I’m devastated today to learn of the death of my friend Sheree Hurley. I first met Sheree at Prince of Wales hospital, and she completely changed my life. It was a month or so into my rehabilitation, and I was struggling to imagine how to live with my stupid broken body. Sheree, with her beautiful red hair and confident smile, wandered into my room with Jade, her stunning black Labrador. We talked about my injury, and I learned that hers was similar (C5 quadriplegic), and then she went on to describe her independent and fascinating life, and it gave me new hope. Her regular visits were one of the few highlights of my seven-month hospital stint.
We kept in touch when I left hospital, and would get together regularly for coffee in the city. Six months ago I interviewed her and recorded her life story. I will write it up sometime soon, but I’m just not ready to do so now. It’s enough to say that Sheree lived an amazing life. As a peer support worker, I have no doubt she gave hope to countless people struggling to come to terms with spinal cord injury. Working for spinal cord injuries Australia, she organised the first SCI independence Expo in Homebush. She developed videos and other resources directed at helping people with sci get on with their life. she was also an active volunteer with Australian support dogs, and after finishing with SCIA was involved in a project to build respite accommodation. More recently she worked at Royal rehab in Ryde, as a recreational officer – helping rehabilitating people find ways to enjoy themselves.
I did mention her in my memoir, and perhaps that recollection is enough for today:
23 November 2012 (Friday)
Today was pure joy; a sunny spring day spent in the city with Sheree Hurley. We have met up a few times since my leaving the hospital. She is a great encouragement, and it’s refreshing to spend time with someone who understands my day-to-day experiences. What I especially love about her company is her contentedness. She doesn’t ignore or deny the difficulties of living with SCI, but neither does she let them keep her down. On the contrary, she leads a full and mostly happy life, and I find her sense of well-being contagious.
We met up at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) at Circular Quay. The day was warm but Sheree’s crip-circulation and thin frame had her rugged up for winter, wearing a jumper and jacket, a purple scarf, and a woollen beret, out of which flowed her shoulder-length auburn red hair. The MCA cafe is on the top of a modern styled building, looking over the Quay to the Opera house, Harbour Bridge, and beyond. We ate on the balcony, which today was awash with sunlight. Friendship, conversation, sunshine, and food in such a location, along with a black Labrador that draws the attention of all and sundry; on days like this, life isn’t half bad!
While conversation was the real reason for our get-together, the ostensible purpose was to watch a film, The Intouchables. Sheree was a little reluctant, saying that “I haven’t seen a film for years.” I found this hard to fathom, but I promised that she would enjoy herself. The French subtitled film tells the story of Philippe, a C3/4 quadriplegic with no movement from the neck down and, his carer Driss, a poor black, paroled migrant – each in his own way “untouchable,” the former a pitiable paralytic and the latter a despised African. [The journal goes on to talk about the movie – which is irrelevant for this blog].
Obviously, the story resonates with the experiences of Sheree and I, and she left the cinema surprised to have actually enjoyed a movie. After coffee we said our goodbyes and I thought about the fun that I’ve had today. I’ve spent so much time down in the dumps, and I wonder whether I have found one of the keys to pleasure; friends and film.
Vale Sheree. I can’t believe you’re gone. I am missing you already.