Die With Great Memories, Not Dreams.
A story about Peter Oakes, as told by Pazia Moore.
“Quite frankly, it sucks to know I am dying. But that isn’t the whole picture. I’ve also got a life to live in the meantime.”
I’m Pazia, the Marketing and Communication Manager at Waipuna Hospice – a role I absolutely love. In my position I often have the privilege of connecting with our patients and their families to talk about their hospice journeys. This carries both moments of sadness, as I witness the profound challenges of life’s end, and moments of pure joy, as I encounter remarkable individuals and hear stories of the lives they’ve led. I witness the unbreakable bonds formed within families as they come together and support one another through one of life’s toughest moments – death.
I wrote this letter because earlier this year, I had the honour of meeting Peter Oakes, a man who left a lasting impression on me, and wanted to share his story and share how profoundly he inspired me. It is my hope that he will inspire you too.
Peter was unlike anyone I had met. He was facing an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer, which left him with just a handful of weeks to live, and yet, despite the overwhelming odds and pain that accompanied his journey, he possessed an extraordinary outlook on life.
I remember the day I met Peter. I knew he was very ill, and he warned me that he was deteriorating quickly. I walked into our meeting expecting to meet someone facing death, but instead, I met someone who was trying to live every moment to the fullest. I knew right away this was someone very special.
Peter greeted me as ‘mate’ and was quick to welcome me in, coffee in one hand and a smile at the ready. What followed was a very honest discussion filled with sneaky car innuendos, stories of his life and the things he has achieved, but equally the challenges he faced. Peter was very open about recovering from alcoholism and the impact it had on his journey, and how facing death made him live day to day.
“I figured I was always a good candidate for cancer. You know, liver cancer because of the alcohol or melanoma because I spent so much time outdoors. But I didn’t see it being this fast, and I didn’t see it being one that I hadn’t thought of. In the end, it was pancreatic cancer that got me, but now it’s everywhere.”
“Shortly after my diagnosis, I made two decisions that really helped. The first was to not isolate and push everyone away. It’s natural to want to withdraw when you are told you’re going to die, especially since I was already really sick by then. Instead, I chose to stay connected with the people I care about and love.”
“The other choice I made was all about having some good experiences. I wanted to do some of the things you dream about before you ‘kick the bucket’. My brother talked to me just a night or two after, and he told me to think about what I’d like to do. At the start it was pretty short – I told him, ‘I just wanna hang out with the people I love and listen to my music.’ But, funny thing, two weeks later, that list got a whole lot longer,” Peter said with a chuckle.
Facing death gave Peter a real passion for life. With the help of his family and friends, Peter went on to tick off some incredible experiences. Grinning from ear to ear and with a twinkle in his eye Peter told me all about flying in a helicopter, visiting Milford and Doubtful Sounds, driving a Porche 911, flying in small aircraft, and of course, buying his dream car, a Ford Mustang.
What I loved was that Peter’s bucket list wasn’t just about traveling to picturesque destinations; it was about experiencing life to its fullest. It was about living day to day, and saying ‘You know what, I know I am going to die, but I want to really live before then’.
Inside Peter’s living room while ‘I’m On Fire’ by Bruce Springsteen played on the radio, Peter took me down memory lane and showed me his ‘highlights reel’. The wall was adorned with pictures of him in planes and cars, each image telling a story of living life in the face of death.
“A Waipuna Hospice nurse came up with the idea,” explained Peter. “It was a way for me to remember the good days, because to be honest, cancer is bleak. Some days I can’t even get out of bed. Now, when I am lying here I can look up and say ‘Man, that’s a good memory’. I can think about the good experiences I have had, rather than dwelling on the pain.”
One of the most heartwarming aspects of Peter’s story was his deep appreciation for the people in his life. He had lived a hard life on the “road less travelled,” as Peter put it, but he cherished his family and friends. He had experienced the incredible impact of kindness.
“Cancer isn’t easy. Quite frankly, it sucks to know I am dying. But that isn’t the whole picture. I’ve also got a life to live in the meantime, and the kindness of the people around me has made that possible.”
Waipuna Hospice played an important role in Peter’s journey. It wasn’t just about pain management; it was about holistic care. Peter confided that what he appreciated the most about Waipuna Hospice was the clear communication. He said it gave him the ability to make informed decisions, even with his limited time.
“My care hasn’t only been about the physical, but the emotional and spiritual too which I wasn’t expecting. I have been supported by doctors, nurses, social workers, counsellors, and even a spiritual care coordinator. I have this ability to draw on what I need when I need it, which is important because what I need keeps changing.”
“While a nurse visits twice a week, I know that If I’m struggling or trying to work things out I can call Waipuna Hospice and get honest, clear communication with some kindness thrown in.”
That mix of honesty and kindness was exactly what Peter wanted as he lived one day at a time.
“Look, I know my approach might not be for everyone. I wouldn’t blame anyone for shutting down or refusing treatment. Hell, I almost did, but when it came down to it, it wasn’t what I wanted. What’s important is that it’s your own decision.”
“Waipuna Hospice has been great at giving me all the information I need and helping me walk my own path. At the end of the day, it’s your life and it’s your death, and Waipuna Hospice seems to get that.”
“So, to anyone facing their own death here is some advice. Get the best clinical advice you can, listen to the options, then make your own decisions. Oh, and don’t forget to grab those little moments of joy. Listen to that bird. Sit outside in the sun with a coffee. Enjoy meeting new people. Say yes when you’re asked to drive a Porche 911. Just enjoy life until the end. I mean, look at me, I am riddled with cancer, but here I am sitting with a good person, smiling, and sharing stories. The birds are chirping, my wood pigeon has come to say hello, I can hear the children over the road laughing, and I have half a coffee in me. What more could I want?”
Peter’s motto, “Die with great memories, not dreams,” became his guiding principle, and he lived it until the very end. An end that came just two weeks after we met.
I feel very honoured and grateful to have met Peter. His legacy reminds me, and now hopefully it reminds you too, that even in life’s most challenging moments, there are choices to be made – to seize every moment, to cherish the kindness of those around us, and to live with unbridled passion. His story serves as a reminder that every moment is precious, and kindness matters.
May I ask you to please consider donating to Waipuna Hospice this November? Your donation will help ensure that patients like Peter get the care they need, and get their chance to die with great memories, not dreams.
With heartfelt gratitude,
Pazia Moore – Waipuna Hospice Marketing & Communications Manager