Liza Harvey on the loss of her husband and spreading the word on palliative care

Liza Harvey on the loss of her husband and spreading the word on palliative care
Liza Harvey on the loss of her husband and spreading the word on palliative care

TWO years have passed since the death of Deputy Premier Liza Harvey’s husband Hal yet the pain is still evident when she talks about him.

Hal Harvey was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer in 2011, and Ms Harvey described the pain of watching his final weeks as “absolute torture”.

Mr Harvey, who died in 2014, fought the disease with a zeal his wife described as “denialist”.

“He was absolutely defiant,” Ms Harvey

“I think up until the day he died, Hal did not believe he was going to die.

“That’s kind of a gift, but it makes it very difficult for family when you’ve got person who’s got that kind of attitude.”

Ms Harvey described an incident three weeks before her husband passed away, when a friend visited him in hospital in his new car.

“Hal got on the phone to me and said ‘I’ll be back at some point, but I’m just going down to Fremantle for a coffee with Richard in his new Lotus’,” she said.

“But that’s who he was, he was just determined to do what he wanted to do and not have cancer define him.”

Ms Harvey is the patron of Palliative Care WA, a not-for-profit organisation that aims to raise awareness and help people address life-limiting conditions, dying, grief and loss.

She wants to use her profile to raise awareness of Palliative Care WA and prompt people to have mature conversations about how they want to face their end.

“There’s a big misunderstanding in the community about what palliative care is about,” Ms Harvey said.

“Most people think of palliative care and they think it’s about those last few weeks of life and in actual fact it’s not.

“It’s about finding a point when you’re unwell, or even when you’re well, thinking about ‘what are the quality-of-life decisions that I want to be making?’”

“If I’ve got a terminal illness, how do I want to manage that terminal illness so that I’ve got quality of life and I’m in the best place to fulfil the promises and the wishes and the dreams.”

Ms Harvey wishes she and her husband had engaged the services of palliative care agencies sooner.

“We should have had a palliative care specialist at the beginning of the disease so that we could have a good, robust conversation,” she said.

“My husband may never have engaged with the palliative care specialists because of the way he was wired.”

Palliative Care WA hosts a non-denominational commemorative service each year for those who have lost ones to seek comfort in the experiences of others who have experienced a similar loss.

Ms Harvey said she wasn’t sure what to expect before attending her first commemoration.

“It was such a beautiful service,” she said.

“There were a lot of people there who are at various different stages of grief.

“It was really useful for me to be able to meet some of those people.

“You feel like everything should stop, because you’ve had such a catastrophic occurrence in your life.

“The commemoration services are a good way to connect with people who are experiencing that as well.”

This year’s service is on Sunday October 16 at UWA’s Winthrop Hall, from 3.30pm until 6pm.

For more information on the annual commemoration, visit https://annualcommemoration2016.eventbrite.com.au.