Belfast Telegraph

Arranging my own funeral has helped me come to terms with death, says Lurgan man with terminal illness


By Lisa Smyth

A terminally ill cancer patient has said making preparations for his death has helped him come to terms with the diagnosis.

Irvine Grey was told he had prostate cancer 12 years ago and when his health suddenly declined this year he began to plan his own funeral.

The grandfather from Lurgan is speaking at an end of life care conference being organised by Portadown funeral director Ian Milne.

Mr Grey said he has been open with his family, including his grandchildren, about his ailing health and has spoken to his loved ones about his wishes for his final days and hours.

This includes not opting for a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order - a legal order which means medics should not resuscitate a patient if their heart stops beating, and is designed to prevent unnecessary suffering.

"I turned 72 last week and I updated everyone on Facebook," said Mr Grey, a father of four.

"I think it's absolutely essential that family in particular knows exactly what the outcome may be.

"I have gone further than talking to my family about my health, I have organised my own service of thanksgiving.

"I think it's important to be open with family, it isn't always easy, but I am fortunate that we are a very close family and they have always been very supportive. I still have my mother, who is 95, and it's been difficult for her, especially at one stage when I told her that a recovery wouldn't be happening.

"She told me that she didn't want me to die before her and I told her I knew, but we don't have that choice.

"I know that the time may come where I may be needing fairly significant doses of medicine for pain control.

"My preference would be that I pass into the eternal while still reasonably coherent, but none of us are promised that.

"I'm also clear that I would never ask for a DNR because that would be in conflict with my faith."

Mr Grey, who has been married to Ingvor for 42 years, was diagnosed with prostate cancer when he was 59.

It came after he underwent a blood test which helps to detect the disease, followed by a biopsy which showed he had an aggressive malignant tumour.

Fortunately, there had been minimal spread and Mr Grey embarked on a treatment of hormone tablets followed by radiotherapy.

"I don't really like to call it an illness because until November 2016 I didn't really feel ill," he added. "The cancer stayed in situ right up until then when I came back from Kenya where I had been on a church mission and I was just more unusually tired and breathless than I normally would be.

"I had a scan and that showed it was in my chest, they then did a biopsy and discovered that it had spread to the lymph nodes."

Mr Grey underwent further treatment but was dealt the devastating blow in April that the cancer had spread significantly and was in his vertebrae.

"Chemotherapy started on May 2, and in the words of the doctors, not mine, they said I may be able to tolerate one or two cycles but they hoped I would manage six," he said.

"It was the opinion of the consultants and my GP that it was going to be a case of keeping me comfortable.

"I'm on my seventh cycle now and I'm still here.

"However, it was the situation back in March and April that drove me to making all my plans and what have you.

"At the end of the day, when the time comes it will be another thing off my family's shoulders. I've found the whole process therapeutic, I actually thought it was a shame that I'm not going to be there to be singing the hymns.

"I actually think that being so open about everything, especially when you know that time is limited, that it gives family members the chance to do some pre-death grieving."

The keynote speaker for the conference is Sean McGovern, an emergency medicine consultant, who has previously called for the implementation of a formal end of life strategy in Northern Ireland.

He said it is important that people are realistic about death, in particular he said it can stop doctors carrying out painful and invasive procedures on patients when it is against their wishes.

Mr Milne was prompted to set up the conference, which starts at 9.15am on Wednesday, as a result of the medic's comments.

He said: "This conference will be valuable for a range of individuals and organisations. Health and social care staff, carers, clergy, family members, legal professionals and many others will benefit from an insight into end of life care from a range of points of view.

"The aim of this conference is to not only further the understanding of those with life limiting illness, but also to promote the need for a better comprehension of end of life care in Northern Ireland.

Mr Milne continued: "As a funeral director, I am one of the last cogs in the chain of end of life care, and I so often see how difficult it is to provide good personalised end of life care to people if we are not talking about it and preparing for it."

For further information on the half-day conference, which is free of charge, or to book a place, telephone 028 3833 8888 or email

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