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Richard's illness, death and funeral

Having experienced various strange symptoms over a number of years, Richard was finally diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis on 07.03.91. His diary for that day states simply and unemotionally: "Went to local hospital to see Dr Abbott - TOLD I HAVE MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS". After suffering stoically and even cheerfully since that time, he took his own life at home on 25.02.01. He had continued working at Loughborough University throughout his illness, albeit with great difficulty, as his mobility and strength had declined dramatically, especially in the last 6 months of his life. With great encouragement and support from the other musicians, he had even continued playing drums in the folk dance band of which he had been an enthusiastic and dedicated member for many years.

Richard and I occasionally communicated by eMail and in the last but one he sent me (on 23.06.00) he described the immense frustrations and difficulties of his daily life as follows: "My collapse on Monday was due to the combined effects of extreme heat and full bladder. That was on top of the exhaustion at lunchtime caused by the heat. I should really have taken the day holiday, but I was hoping that the air-conditioner would be beneficial. It was while I was next to it, but the heat was overwhelming away from the office. I just hope we don't get any more really hot weather, but we are sure to. Today is dull and chilly - suits me fine! In general, though, I am having greater difficulty in standing and walking these days, as you saw on your recent visit.

The effect of the bladder is having an increasingly bad effect on my leg. It is taking ever longer to get through the morning routine because I need to lie down and rest several times. I now wake up at 7am, do some yoga exercises before getting off the bed, and go down very carefully. By the time I have finished breakfast it is 8am. I go back upstairs, do some more exercises on my bed and start the bathroom routine. This takes about 45 minutes, after which I need to lie down for five or ten minutes. Then I get dressed and come down, and bring in the milk (tricky and slow). By now it's about 9.30 and I'm feeling quite tired because I have been on the go two and a half hours. This morning I had a further five minutes lying on my settee. Then it's a struggle out to the car, a short run to work, and a struggle to my office. I sank into my chair this morning at 10am. My NAG boss Richard Warson rang up within minutes to discuss something I asked him about yesterday. He said he had made several attempts to reach me, but he sometimes gets an engaged tone, so we put it down to gremlins. I managed to avoid saying I had only just arrived, but it will emerge sooner or later. I don't want to start getting up even earlier than 7am but I may have to. Sleep is absolutely vital to give me a chance of getting through each day. Because it takes me a long time to do anything in the evening, with several horizontal rests, I rarely get to bed before 11pm, so getting to bed early is also difficult.

So it's now home for the weekend and lots of lying down. Hopefully the fresher weather will mean I will be more energetic this weekend than last. But even when I'm feeling good, everything which involves moving about takes place very slowly. And that's most things when I'm at home by myself. I can't just sit in one chair all day like I do at work. Lorna is at home this weekend so there is Sunday evening to look forward to. There's an extended feature on the 'Two Ronnies' on BBC1 on Sunday evening."

Richard left no letter and unfortunately had stopped writing his diary, the last entry being on 19.09.00; writing had become too much of an effort. Amongst his papers I found a sheet on which he had written out the many problems he had to contend with; I think a therapist had recommended him to do it, perhaps as a means of trying to be objective or coming to terms with the problems. I quote from this:

"Bladder and bowel difficulty badly affecting legs; poor balance; falls; walking frame; walking sticks; sleep problem due to worry; left hand and arm weak; drumming not so good now; difficulty in putting on jacket; right hand not easy to control - writing becoming difficult; right foot weak - driving problematic; increasing dependence on Carers and others; unreliable Agency Carers; unreliable vertical lift; powered chair - out in all weathers; problem with shopping; difficulty at work with chair and doors; access to toilets - 'accidents'; problem with job; isolation from NAG and local colleagues; old computer - slow; understanding 'Direct Payments Scheme'; dealing with bills for Carers; how to get to forthcoming appointments; loss of dignity. I am effectively housebound, despite going to work. So many problems despite excellent help from John, Lorna, neighbours, friends and colleagues."

I think that this awful list of problems puts Richard's horrific suicide into context. May he rest in peace, free from the misery he had to suffer in the last few months of his life!

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I also found a sheet on which he had written the following passage written by Henry Scott Holland (1847 - 1918). Richard was never a great lover of literature but clearly these words had appeal and relevance for him. At my request Rev. David Macha kindly read this deeply moving text at the funeral service:

"Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away into the next room. I am I and you are you. Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by my old familiar name, speak to me in the easy way which you always used. Put no difference in your tone; wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without effort, without the ghost of a shadow on it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was; there is absolutely unbroken continuity. Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am waiting for you for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner. All is well."

This passage can be found in "All in the end is Harvest: An Anthology for those who grieve", edited by Agnes Whitaker and published by Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd. (ISBN 0-232-51624-3)

Rev. Macha also kindly read "To an absent one", one of Dad's poems which, though written at the time of Richard's leaving home for the first time, had some relevant and poignant verses.


Read a tribute by Ivy Strachan of the Loughborough M.S. Society.
Read about the Loughborough University Garden of Remembrance.
Read John's thoughts 10 years after Richard's death.
Read tributes made on-line 10 years after Richard's death.
See photos of Richard and parents.

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Page last updated 01.03.11