When Hayley died in Coronation Street on Monday it was right at the end of the show. Tonight, as Julie Hesmondhalgh had the easier task of playing a corpse, I have to admit a tear came to my cynical old eye. Her performance as someone facing terminal cancer and choosing death with some dignity was brilliant and moving.
It is a situation many of us have faced in one way or another. When my paternal grandmother was near the end, back in 1968, Dad asked me to drive him to the hospital one night and stop to pick up his sister on the way. he did not tell me he had already been to the hospital that day. The senior doctor had called him in and said Grandma was in a lot of pain but an increased her morphine dose would probably be too much for her system to handle. Se was not coherent so Dad had to make the decision, “Don’t let her suffer. Dad and Aunt Millie were going down to say their goodbyes that night. It was hard for both of them.
I could not call Julie a friend but I met her several times and she always struck me as a very down to earth and unaffected person. We chatted about many things, but never Coronation Street which I seldom watch but was always aware of because my wife is a fan. Last time I spoke to Julie was the only time she ever brought up the subject of her work, she was taking time out from the soap to portray the mother of murdered goth Sophie Lancaster in the play The Black Roses, a part for which she won a prestigious theatre award. Her success in that role says a lot about the kind of humane, empathic person she is and those qualities obviously helped her portray the illness and death of Hayley.
We all mock soaps for their ludicrous story lines, wobbly sets and (naming no names from among those who like to have a party down The Queen Vic.) some stupendously bad acting. But there is a lot of talent on the soap circuit too and Julie falls into that category.
The topic of hastening death to mitigate suffering is a moral issue we will never resolve, it is for individuals to follow their own consciences. What is frightening of course is the prospect of governments involving themselves and appointing “death panels” to decide at what point the lives of “useless eaters” should be terminated. This is the kind of question we need to address because many bureaucratic dictatorships masquerading as democracies are thinking in such terms now.
Well done Julie for being part of bringing the issue of ending life to the fore. Next time I see you at one of my son’s gigs, you will be getting a very big drink.