John gets farewell he wanted

Dympna Keough
Dympna Keough Trevor Veale

HE GAVE his wife a piece of paper. Listed on it were the details of their solicitor, insurance policies, his Sawtell Bowls Club badge number and his last wishes.

"Please keep it simple, a cardboard coffin and Louis Armstrong playing When the Saints Come Marching In as the coffin slides behind the curtain. I would like my ashes scattered on Murrays Beach."

In life, and when facing death, John Keough was ever the pragmatist.

For 62 years, John's loving wife, Dympna, was by his side. She was also by his side at the end.

"On May 24 last year my husband, John, took his last breath," she said.

"Our sons, Tim and Peter, and myself were with John. We toasted him with a bottle of bubbly, sang to him, lit a candle and thanked him for being a wonderful husband and father.

"For the three of us it was a great privilege to give John what he wanted - the choice to die at home."

Rewind 62 years to when John and Dympna first met and it was the same no-nonsense, honest approach that saw the two get together.

"I met John because he went to the same boarding school as my brother-in- law," Dympna said.

"My brother-in-law was in Sydney and told John I'd go out with him without telling me. Eight months later I married him.

"The marriage proposal was a complete surprise. We were friends when he asked me and he said, 'I don't want your answer now, think about it and we'll have dinner in two nights and you can give me your answer then,' so I agreed to that condition."

To John's surprise Dympna said no.

"I told him no at first because he hadn't told me he loved me," she said.

"His reply to that was, 'Obviously I love you, otherwise I wouldn't have asked.' So then I said yes."

John was a scientist and pioneered knowledge of what happens to different materials during a fire.

Because of his scientific work and ongoing research, much of which involved asbestos, John contracted lung disease.

In January last year he became breathless and had a persistent cough. Tests showed fluid on the lung. Visits to specialists advised surgery to remove part of his lung. This required a trip to Sydney, with no guarantees - a path John wasn't willing to take.

After more local tests and an option for a permanent drain proving unsuccessful, John was referred to the team at Coffs Harbour Palliative Care.

"This was when the wonderful help, care and devotion of the palliative care nurses came into our lives, they're angels on land, just brilliant," Dympna said.

At first the visits were weekly, with follow-up phone calls. As John grew weaker their support grew stronger. By the end of April, John's frailty meant he was confined to bed.

"The palliative care team organised everything from a special bed to attending to John's hygiene, giving our family more quality time together in what were his final days on earth," Dympna said.

"I know it's not for everybody but John had always said he wanted to die at home. In the past it was normal for people to die at home and those left behind were proud to have nursed them and to bury them with love and dignity."

Granting another of John's final wishes, Dympna wore a kaftan to his funeral.

"He asked me to wear the kaftan he'd given me for my birthday at his funeral," she said.

"He didn't want anyone in black. He was a one of a kind."

Dympna lives at Marion Grove and shared her story with residents as part of their annual Palliative Care Storytelling project.

Palliative Care Week is May 20-27.

Topics:  marion grove palliative care

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