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Death: Don't Leave It To The Last Minute

When an 81 year old American woman living in Ireland pitched an idea to us about death and dying, we had to find out more. Michael Lawless joined Gray Cahill as she explored exactly what she wants if she loses capacity of mind and upon her death. (2019)

Documentary Maker: Michael Lawless

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Documentary-maker: Ronan Kelly

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Documentary maker: Liam O'Brien

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Death: Don't Leave It To The Last Minute

Gray Cahill emailed an idea to the Documentary On One last year  "Why don’t you make a documentary on how I am preparing for my death?" she wrote.

Gray is not dying although she’s 81 years of age, she’s healthy and hopes her demise is far far away.

But she’s been prompted to act by a visit to her GP.  She mentioned to the GP that, at some future date, she’d like to talk about "end-of-life" matters.  The GP gave her a leaflet from the Irish Hospice Foundation on the kinds of things you should have in place before you die. ‘The next time she phoned for an appointment, she was told her Doctor was in Hospice care dying’, her GP died a few months later.

This spurred Gray to consult the leaflet and follow its advice. She visited a solicitor to talk about her will (the RTÉ documentary-maker was asked to leave the meeting – a solicitor is only allowed to discuss the will with the person writing it on their own – for fear of undue influence).

Gray met with an undertaker in Roscommon who told her not to rush ‘and she won’t be left on top’, she had a look at a plot and she also visited Trinity College Dublin to discuss donating her body to medicine.

Gray Cahill was born in 1938 in Providence, Rhode Island, America as Mary Gray Cahill. Given the proliferation of Mary's in Ireland, shortly after arriving here in 1977, she changed her name to just 'Gray'.

After finishing High School, Gray became a Sister of Mercy and worked with them as a teacher but left the order at the age of 31, selling and repairing antiques, while finishing her working life as a cook for a family in Dublin.

In 1977, she came to Ireland and planned to remain for just one year but has stayed here, ever since, occasionally returning to the US to earn extra money.

Gray celebrated her 60th birthday by getting a Masters from UCD in Womens’ Studies.

Gray lives in a one-bedroomed council house in Dundrum, Dublin with her dog Mollyo.  It has a yellow front door because Gray wants it to "stand out".  This is the location for her monthly poker games with her friends.

The walls of Gray’s home are covered with art much of it modern. She wants to be buried without a coffin to minimise the impact on the environment.

She’s asked her friends to earmark which of her possessions they’d like her to leave them (some of them, naturally, are horrified at the notion).

In school, Gray was chastised, by one nun, for being "independent!". She saw it as a compliment then and has tried to live her life, as such, ever since.   She does not intend to approach her death any differently.

More details about The Irish Hospice Foundation's Think Ahead form can be found here.

Since first broadcast Death; Don't Leave It To The Last Minute has won best Radio Documentary at the 2020 Clarion Awards while also honoured a bronze award at the 2020 New York Festivals Radio Awards

Narrated by Carol Moran

Produced by Michael Lawless, Ronan Kelly & Liam O'Brien

First broadcast RTÉ Radio 1, Saturday 14th September, 2019 

Repeated RTÉ Radio 1 Sunday 15th September, 2019 

An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries

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