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Comment: Like many, I have good reason to be grateful to Peace
I never met my grandfather. John Wright died in what was then called the Peace Memorial Hospital in 1983, a year before I was born.
The few snippets I do know about him have been gleaned from family conversations or old photos. He was the youngest of four children from Lowestoft in Suffolk.
As a teenager he was conscripted during the Second World War and defended the coast shooting down Hitler’s flying bombs. From family anecdotes it appears he was a carrier of the gene that makes the Wrights particularly accident prone.
During his army service he managed to hospitalise himself twice without seeing the front line. Once, while trying to shoot down a bomb, he trapped his ankles and snapped them as the bofors gun swivelled.
Then, while in Berlin after VE day, he managed to get himself hit by a tram.
After the war, he came to Maple Cross as a labourer to help build the old power station. Once it was completed he got a job at the same power station and settled in the village. Pictures show he was a fastidiously neat dresser and also, apparently, had a penchant for naff jokes. He later met and married an Irish immigrant who came here from county Cork looking for work, my grandma Mary Collins, and they had three children, my father and his two sisters.
During that time, his accident prone streak struck again when he drove his motorbike at night into a steel gate at the power station while distracted by his faulty headlight.
Luckily when he was thrown from the bike the metal biscuit-tin-cum-lunchbox in his backpack broke his fall and saved him from serious injury.
I also know that he died alone in the Peace Hospital, Rickmansworth Road.
My grandma and his children did not know he was dying. They had seen him the day before and knew he was gravely ill. But when the news came it was a huge shock. He had been fighting bowel cancer for some time. Had they known how serious the situation was, his family would have been there at his bedside when he passed away.
Instead, he died alone, in a roomful of strangers, probably to the sound of the TV.
The manner of his death left a trauma in my family and even 30 years on it, is not something relatives want to talk about readily.
Nowadays the Peace Hospital is The Peace Hospice. It’s the same building but a completely different institution. The hospital was closed in 1985 and by 1993 the first hospice services were running at the site.
Hospices are dedicated to ensuring the last days of those dying are lived on their terms. It’s not an easy job, nor a cheap one. The Peace Hospice has to raise around £4 million a year to fund its services and it depends heavily on the generosity of the community it serves.
This week is Hospice Awareness Week and throughout, the hospice will be doing its utmost to highlight some of the vital work it does. No one likes to think about their own death, let alone those of the people they love. Nothing can ease the grief of losing someone close.
But the manner of someone’s death can either help the process or make it even more traumatic.
This week seems an apposite time to remind us how important the work of hospices is to the people and families they help.
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