Passing Time

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Brendan here again. Apologies, the last post wasn’t the final one: Eamon asked me to write a post about the funeral.

requestThe weather was glorious. The sun was shining in the sky. The funeral service was late to start: there were so many people attending, that we had trouble getting the coffin into the church. Friends and family had travelled in specially from various parts of England, Ireland, The Netherlands and Germany.

We are very grateful to Father Sean, who agreed to the unusual request to perform a Catholic funeral service in an Anglican church. The church’s regular Anglican organist was also willing to bend the other way and accompany a Catholic mass. Eamon would have loved his prog rock leanings. He in turn enjoyed playing Eamon’s scores: we included a hymn that Eamon had arranged and a complete sung mass that he had written back in 1988, freshly rediscovered by his very good friend and former parish organist Georgina.

Eamon’s older brother Martin led the singing. He had also prepared an Order of Service booklet, with the lyrics, readings and some photos of Eamon. Nephew Jonathan gave a reading. At communion I sang a Georgian healing song, with a little help from my friends Benedict and Hermione. Then siblings Shirley, Nicola, Martin and I stood together and sang I Watch the Sunrise, with harmony support from Jonathan nearby.

Eamon’s former boss Amanda gave a moving tribute to him, remembering him as a model employee, and including many appreciative comments from his colleagues. His best friend Mike followed that with another beautiful tribute, “the best man’s speech I’ve been waiting to give”, recounting many treasured tales from their time together, some barely suitable to be spoken on hallowed grounds.

We carried the coffin out of the church through a jugglers’ guard of honour, and everyone headed off to the cemetery on two minibuses provided by Amanda and her company, and a red double-decker bus arranged by nephew Frank, displaying number six, one of Eamon’s traditional routes. The journey to the cemetery was a magical mystery tour of Eamon’s life: we departed from his pre-school playgroup, and followed his bus route to school, passing the place of his birth, primary and secondary schools and his final workplace.

At the graveside the priest led a decade of the rosary, Martin sang a Taize chant and we revisited the Georgian healing song. He was buried with his father, who died almost ten years ago.

We returned to the church hall, where a wonderful spread of food and drink had been prepared by our friend Caitlin. Marion and family had stayed behind and helped them to lay out the food. Caitlin’s family served it up to us attentively throughout the afternoon.

After a pause for food, the juggling got underway, and soon the air was filled with clubs, balls, hats and other flying objects. Some of Eamon’s more complex passing patterns were attempted. I’m not qualified to judge whether they were completely successful, but they looked pretty darned impressive. Some of the non-juggler friends and family even had a go, with assistance from many eager teachers. The juggling was accompanied musically by some of Eamon’s favourite CDs, and a recording of him performing a piece of Bach on the piano from 1987, that had just been unearthed by another friend. Those who weren’t juggling played boardgames, chatted, ate, drank, read tributes that had been fixed to the walls, viewed a slideshow of photos of Eamon’s life and tried out special Sudoku puzzles that Eamon had devised. Specially designed festival tokens were distributed to everyone.

every juggling festival has its tokens

The festival ended as Mr Blue Sky played out; family went back to Mum’s, jugglers went to the pub across the road, and celebrations continued into the evening, with a little to-ing and fro-ing between the two places.

Thank you to everyone who helped make it such a joyful celebration. Thank you to all who came, and for all the cards, mass dedications, flowers, kind words and hugs. And for donations totalling ¬£454.18, which will go towards Maggie’s Centres and Macmillan Nurses. And special thanks to Linda, Sandra and Mark, who began plans for this event back in June. The whole event was a great comfort to his family, and a true celebration of Eamon’s life in all its richness.

tying up loose ends?

Ghost, c.1970

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how to pass

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I have handed over to my brother Brendan to write this final post on my behalf:

Last Tuesday night I was in a lot of pain; Mum helped me manage it, and resisted the urge to call an ambulance. By Wednesday morning I was still in pain, getting a little agitated, and starting to become confused. The palliative care nurses came, and talked with me about how a short spell in the hospice would be a great way to stabilise my condition. They tried to make me go to respite, I said “No, no, no.” Those were among my last clearly enunciated words, as my speech was becoming slurred.

Mum and Brendan said they were happy to look after me at home. So the nurses heeded my wishes. They ordered a hospital-style bed, which arrived in the living room a couple of hours later, in a space that had been miraculously cleared of junk by two helpful neighbours. They coaxed me from my comfy couch in the dining room into the new bed. The nurses returned later with a skin patch containing a slow-release pain medication. From then on I no longer complained of pain, but was still a little agitated.

At midnight, I got out of bed and started wandering around the house: into the dining room, where I lay briefly on my favourite spot on the couch; then into the kitchen, where I stood for a while, opening and closing cupboard doors and picking up various items from the worktop. Mum and Brendan followed me around, to make sure I didn’t fall over, as I was a little unsteady. I wandered about for over an hour. They called the rapid response team, but by the time they arrived, I had returned to bed and fallen asleep.

Brendan brought a mattress downstairs so he could spend the night in the room with me. At about 4am, I got up again, for another wander. Brendan shadowed me as I wandered, but at one point I fell over and he couldn’t catch me. I swore. Was it “fuck!” or “damn!”? Famous last words. Whatever it was, it was clearly enunciatied! He called the rapid response team again, but I eventually returned to bed, fell asleep, and he phoned to cancel the callout.

At 6:30 on Thursday morning, I got out of bed a third time. Brendan immediately phoned the rapid response team, but had to leave a message. This time I headed straight for the stairs. I wanted to go upstairs, but Brendan wouldn’t let me. He said he was afraid I’d fall down the stairs and he wouldn’t be able to hold me. I mumbled incoherently, and fought with him, in slow motion, for about an hour. Each time I took one of his arms off me, he replaced the other. Finally, I ceased, defeated. Mum came downstairs at this point, and helped sort me out. I sat on a chair in the hall and started picking up nearby objects, raising them to my mouth as if to drink. Brendan made me a cup of tea. I drank it with relish. Then I downed a glass of water. I followed that with two more glasses of water and two more cups of tea, in fairly rapid succession. Brendan suggested that this was starting to look like obsessive behaviour, so they stopped giving me drinks, and instead provided a piece of toast. I scoffed that down.

The palliative care nurse arrived with a doctor. On hearing the events of the night, she told Brendan and Mum that she thought I probably had days rather than weeks to live, and that the family should be notified. A juggler friend called at this point, and Brendan asked him to pass on the news. I returned to bed and she gave me some slow-release Midazolam to calm my agitation.

Brendan went upstairs for a couple of hours of sleep. By the time he returned, my breathing was becoming quite gurgly, and I was in a daze, not really responding to anyone. The nurse advised that I now probably had hours, rather than days, left to live. Family and friends began to gather. My youngest sister, Karen, arrived with her carer, and I waved to her and held her hand. One friend arrived later, having driven over 100 miles, and when he held my hand, my urgent breathing suddenly slowed down to a relaxed pace.

They put on some of my favourite King Crimson tracks, and juggling friends Neil and Roberta joined in a singalong. Brendan unwrapped a CD that I had just bought, ELO, and everybody sang Mr Blue Sky. By this time sister Shirley and family had arrived, brother Martin was there with his partner Jane, cousin Molly, Mum, her friend Marion, and several other friends had gathered.

I stopped breathing for a moment. People were called in to the room. I took another two slow breaths. Then, on the evening of Thursday, 9th October, I died. 8:40pm was my passing time.

First injection

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It took me three nights to overcome the fear of injecting myself. The first night my cousin Molly did it. The second night it was my brother-in-law Andrew. On the third night, Mum’s friend Marion came to help me to administer the injection. She has the same problem and also injects daily.

What I have to do is pinch some skin on my stomach, hold the syringe at right angles, insert it into the stomach, slowly push the plunger, and then retract the needle. I was thinking of inserting the syringe like a dart, which would have hurt. Marion said she touches her skin with the needle and then moves it ever so slightly, before pushing it in. She said this numbs the skin, so it doesn’t hurt. I didn’t quite do that. I touched the skin and then pushed the needle in. There was absolutely no pain at all.

The next day however, there was a massive bruise. And on my second attempt, using the same technique, it wasn’t painless. Mind you, my hand wasn’t so steady. Nevertheless I’m already beginning to think of it as routine!

The drugs don’t work

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I didn’t think things could possibly get worse. How wrong I was. The experimental drug has stopped working. The tumour in my shoulder has started growing again.

On the way home from the hospital we decided to go for a meal. My friend dropped me 20 yards from the cafe. Brendan was helping me walk, but my legs gave way from underneath me. Several bystanders came to our aid. When I got into the cafe, I promptly got sick.

blood clots

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Yesterday I had the scan on my chest, which showed that I do have blood clots on my lungs. The doctor said it’s not as bad as it could be. I have fine clots on both lungs, so they’re both not working properly. The upshot of all this is that I’ll have to start injecting a blood thinner into my abdomen daily. I’ve been given a month’s prescription for this.

breathlessness

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Last night I was lying on the sofa and not exerting myself at all. My breathing became very laboured. We called NHS direct and they arranged an ambulance to take me to hospital. Brendan came with me. In the ambulance they put me on oxygen, and I was on it while in the hospital too. They carried out several blood tests and took an x-ray of my chest. The tests showed abnormal liver function, a high white blood cell count, and evidence of possible clotting. I was sent home in the early hours, but the doctor ordered a CT scan of my chest, which I’ll have this afternoon. This is to check for blood clots on my lung. Also this week I’ll see my oncologist, and hopefully everything will be put into perspective. It never rains, but it pours.

psychotic

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I was taken into hospital by ambulance. I was singing and talking loads of nonsense. Brendan stayed with me most of the night. Two people checked themselves out that night because of my singing. The next day I was given my own room with a TV.

I had a CT scan followed by an MRI scan on my head. Later I found out that they were clear. They were the first scans I’ve had on my head since I had radiotherapy back in April.

During that evening I wanted to go home. The ward was locked. I ended up fighting three security guards to try and escape. They restrained me in my room. I wanted to go to the bathroom. Things had calmed down by now, but they wouldn’t let me go. I ended up soiling myself twice. They treated me like an animal. During the confusion someone posed as a family member and made off with my soiled trousers, complete with my brand new phone.

It turns out that the reason for my psychosis was the high dose of steroids I was on. ¬†That’s now been reduced and I’m back to relative sanity. Also I’ve been released from hospital.