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Wilfred De'Ath's funeral – and his last column

Blog | By Wilfred De'Ath | Apr 03, 2020

Wilfred in Heaven, by Steve Way, the illustrator of his column

The Oldie's treasured columnist Wilfred De'Ath had his funeral today in Cambridge.

Sadly, because of the coronavirus, the only attendants were two kind men of the cloth, one Anglican and one Catholic. We can't help thinking that Wilfred would have sneakingly rather liked the drama of the occasion.

There will be a memorial service, to which all readers are welcome, once the dreaded virus has gone.

In the meantime, here is Wilfred's last column, filed just before he died on February 19, aged 82. Goodbye, you old rogue!


On 17th December 2019, I had a heart attack while sleeping on the floor of St Mary’s Church in Cambridge.

I was taken by ambulance to Addenbrooke’s Hospital, I asked not to be resuscitated. The very nice doctor preferred to discuss his boyhood caravanning holiday with the patient instead of diagnosing them. But I was told that, as well as a heart attack, I was suffering from a) kidney failure; b) an ulcerated left leg; c) anaemia. Other doctors thought I might have had a stroke, too.

As I write this, I have been in hospital for six weeks and I am feeling no better – worse if anything.

I long to die. I cannot commit suicide because it is considered a great sin in the Roman Catholic Church to which I belong. So I shall just have to battle on. The doctors think I will get better (slowly). I don’t. But who knows?

I have only been happy once since I’ve been in Addenbrooke’s and that was on Christmas morning when Rev Jon Canessa, Chairman of the Cambridge Church Homeless Project, brought me the Holy Sacrament. The sun was shining outside and, just for a moment, all seemed well.

Then it was back to misery. I cannot walk. I can scarcely eat or drink. I breathe only with difficulty. My poor left leg is getting better, but the rest of me is not.

In the old days, the nurses would put on caps and sing us patients Christmas carols. Now they are too busy trying to work the computers. Here in hospital, we are all victims of the technology which is keeping us alive.

I hope not to die, but I am ready to.

In years to come, that technology will become so extreme that robotic tentacles will roam round your body, checking out every organ: your blood pressure; your blood sugar level etc.

After a few seconds of whirring and clicking, a small card will be delivered through a slot by your left elbow. It will tell you how many years, months and weeks you have left to live.

It is adjacent to another slot, through which another disembodied voice will ask you to insert your credit card when you first arrive.

The amount of time left to you will not change. No human being will visit you. You have become the victim of British Medical engineering. There will be no holistic help of any kind.

Good luck, mate. See you in heaven.