Making it Happen
Graham attended the day centre at Greenwich & Bexley Cottage Hospice for over a year. He would come on a Tuesday and sit in the same chair every week. I first noticed him from the strange sound of his voice. On the far side of the room a bald man was rasping out a sentence by seemingly blocking a hole in his throat with the palm of his hand. Graham was bald from the ravages of chemo. His laryngectomy – the removal of his larynx due to throat cancer - meant that his speech was no more than a hoarse whisper unless he blocked the hole up.
Helen and I were working together at the hospice at that time and I suggested that she might like to embark on a project with Graham. The result was this film.
I’ve rarely encountered such a benign presence as Graham. He radiated good will in spite of the debilitating cancer journey he was making. He spoke with absolute honesty about his feelings and this helped those around him.
Anyone who has cancer knows about the highs and lows, the reprieves and the setbacks of the process. Graham wore his feelings so transparently that you could tell when he’d had some bad news. The film shows this. Some months after we’d finished the film his cancer got worse and his hopes of a cure vanished. At a depressing time like this it was important not to lose sight of what Graham and Alec had achieved with their film – its lasting legacy for his family and a wider public – and it was important that Graham should know this.
I visited Graham on the morning of his death. Linda, his wife, was there. She was exhausted from her vigil, and very sad. Graham was sitting, propped up against pillows. His eyes were shut and his breathing was very shallow.
There is a fresco by the Italian Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca that depicts the death of Adam. Being with Graham that morning reminded me strongly of this painting. In one part of the painting the dying Adam is propped in a sitting position, much as Graham was supported by his pillows. Adam is surrounded by Eve and their sons who are witnessing the first death in the history of mankind. He radiates dignity, wisdom, and goodness and that’s what I felt about Graham that morning. On the other side of the painting Adam lies prone. He has died and the first ever outpourings of human grief are beginning.
I suppose every death potentially carries this universality. But too often the circumstances obscure it. Not on that day, though.