Com­ing face-to-face with the end

Upper Hutt Leader - - CONVERSATIONS -

In Septem­ber Ken Turner learned he had in­op­er­a­ble pan­cre­atic can­cer and had a month to live. His re­ac­tion was to hold a wake, marry his soul­mate Sarah and talk to the me­dia. The cou­ple talk to about Ken’s fi­nal days.

Ken Turner looks out through eyes that are yel­low, as he strug­gles to get out his words. He knows he is close to death. The doc­tors told him as much on Wed­nes­day, when they said he had days left.

He’s not afraid though. He be­lieves ‘‘when your num­ber is up, your num­ber is up’’, and he knows how he wants to go.

‘‘I want to be with my soul-mate. I want to die with her in her arms.’’

Leav­ing his new wife, Sarah, and her two chil­dren Quinn,12, and Noah, 9, is his big­gest re­gret. The cou­ple mar­ried last month, af­ter his Septem­ber di­ag­no­sis.

‘‘I am not scared, I never have been. My belief has al­ways been that when your num­ber is up, your num­ber is up. We all live and we all die.’’

The 52-year-old sug­gests Sarah should do the talk­ing and in mo­ments where he is fully alert, he finds the strength to kiss her on the lips.

He was told on Septem­ber 12 that he had an ag­gres­sive form of can­cer and had just a month to live. With time run­ning out he was de­ter­mined to do as much as he could and en­joy life. As well as mar­ry­ing Sarah, he held a pub­lic wake, where his mates told Ken what they thought of him.

He met Sarah two years ago on­line and the pair have been in­sep­a­ra­ble ever since.

Watch­ing Ken fade away has been tough on his mother, Maria MoniRowl­in­son, who flew in from Aus­tralia. The 73-year-old has four sons and fights back the tears, as she notes Ken had al­ways been spe­cial to her.

‘‘I don’t like the idea of him dy­ing be­fore me. I just wish I could take all that pain for him. He was my favourite… maybe you should not put that in the pa­per but he was al­ways there for me.’’

Sarah is wor­ried about how her sons are go­ing to deal with Ken’s death. Te Omanga Hospice has pro­vided coun­selling but it is a hard sit­u­a­tion for a nine and 12-year-old to un­der­stand.

For Quinn, it will only be the sec­ond time he has en­coun­tered death. ‘‘It is re­ally sad,’’ he says. Noah is too up­set to speak about it.

Sarah’s strat­egy is to fo­cus on the pos­i­tive. ’’I have told them that this is not the end. He is just go­ing to an­other level. They be­lieve that Ken is go­ing to the an­gels.’’

Sad is not a word that either Sarah or Ken use. She de­scribes Ken as some­one who lived a good life, work­ing in Aus­tralia, Los An­gles and Mex­ico, mostly in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try. He has six daugh­ters.

The pair started their own con­struc­tion busi­ness a year ago, spe­cial­is­ing in fenc­ing and drive­ways. But not long af­ter Ken felt un­well.

Doc­tors told him it might be an ul­cer and ad­vised him to drink less. When he col­lapsed one night at home, he knew some­thing was se­ri­ously wrong. Given how un­well he felt, he was not sur­prised to be told that his life was about to end.

Sarah sup­ported his sub­se­quent de­ci­sion to go pub­lic and talk to the me­dia about his death. It helped her cope with los­ing the man she ex­pected to live the rest of her life with.

The re­ac­tion to his ‘‘liv­ing wake’’ and the me­dia pub­lic­ity around their mar­riage has been an eye opener for her. ’’I have had so many peo­ple tell me Ken is an in­spi­ra­tion.’’

Ken’s ‘‘sec­ond love’’ is mo­tor­bikes, es­pe­cially Har­ley David­sons. Three weeks ago he went for his last ride on his beloved Hog and even that proved in­spi­ra­tional. A close friend had a son badly in­jured in a car crash, who 11 months later re­mains in a coma. Un­able to get back on to her mo­tor­cy­cle af­ter the ac­ci­dent, she went for a ride af­ter see­ing what Ken had done.

Sarah has had a lot to deal with and she is not sure how she would have coped with­out the hospice. ‘‘The nurses are just lovely. I did not re­alise they were 24-7 but I sup­pose they have to be.’’

With the hospice’s sup­port, Ken can achieve his wish of dy­ing at home af­ter Te Omanga pro­vided a spe­cial bed and equip­ment.

The hospice is cur­rently be­ing re­built and Sarah hopes the com­mu­nity sup­ports its $10 mil­lion ap­peal gen­er­ously.

The most valu­able les­son learned from Ken is his pos­i­tiv­ity. Watch­ing him deal with his pend­ing death has given Sarah the mo­ti­va­tion to carry on.

She ‘‘feels blessed’’ Ken did not die sud­denly and they were able to marry and cel­e­brate his life. Ken slowly brings out his cell phone. When he finds the pic­ture he was look­ing for it, it is the cof­fin he has de­signed for his fu­neral. It fea­tures the Har­ley Davidson logo and a pic­ture of him hold­ing Sarah.

Ken smiles as he notes they are the two things that mat­ter to him the most and he is ready to die.

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