Dying not a ‘taboo subject’
Leanne Coleman, 46, is one of a growing number of younger people dealing with a terminal illness.
Leanne was diagnosed in 2005 and has completed four rounds of chemotherapy but accepts that eventually cancer will beat her.
She agreed to front the Hibiscus Hospice appeal because she has been involved with and believes in the work that hospice does.
It also gives her an opportunity to speak about the process of dying and how it affects the living.
‘‘Death and dying shouldn’t be a taboo subject,’’ she says.
When Leanne’s father was dying in 2008, he did not speak about his passage, so Leanne had ‘‘no framework in which to deal with it, no idea of what he wanted from me or even what he wanted for his funeral’’.
‘‘Dad chose to die at home and even though I knew mum and dad had the full support of hospice I was still really anxious about mum caring for dad during those last few weeks,’’ Leanne says.
‘‘I could see the strain on mum, which affected me greatly. Fortunately, at the very end dad realised the amount of stress he was putting on the whole family and asked to be admitted to hospice.’’
Leanne feels people who are dying have a responsibility to help prepare those who will be left behind to continue living a full and meaningful life.
‘‘When you are in the process of dying it’s not about you any more,’’ she says.
‘‘You need to think about how your illness affects your loved ones and to tell them what you do or don’t expect of them. You need to think about what you can do for them, not what they can do for you.’’
Leanne has set about writing her life story with the help of a hospice biographer, compiled photo albums and intends to have letters ready for her nearest and dearest. She has completed her will, obtained a burial site and organised her funeral – even down to producing a slideshow.
‘‘Organising a funeral is huge for the loved ones. Often it’s the last ‘gift’ they can make, so they desperately want to get it right. In just a matter of days they have to bring it all together, so I think it’s essential that you leave some directions about what you would like.
‘‘Help relieve them of the pressure so they have the freedom to grieve and say their personal goodbyes.
‘‘ I don’t want platitudes or pity – I would simply like acknowledgement that I am terminally ill and I find it really heart-warming when people let me know I have meant something to them and that I won’t be forgotten,’’ Leanne says.
‘‘ And it’s very comforting when I hear assurances from friends who say they will be there for me at the end and will look after my husband Andy.
‘‘I’ve given Andy ‘ permission’ to get on with life when the time is right. Just because I die doesn’t mean his life should end.’’
The 2011 hospice appeal is asking for donations to help set up some longer stay beds for people like Leanne who will potentially need six or seven of weeks care.
Hospice Awareness Week was May 16-22 but Hibiscus Hospice welcomes donations at any time.
Visit www. hchospice. org.nz or phone (09) 421-9180 or complete the appeal envelope in your letterbox to help.
Brave face: Gulf Harbour’s Leanne Coleman is the face of this month’s annual awareness week appeal for Hibiscus Hospice.