Thursday, June 21, 2018

Tribute to Jane Harvey

Last week I went to the funeral of Jane Harvey in Meifod. For many years she suffered from the condition, Schizophrenia. I didn’t know Jane well, but her husband Robert has been a source of good political advice and support to me for many years. I was so moved by the tribute, written by Jane’s family that I asked if I could post it on my blog. Schizophrenia is a condition not much understood. Posting the tribute on A View for Rural Wales may extend knowledge and understanding of this cruel disease. With permission of the Harvey family, here is the Tribute. 

“Jane was an exceptionally beautiful woman,within and without.  She was famous for her smile, which could light up a room or anyone she met, precisely because it reflected her inner warmth. In her later years, on hospital admissions, every nurse that met her would call her ‘a lovely lady’ and one even thought she could remember which film she starred in.

Her beauty also reflected her happiness, joy, gaiety, free spirit, sweetness and untameable personality, also her exceptional gentleness and humility. She was completely unpretentious, uninterested in the superficial things of life; there are innumerable stories of her kindness to children and vulnerable people, even when she herself was highly vulnerable.

When well, she never had a cross word to say to anyone. She was, in Winston Churchill’s phrase about his own wife Clementine, ‘a being without an ignoble thought’. Her interests were simple: children, cats, other animals, birds, flowers and trees, which meant that her quarter of a century in the Meifod countryside were a paradise to her; she was utterly happy here. Her nature was pure, innocent and without guile.

The fact that she had a very serious chronic condition, ultimately bringing on three more, did not make her house a place of sadness. The exuberance of her nature and her determination to conquer her disabilities meant she would still walk when she could barely do so and feed her cats when she could hardly bend down. She loved being taken for drives around the Meifod hills, when she would exclaim, ‘who couldn’t believe in God on a lovely day like this?’ as she did on the day before she passed away. She was quietly and devoutly religious. She was also still active in the anti-pylon campaign a couple of years ago. She was irrepressible.

Jane came from Devon, another very beautiful part of the country and was educated at the Sherborne school in Dorset before she met Robert at Oxford where they both studied. Jane was also a talented pianist and singer, performing in a choir in the Albert Hall in London. She was a highly intelligent person with a high IQ but was uninterested in academic work and joined the Foreign Office - in fact the security service, MI6 - as a secretary (a Miss Moneypenny!). She went on to a job as PA to the head of an oil company based in London and then as PA to a famous, but hard-driving industrialist, the then chairman of BOC. She had a wonderful, full young life going to parties, plays, concerts and holidaying all over the world.  She then devoted herself to campaigning and the often difficult and exhausting role of being an MP’s wife, where her natural warmth and approachability made her many friends, both among the constituents and her husband’s political supporters.

But soon afterwards she began to suffer from the symptoms of Schizophrenia - one of the most devastating and life-changing of all mental illnesses. We now know it is not caused by some lurid experience in life, it is simply a malfunction of one of the transmitters in the brain. The illness was diagnosed at one of the most advanced psychiatric hospitals in the world - the Bethlem and its sister hospital, the Maudsley, in London. The illness involved periods of huge fluctuations in her emotions, from over happy to very angry, to crying miserably, plus sometimes paranoia and delusions, but, as was to be the pattern for the rest of her life, after a few months, she recovered to being exactly the same rational, happy, person she was before. The joyous event that most fulfilled her soon afterwards was the birth of her son, Oliver.

Shortly afterwards Jane, Robert and Oliver moved to Montgomeryshire, where Robert hailed from, on his grandmother’s side, and the stresses of life in a big city were lifted from Jane’s shoulders, while Robert continued to commute weekly, then monthly to London. Meifod in history was famous as a place of healing. It is also, as is Montgomeryshire and indeed of Wales, a place of great welcome. Jane was as happy as a lark, although her condition could not be cured and recurred with regularity. The people of Meifod and its surroundings were always understanding and embraced her as one of their own. The family extends its heartfelt thanks to them all.

Even more unexpected was the small army of helpers that emerged from the hills here and the plains of Shropshire. When Jane was first hospitalised in Wales, she entered the then Shelton Hospital in Shrewsbury, then the famous Housman Ward in the grounds and recently the modern Redwoods Centre. The patience, love and care of all the doctors and nurses involved in her care was overwhelming.

Jane’s happiness derived from the happiness of other people and nowhere was this truer than on special occasions like birthdays and Christmases. 

On one occasion, Jane was in hospital at the Redwoods Centre on her son's birthday. It was a Friday, and Oliver had travelled up from London to Shrewsbury, and had said he would try to stop by and see her.

Although it was very late at night and well past visiting hours, the wonderful staff at the Redwoods Centre allowed him to come onto the ward. He had hoped to spend just a few minutes with her and was quite tired from his journey.

When he arrived on the ward, mum appeared from behind a corner with a cake and candles, which somehow herself and her fellow patients on the ward had managed, perhaps illicitly, to procure, a signed card from the nurses and all patients, and some party hats.

In spite of her and her fellow patients’ difficult illnesses, they had evidently spent much time and planning preparing this late-night party on the ward and carried it off with aplomb. It was also the most enjoyable Oliver had ever had, with much cake and laughter had by all.

When Jane returned home, she was not left to her own devices: a pioneering and wonderful outreach and support centre, called Bryntirion, in Welshpool, carefully monitored her condition and supported her for some 20 years under a succession of dedicated, conscientious and hugely competent community psychiatric nurses who became firm friends and should be a model for the rest of the country. We are very touched to see some of them here today.  More recently this was added to by the Crisis Team from Newtown. There were also many dedicated social workers.

In addition, the doctors’ surgery at Llanfyllin was unbelievably sympathetic and professional and again we are delighted to see them represented here. Finally, there were the emergency services. The police were considerate, gentle and utterly professional on the very many times she would call them with her concerns. The Fire Service, on the fewer times they were called, were sympathetic and very cheerful. And finally, the Ambulance Service was beyond praise on every occasion in rushing her to Shrewsbury as her condition deteriorated in recent years.

It did so because of a breathing condition, now known as COPD, but many recognise it as Emphysema, as result of her chain smoking during periods of acute mental illness, despite all the attempts of her family and the nurses to control it. This also weakened her and finally her valiant heart, which had fought and survived four critical hospital admissions in recent years, gave out. But she consciously died at home, not in hospital, as she had always wished, went out like a light, with no pain and was brave, active and happy to the very end.

There are some 600,000 people, one in 100 of the British population who suffer from Schizophrenia. Most are sweet, mild, gentle and intelligent and are only a problem, often a difficult one, for their own families and, as in Jane’s case, can live full, if restricted lives and can enormously enhance those of their families. Too often Schizophrenics are ignored, treated as lepers or regarded as dangerous, although the incidence of violence among them is less than that of the general population.

Jane’s life was cut short before her time but was certainly not in vain either for her family or if it helps to serve to raise the profile of her fellow sufferers and destroy the stigma of Schizophrenia.

Robert and Oliver and all her many dedicated carers were privileged to know her; to love and be loved by her and to care for her, for chronic illness and disability brings out the best in people in the fullest expression of the real love described in St Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, read earlier. The more limited life Jane had to live in the past 10 years simply increased the intensity of love she gave out to the small circle fortunate to receive it.

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