'I watched my friend die with football blaring on hospital TV'
ACTOR Gabriel Byrne has spoken of how he witnessed the life of one of his dear friends ebb away in a noisy Irish hospital ward, devoid of dignity and respect.
The Dubliner, who now lives in New York, recalled the heart-rending plight of his friend who spent her final hours with a television "blaring out a football match" in the background.
He was among the well-known guests, along with award-winning writer Colum McCann, at the Design and Dignity Fund launch by the Irish Hospice Foundation in New York.
"I looked around this depressing place, with the cheap curtain separating her from other patients, walls painted nondescriptly institutional, the awful food, the ubiquitous smell of disinfectant mixed with human odour, and I began to think about the physical environment in which we might spend our final hours," he said.
"It is that space which – as the late Seamus Heaney said – is emptied and pure change happens," he said.
The sad experience left him so appalled and outraged that he joined the campaign by the Irish Hospice Foundation some years ago to improve hospital facilities for dying patients and their loved ones.
The work as a patron has meant the Design and Dignity project is making changes, including helping to provide a family room at a medical ward at Dublin's Mater Hospital to break bad news.
Mr McCann, who is now also based in New York, told of the "rawness" suffered by so many emigrants who have to make the sad journey back home to say goodbye.
"When you lose a loved one and when you know that person is being looked after well, it's so much easier to return. It is also much easier to come back to your other life."
Michael O'Reilly, chairman of the Design and Dignity project, said that for people who were beyond cure it became "a sacred obligation" to give them a respectful death.
"This is something we know, instinctively, we should do but somehow we forget – or we become distracted by the technology of 'cure'," he said.
A new book from the Irish Hospice Foundation, 'The Gathering – Reflections on Ireland' was also launched at the event with all proceeds going to the fund.
The 256-page hardback is edited by journalist Miriam Donohoe and designed by Steve Averill, widely acclaimed for his work with U2.
Bono and Colum McCann are contributors, along with Moya Doherty, Brian O'Driscoll, Loretta Brennan Glucksman and Niall O'Dowd.