If you had one final wish, what would it be?

 
If you had one final wish, what would it be?

A story of love and a legacy that will live on.

It’s his warmth, laughter, and cheekiness that Rachel Turner-Fahey misses most about her precious husband Shaun, who died in August last year.

For Rachel, the grief is still raw and she finds herself being enveloped by tears and sorrow sometimes. But, on the better days, she remembers the good times and is determined to honour the work that Shaun was so heavily involved with.

Shaun was a celebrated artist and actor in the Deaf community. Also deaf, Rachel explains animatedly about the incredible work he did in helping to establish the work of bilingual theatre group, Equal Voices Arts in New Zealand, which saw performers explore Deaf culture and the opportunities that arise from giving both sign language and the English language equal status on stage.

It is perhaps as much cathartic healing as honouring Shaun’s vocational achievements that has seen Rachel decide to get involved in an upcoming theatre master class for the Deaf community in the Waikato hosted by Equal Voices Arts.

But that doesn’t take away from the fact that Shaun was diagnosed with invasive cancer last year just as he felt that he’d really found his place on the stage.

The diagnosis came as a huge shock to the couple and, as they grappled with coming to terms with the possibility of chemotherapy to give Shaun more time and how palliative care would be put in place, Shaun deteriorated.

It wasn’t long before he was transferred from Waikato Hospital to the Hospice Waikato In-Patient Unit.

A doting step-father to Rachel’s children, it was Shaun’s wish to see his step-daughter Kayla get married before he died.

Rachel says the staff at Hospice Waikato took care of not only Shaun, but herself and their family.

“Everyone was lovely. Shaun felt settled there,” Rachel says.

“We thought home would be right for Shaun when the end came, but I’d tried to take care of him there and I felt under a lot of pressure to get things right, to make sure I was giving him the right medication.”

“Hospice Waikato took all that worry away. They took care of Shaun and me - they provided me with food, I had a massage there. They welcomed our family in. The doctors and nurses were wonderful; we felt a real connection to them.”

When the Hospice team found out just how keen Shaun was to see Kayla get married, they moved quickly to get things organised.

In the space of just a day or two, the wedding was arranged.

“It was the best service ever - so heart-warming and the decorations were just beautiful. The Hospice nurses did all of that. It was so amazing that they have done that for us,” Rachel said.

On either side of him, Kayla and Rachel pushed Shaun out into the In-Patient Unit courtyard, which Hospice staff had decorated. The archway was in place, fairy lights twinkled. And while it was Kayla’s wedding, it felt right that the nurses clapped as Shaun was wheeled outside flanked by his wife and daughter.

“Shaun was so happy. I could see his breathing was laboured but he was there. The celebrant asked him: ‘Shaun, do you give away your daughter?’. He managed to say ‘yes’,” Rachel said.

And as Rachel pulled over a chair to sit down next to her husband, he looked over at her and signed “look at that light, such a beautiful light”.

Rachel couldn’t see the light he was referring to, but took a moment to let it sink in that her husband wouldn’t be with her for much longer.

“We did the ‘I love you’ sign to each other, our hands touching. I thought to myself ‘we’ve had a wonderful marriage’.”

Exhausted from the effort of getting out of bed for the wedding, Shaun was taken back to his room where he signed to his wife that he was tired.

Rachel could see the change in Shaun and she asked for a bed to be set up beside Shaun so she could lie next to him.

“I could feel it was time,” she says, simply.

Shaun died just a few hours after Kayla was married.

It is the effort Hospice Waikato went to that Rachel appreciates.

“He held out for that moment… to see Kayla married. And they helped make that happen.”

- Dani Simpson,
Dynamic Media

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