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A shared passion for running and worldwide travel united Ali Farrall and Matt Green, who first met while teaching at Uplands in Wadhurst. Their lives changed dramatically last year when Matt was unexpectedly diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour at the age of 54. Here, Ali shares what it was like to be able to care for Matt at Cottage Hospice in his final months, why running continues to be a big part of her life and how Matt’s legacy lives on.
“Matt was a very popular teacher at Uplands. He was the legend: ‘Greeny’. His subject was Geography. He had such a passion for it and it was well known that many students took Geography because of him. I was working at Uplands when we met at the photocopier one day in 2006. We got on well and had so much in common.
“We did a lot of running and a huge amount of travelling, seeing much of the world together.”
We took a lot of school trips, including to Peru, the Himalaya, China, America and Italy. We tried to visit as many countries in Europe as possible. Before I met him, Matt took a break from teaching to travel for 18 months. Now, I’m so glad he did. He had a book published about his travels.”
Matt loved Tunbridge Wells, he was a Tunbridge Wells boy.
He loved the Common, there was a particular five-mile run he would do. He loved going around town, he’d point out people he went to school with – he went to Skinners.
Everywhere we went, I wanted to run and would find us routes all over the world. Park Runs in Copenhagen, Frankfurt and Sydney were some of his favourites. He was a very fast runner too. As a 50-54-year-old, he’d regularly run 18.30 at the Tonbridge parkun, and ran a half marathon personal best just before lockdown.
He was very competitive. In any games, Matt and his two older brothers loved to compete against each other. For Matt’s 50th we went on a cycling trip to Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama. The cycling was quite something. I remember Matt trying to keep up with the guides and another of the group who was an Olympic Gold medallist. We saw volcanos – every trip we went on Matt pointed out the geographical features regardless of whether you were interested and he had an uncanny knack for spotting and wildlife.
A few years ago, we went cycling in Georgia. I’m so glad we did because lockdown then struck and it was the last time Matt had the chance to travel.
It was a shock when he was diagnosed; but it explained things, it helped make sense of how he’d been. Matt hadn’t been very well during lockdown. We thought his symptoms might be stress related. But last April he began having relentless, unexplained, panic attacks.
It became increasingly tricky. He had lucid and not so lucid moments. An MRI scan revealed that Matt had a brain tumour.
Even though you know what is going to happen, you can’t quite prepare yourself that it’s now palliative care; you can’t quite believe it.
We’d never bothered about getting married, we’d never felt the need. After the diagnosis, I asked Matt if he’d marry me. He said yes. We had a civil partnership on 5th July at Pembury Hospital, with my mum and dad and his two brothers. That’s all we were allowed.
We were in our socks, Mum brought a cake. We didn’t know if Matt was going to manage it. I was holding it all together, until I was handed a massive bunch of flowers with a card saying, ‘from your Uplands family’. The school was a big part of our life and the teachers, students and our friends were all supporting us.
We knew about Hospice in the Weald but hadn’t been there. They told us about Cottage Hospice and I came with Matt’s brother to have a look. I got back and said, ‘Matt you’ve got to go’.
I used to leave the hospital as late as I could each evening, to stay with him. It was awful for me leaving and awful for him. But I explained to him ‘if you go to Cottage Hospice, I won’t have to go home’. I had only just started working at a different school but they were amazing and understanding.
The day we came to Cottage Hospice, the weather was boiling. It was so difficult to leave Tunbridge Wells. I was thinking ‘everyone is going to Pub in the Park, they can walk, they are off for a nice time and Matt’s leaving Tunbridge Wells and he’s never coming back.’
Annette welcomed us in, got us cold drinks, we sat on the balcony, and got a nice breeze. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, it was just like being wrapped up and hugged by everyone here.
‘Safe’ is the wrong word, somehow, when you know what’s coming. But there was such a sense of relief coming here and it just being such a beautiful place.
Matt wasn’t able to leave the room much, but we sat on the veranda and he could catch the breeze.
The Hospice takes that anxiety away, the worries about the medication, what happens if something goes wrong. The nature of a brain tumour is it can make behaviour unpredictable. When he was well enough his family and friends would come including Matt’s daughter, Jess, and his dad.
We had a group of friends we’d run with at parkrun and go for coffee. One day one of them came to see him, and I brought them a coffee from the kitchen, and they sat chatting in his room. Matt said that then, he felt normal for a bit.
Instead each day I’d run around the hilly lanes of Five Ashes. It helped me cope and calm. It’s good for my mental well-being. It helps you work through things. After Matt died, I broke the sub-20 at parkun, two weeks in a row, so maybe he was giving me a bit of a push.
The staff here are just so amazing. I was here for a month, so I got to know how lovely they all are. We had some really difficult times, but they adored Matt and were here for me. One huge regret is that they didn’t see him at his best, but they loved him anyway.
There was absolutely no way I could have had Matt at home. Matt was particularly ill one Sunday and the care that Jo and the others gave him was amazing.
The facilities are just brilliant, being in the communal kitchen and chatting with the other families was a great source of comfort.
One of the things I didn’t expect, was when he died we were able to stay in the room with him for quite a while. I was packing up and I was talking to him. It was so important to be able to have that time.
I was better prepared than most because of Cottage Hospice. I’d had the month to kind of get my head around it and learnt so much just from seeing the staff here. It’s almost osmosis I suppose, you learn about coping. The strapline ‘dying with dignity’ is spot on. It helps every bit of the process.
More than 500 people came to Matt’s funeral. We asked everyone to wear green, as Matt was Plymouth fan, and his surname was Green. We had the wake at Uplands. It really was a celebration of his life. Everyone loved Matt and loved talking about him. Matt was a funny guy, so there were loads of funny stories.
Having been here is one of the reasons I could hold it all together. You don’t get lessons but being at Cottage Hospice helped me to feel empowered. In some ways being here helped me to come to terms with it, as much as you can.
It’s amazing what you learn, that you may never have wanted to learn. You realise what you can do.
If I end up with a terminal illness and need hospice care I know I want to be here, at Cottage Hospice. It’s a wonderful place to die.
Hospice Run is close to where we live, and we’d taken part long before Matt became ill. Matt had done well a couple of times and would always support it. The atmosphere was always brilliant.
After he died last year, I started rallying the troops. Dave at Harriers helped and we contacted Albert at Wadhurst. Lots of his friends wore pictures of Matt, there were loads of ex-students, even staff who had never run before.
It was emotional, but just like the Hospice held me up, everyone was there for Matt and to support me. Some of the Hospice staff were marshals too so it was nice to see familiar faces.
I’m hoping a lot of people will come out to support Hospice in the Weald this year because it was brilliant for Matt and brilliant for me. To help fund the ongoing work, it’s just wonderful. I want others to get the support and love I got.
With Hospice Run you get a challenge, something to train for, and get to have fun with your friends. And if you don’t run, you have got to sponsor someone!
I think you should join Hospice Run in September, go on, challenge yourself!
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