From the heart: The very special person missing on my wedding day
Tony Nicklinson became known as the right-to-die campaigner. Here his daughter, Lauren Peters, explains how she’s faced life without him
Walking down the aisle, I clutched my mum’s arm tightly. Ahead of me stood my husband-to-be. I felt so excited and nervous that this was my wedding day and I was soon to be a wife. But as I turned, I caught Mum’s gaze and I saw in her eyes the same hint of sadness that twisted inside me, too. For while it was an honour to have Mum, Jane, 61, giving me away, neither of us could help thinking how we’d have given anything for it to be different and to have my dad there by my side.
How he would have embraced his role, from giving a hilarious father-ofthe-bride speech to tearing up the dance floor at our reception. Yet Dad had passed away five years earlier in 2012 and, in truth, the dad who’d been such a livewire had left me seven years before that.
He had suffered a massive stroke and been left unable to move, and only able to communicate using a special phonic keypad he operated by eye movement. He’d longed to die, escape his prison of a body, and the world had got to know him as the right-to-die campaigner Tony Nicklinson. Yet to me, he’d just been my dad, the man who had always been there for me.
It was 2005 and I was 18 when I learnt that Dad, then 51, had fallen ill during a business trip to Greece. Fit and healthy, he’d travelled the world, played rugby and had a very busy social life. But there in Athens, he had suffered a stroke so severe he was left with locked-in syndrome. While he could feel emotions, hear and think, his body was paralysed and he couldn’t even talk.
Mum and my younger sister Beth rushed to be with him while I stayed at home. But after two months in a Greek hospital, there was no improvement and he was flown back to the UK, where he needed roundthe-clock care. This new existence was hellish for him. After five months, he learnt to use the computer that tracked his eye movements across a board of letters. That was when he told us, ‘I want to die.’
It was upsetting, but not surprising. Dad had always been fiercely independent. Now he felt his life was no longer worth living and it had taken real courage to admit it. From that moment, he never changed his mind and we had to respect his wishes.
But the law was against him. He was physically incapable of ending his own life and if any of us tried to help him, we would be breaking the law and face prosecution.
Dad was furious at the injustice and, as a family, we devoted ourselves to supporting him in his campaign for his right to die. In the summer of 2012, the High Court ruled against Dad’s wishes. It was such a huge defeat and it knocked the fight out of him. Crushed, he succumbed to pneumonia. Refusing treatment, he stopped eating and drinking, and slipped into a coma.
Mum, me, Beth, then 23, and Dad’s older sister Ginny, were at his bedside at our family home in Melksham, Wiltshire, when he slipped away on 22 August, 2012.
The end at last
Losing him was devastating, but Dad had told us not to grieve for him. To know he was no longer suffering brought some comfort. Yet there was also such sadness that Dad had died knowing he had never won his fight to change the law.
And for us as a family, it was hard moving our lives on. Life felt different and desperately empty. Then, in June 2013, 10 months after Dad had died, I was introduced to Alex Peters, then 30, by friends in a pub.
We started dating, but I didn’t tell him about Dad at first because my grief was so raw. Instead, I posted a link to a news story about him on my Facebook page, knowing Alex would see it.
‘I’ll always be there to listen to you when you’re ready to talk,’ he promised after reading it.
I knew that Dad would have loved Alex, with their shared love of travel, rugby and beer. And in 2015, Alex and I moved in together. In April 2016, we got engaged and began planning our wedding at Priors Tithe Barn, Gloucester. Only then there were really difficult decisions to make.
All daughters picture their father as the one to walk them down the aisle. I knew I’d miss having Dad that day more than ever. But Mum and I were so close, too, that I also knew I’d feel proud and honoured to have her take up the role. Mum, of course, understood the poignancy of the moment. ‘I’ll be right there for you,’ she said. ‘Just as Dad would have wanted.’
We hugged and I was amazed at her strength when she then agreed to give a speech at the reception too. While Dad had always loved an audience, Mum was more shy.
I arranged for the reception venue to be decorated with photographs of our loved ones, including some of Dad. ‘It will be like he’s part of my day,’ I said.
The vintage wedding car belonged to a family friend and was the one my parents had used on their big day, 31 years earlier.
On the day itself in April 2017, when Mum and I stepped into the car to travel to the venue, we had tears in our eyes. We both knew exactly what the other was thinking – that Dad had once sat here as a young husband, his future stretching ahead of him. ‘I just miss him so much,’ I whispered, and Mum squeezed my hand.
‘He wouldn’t want us to feel sad,’ she said, and I forced a smile, knowing she was right.
And in Dad’s memory, I made sure my special day was filled with joy. Mum made our guests smile, laugh and cry with her moving speech, paying tribute to my father, her wonderful husband. Then we had the party of our lives, dancing the night away to our favourite songs.
I’ve been married now for five months and later this year, Alex and I are going on a belated honeymoon to New Zealand – I have certainly inherited Dad’s love of travel.
I miss my father every day, but I refuse to torture myself with what ifs. Dad fought hard to change the law on assisted dying and it’s my great belief that his hard work will one day see the law being changed.
He was the strongest, bravest man and memories of him guide me in everything I do. my father was robbed of a chance to grow old as he should have done.
Now I’m determined to live the happiest and fullest life I can in honour of the man who I’m so proud to have called my father.
Lauren’ belove fathe Ton
Tony with his wife and daughters
Mum Jane walked Lauren down the aisle
Lauren and her dad were always close
Lauren and Alex at their wedding