As a volunteer biographer for Mercy Palliative Care, Nance Frawley has written about many wonderful people including Andrew and Elizabeth Roy. Last year, their weekly Zoom meetings provided a friendly oasis from the bleak isolation of government-mandated lockdowns and resulted in an impressive memoir of life and love at its fullest.
I’ve always loved writing, talking and listening. I’ve also loved research and history my whole life,” says Nance, as she reflects on her journey to becoming a volunteer biographer.
Nance decided to sign up to Mercy Palliative Care’s volunteer program in 2019 at the suggestion of a friend, who had engaged a biographer herself to write her story when she was unwell.
Nance approaches her role with sensitivity and experience, having lost her mother to cancer when she was just a teenager, as well as her sister and best friend. She confesses that, at a deeper level, becoming a biographer for palliative care patients is also about understanding what her mother went through before she passed away.
“When I boil it down, I wanted to understand my mum better. As I have grown older and gone through different life stages that I didn’t experience with my mum, I have wanted to access her,” says Nance.
“Becoming a volunteer biographer for Mercy Palliative Care patients is partly about wanting to understand how it was for mum. The experience has given me that answer and it is very complex,” she says.
Ordinary people are actually extraordinary
Since volunteering, Nance has had the privilege of writing the memoirs of many interesting people. Their stories fascinate her. “People are always surprised that I think that their life is interesting, but the honest truth is that I do. Ordinary people are actually extraordinary,” she says.
One such extraordinary couple is Mercy Palliative Care patient Andrew Roy and his wife Elizabeth, whose story Nance has been researching and writing for the past seven months.
Andrew was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease (MND) in December 2018 and is being cared for at home by Elizabeth, who lovingly and meticulously coordinates every aspect of his life so he is as comfortable and happy as he can be.
“The storytelling was a chance to get down on paper Andrew’s many achievements and his life story,” Elizabeth says. “That’s how it started.”
The journey began in the midst of the government-mandated lockdowns last year. Every week, Nance would meet with the Victorian couple on Zoom and talk to them about their lives: how they met, their families and friends, happy holidays spent abroad and the many hobbies that Andrew has fostered over the years.
“At the end of March last year, I closed the house to everybody [because of coronavirus]: additional carers, the doctor, my daughter and grandchildren,” says Elizabeth.
“It was a shocking time,” she says, “but then Nance came in to our lives and it was like a breath of fresh air. She is just amazing; so easy to talk to, so clever and so sensitive.”
Andrew has found the process of reflecting on his life sad at times, but talking to Nance about his many hobbies and pastimes has also been a welcome distraction from the limitations of MND.
Together, they have produced an appendix for the biography, which details Andrew’s proud collection of Morse code telegraph key machines.
“Chatting with Nance about all of his different interests and hobbies has been a really positive experience for Andrew,” says Elizabeth. “He really enjoyed that and looked forward to those times with her.”
Elizabeth, who is an academic writer, has taken on writing the rest of the story and Nance now does the editing. She has spent many hours typing out her memories whenever she has a spare moment, sometimes late in the night. Since then, Andrew’s story has snowballed into an impressive 200-page volume and continues to grow! The book is brimming with memories of his marriage to Elizabeth, their families, friends and pastimes. It is aptly titled: “A celebration of life and love. The family history and life stories of Andrew and Elizabeth Roy.”
Chatting with Nance about all of his different interests and hobbies has been a really positive experience for Andrew
“Writing the story really takes me off into another place. It has given me a focus and I’m a very task-orientated person,” says Elizabeth.
Nance affirms that writing the biographies is “as much about the process as it is the end result”. As well as giving the patient a chance to reflect on all of the positives and blessings in their life, it also gives the carers a distraction and someone to talk to.
“The sense of purpose that I get from doing this work is very real,” says Nance. “It’s a privilege.”
Last reviewed March 25, 2021.