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

Woman's Own - - Woman’s Own Welcome -

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

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