?” I sat beside him and held him tightly as he cried, and I cried and we both spoke frankly about life and death, what I meant and the importance of making sure he had done everything he wanted to do in this life before passing onto the next.
So, a decision was made. Not to take the medication. Not yet. Instead we sat there and I helped him form a “bucket list” of a a few things he wished to do before he is gone. We did have a good laugh at a few of the, I won’t repost them here for fear of retribution when he gets them done, but I will say watch this space they will give you a good giggle…
When we finished the list he said “one more tune” so we did, Johnny Cashs – Hurt, another cuppa or three and a lot of banter. As it came nearer the time to leave, he looked at me sincerely and thanked me for not leaving him alone in his decision. He said that the loneliness was what scared him the most. He told me that this wasn’t a decision not to do it but rather to live out the bucket list and then get “back to business” as he put it. As we embraced one last time I promised him I would always be there. And he retorted with a “don’t worry I’ll be calling on you again, jamming session before I go out, what better way to make it there?!” We both smiled at one another and hugged one more and then I left…
As I drove home I shook, and I cried, and I thanked Michael for giving me the opportunity to see my friend again before he went anywhere. But in that I became angry. Because I recognise the pressure that is put on a chronically ill person who is literally pushed to the brink of not being able to suffer anymore. I’ve been there. I’ve had other friends who’ve been there and have chosen this route. Not out of depression but out of a decision to want to take control of the situation and go on their terms. I wholly agree with this principle, your body, your life, your choice. And I know my decision will be the same in years to come when I’m given my “marching orders”, and I can only hope I’ll have a friend who would be willing to see me out ’til the end. Euthanasia should be made legal in this country. People should have a right to choice when it comes to prolonging the suffering or choosing to opt out. I became angry that this was not a choice my friend or any of my other friends I’ve lost over the years have had when they choose to go. If you don’t want the illness to take you, you should have every right to control those circumstances and not be prevented from doing so by some archaic religious beliefs that are legislated for… we never know what is going on in anyone’s life, or the suffering that they are experiencing on a daily basis. I’m glad my friend decided to hang on in there to get up to a bit of devilment but I know it’s only a matter of weeks before he will call on me again. I’m honoured in a way to think that I am the company he would choose. I think the law becoming involved in such a choice is abhorrent and cruel.
Things need to change… people who are chronically ill are some of the most marginalised in our communities, I was the once too… kind words cost nothing. Make sure to check in from time to time. But most of all support the decisions of those making them for their own reasons. Who are we to judge a path we aren’t walking?
Lots of love,