Former vicar Frank Hawkins may have incurable motor neurone disease but he has much to be thankful for, writes Sue Gilson.
Incredibly, Frank considers himself pretty fortunate.
He may have motor neurone disease (MND), a cruel and progressive condition that brings on deterioration, for which there is no cure, but the former Chichester vicar feels he is, to some extent, lucky.
At 77 years old, he has had a full life, lives in a lovely house in the city centre and has ‘immense support’ from family – his wife, three children and four grandchildren – friends and neighbours.
“At my age you need to be philosophical and part of that is recognising that, being older, I am spared some of the anxieties which could have come if I were younger and facing this,” he says.
“In a sense I have been spared all kinds of terrible problems, and to some extent, the rage that may followed that.”
“I am cautious, but I think if one looks at it absolutely objectively, there’s not a huge amount to get angry about at the moment.”
This measured approach, and taking each day as it comes, is standing Frank in good stead in this, his second year since diagnosis.
In most cases MND, which attacks the nerves that power the muscles, affecting around 5,000 in the UK and 50 in this area at any one time, claims the lives of sufferers in a short time – from two to five years - but Frank is still able to do much.
His mobility is the main problem, and he has to now get around in a wheelchair, but his hands can still grip so he can pull himself up.
He is aware though that his MND may progress to affect his speech, breathing and swallowing.
The world has obviously shrunk for Frank, who held positions in the church locally including working in education, parochial ministry, as Diocesan Director of Ordinands, a post at Chichester Cathedral and a semi-retirement position as chaplain at St Mary’s Hospital Almshouses. But he now finds joy in small pleasures.
He has always been a keen bird-watcher, travelling to places such as the islands of Scotland with his binoculars, and he has been thrilled to see goldfinches visiting his patio.
“It’s the small things that become incredibly important,” says Frank.
“Everyone connected with MND professionally says ‘don’t think too far ahead, take it day to day’, and I am used to doing that. I am that sort of person anyway.”
Faith obviously comes into the equation too, given Frank’s calling.
“I am conscious of my faith in the background, and I have questioned my faith, but I have always done that.
“That’s the nature of faith and it is precarious. There are always going to be things that challenge it, and in your own personal life there are going to be problems and questions that are always going to be there.”
He would love to go on holiday again to places such as the Lake District, and Devon, where he grew up, but realises the practical difficulties involved in that now.
But he still has much to be thankful for, not least the hug of a grandchild when it is least expected.
TIME TO RAISE SOME FUNDS
Fancy dusting down those mini skirts and hot pants for a Fabulous 60s Evening in aid of MND?
Organised by the West Sussex South branch, the event is at Westbourne House School in Shopwyke, Chichester, on Saturday, July 13, at 7.30pm, with The Alternatives from Arundel providing the music. There will also be a buffet included in the £10 ticket.
Says Sue Krueger, chair of the branch: “With the money raised we are able to provide equipment, care and support for local people, living with this dreadful disease, and also to contribute to research, which is making huge strides into finding factors causing the disease, which, in turn, may lead to a cure.”
Contact Sue for tickets on 01243 544241.