Belfast Telegraph

If I'm going to die, I'll do it at home: Ex-PUP man Ken Wilkinson reveals terminal illness

Ken Wilkinson
Ken Wilkinson
Former Progressive Unionist Party councillor Ken Wilkinson (second right) with his twin brother Bryan, his other brother Arthur and sister Myrtle

By David O'Dornan

A former PUP councillor has revealed he is suffering from a terminal lung disease and has been given months to live.

Ken Wilkinson said he had already planned his funeral and ordered that there be "no paramilitary trappings at it".

The 71-year-old former Antrim councillor added he wanted to be remembered as someone who "tried to bridge gaps".

He also encouraged people to consider organ donation.

Two of Mr Wilkinson's brothers - his twin Bryan and older sibling Arthur - have flown home from Arizona and Toronto to be with him.

They recently held a family gathering, which Mr Wilkinson described as like attending his own wake.

The former PUP man learned he had interstitial lung disease a number of years ago after he took a coughing fit while tending to his racing pigeons. He was told in August, just two days after he married his long-term partner Eileen, that his condition had become much worse.

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"They told me three years ago I would hit a brick wall and now I've hit the brick wall," Mr Wilkinson told this newspaper.

"What it does is, your lungs just close down. The only good thing that has come out of it is that I've been able to sit with my family and friends - I had my brothers over from the States and from Canada - and I've been able to put my affairs in order, which some people don't get to do. I'm grateful for that.

"What I've also asked people to do is (think about) organ donation. I'm too old, but I believe that with organ donation it should be that you have to opt out. That should be brought in."

The father of three and grandfather of 12 said he hoped he would live to see Christmas and that he was determined to make the most of the time he has left.

"The doctors said I have a few months," he added. "You're in the hands of up above, aren't you?

"I only got married there. Me and Eileen have been together near 20 years. I'd just got married and two days later I was in the hospital.

"We got married on August 12 and I was taken into the hospital on August 14.

"I knew that I was bad and I didn't think that I was going to get a lot longer.

"But in saying that, I've had a good life. With the work that I've done on the ground, if I've saved lives somewhere, that's a bonus.

I have no regrets. I've had ups and downs, I was through the peace process, I was there at the decommissioning. I've wined and dined with royalty and presidents, so I've done more than most people. Ken Wilkinson

"I'm hoping that I get Christmas. I can't walk that far now and I'm on oxygen 24/7. It (the tank) used to be set at three, but it's now set at 10 and if I'm to go outside at all it has to be 15."

Mr Wilkinson has made a instructions to his family for the months ahead, including an order that he is not to be resuscitated, that he wishes to die at home, rather than in hospital, and that there are no paramilitary trappings at his funeral.

"I have decided that I'm not going back into that hospital. If I'm going to die, I'll die at home. I took that decision and also that I don't want CPR," he said.

"They asked me that (about CPR) the first day I was in the hospital - they didn't think I was going to leave. I said, 'No. If I go, I go, because it'll not make my lungs any better, you know?

"I have everything done. I have all the arrangements made. I've spoken to the undertaker and everything else. I've spoken about getting the grave, the headstone and everything - everything is in order.

"I would just like to be remembered as a person who tried to bridge gaps. I've told my people that at my funeral there's to be no paramilitary trappings - it's not happening.

"I've had well-wishers from all sections of the community. When I was up at the hospital, the local priest came over and had a talk.

"I was against militant republicanism, but I was never against ordinary nationalists. Through the work that I've done on the ground, if I have saved one life, that's a bonus."

Mr Wilkinson closed by saying that, for the sake of his family, he had comes to terms with his illness and was tackling it head-on.

Belfast Telegraph

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