Absent Friends and Full Beam Living by Gill Stanyard

Just like the crimson poppy helps us to remember the fallen ones through War on Armistice Day, a couple of weeks ago,  it was the  Absent Friends Festival (1-7th November). It was created as an opportunity for people across Scotland to remember and share stories of ‘absent friends.’  A wall of remembrance was launched, as part of the festival, where you can post online tributes -here are just  a few that I read this morning:


To three dear colleagues who worked tirelessly to improve the end of life   experience of others, all to die of cancer too soon


    To Gordon, the garden volunteer .Just to say your recycled strawberry planters are working really well and we still miss you – a lot


   You told me you were dying but I didn’t want to believe it. I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you about it when I had the chance. I miss you so



I wrote the following for Robert Allan,a  fellow Board Member and my colleague who died suddenly in September:


 Robert, sorry I did not see you again after you went away on holiday. I will miss sharing your blueberries and all the banter and laughs we had. XX


He died whilst abroad with his partner and friends.  I cried when the news was delivered, on an early sun-filled Monday afternoon, in the Boardroom.  It was more out of shock initially and then I felt my sadness rising. I had sent Robert a text  just that morning, as I had not heard from him for a little while.  It was not like him, he was usually quick at getting back in contact.  We had been joking together just before he left  to go on annual leave about his new ‘regime’ of 45 minutes on the exercise bike whilst watching  old episodes of M.A.S.H. I had messaged him to ask if he had got back ‘in the saddle’ after holiday time.  I loved watching M.A.S.H too, it felt good having something in common. We were both very different, yet we shared good banter, laughter and stories. I  particularly used to like hearing of his time served as a Policeman in the Met, down in London, in the late 70’s and 80’s. He said it was like being in ‘The Sweeny ‘at times.

Gill S 1

Robert was a Board member for seven years and in that time he brought much  to improve the service and to increase patient safety through scrutiny, constructive criticism, and ensuring that the Board’s strategy met the needs of the people of Dumfries and Galloway.  Robert really embodied the  role of the ‘critical friend.’  He was a Champion of Health Inequalities and a great advocate of patient empowerment and self-management, particularly for people with disabilites. He was Secretary of D & G Voice – a vibrant and expanding disability movement, with influence in Dumfries and Galloway and also on a national and UK stage.

In a blog Robert wrote  back in April, he wrote of the many highly skilled and dedicated people of the NHS who’ .. do their best everyday.’  This can certainly be said of Robert,  who despite having multiple long term health conditions and mobility issues, he always did his best

He leaves a wife and two daughters behind. If you like, you can read his blog here: https://dghealth.wordpress.com/2017/04/26/life-in-the-nhs-a-personal-view-by-robert-allan/


Robert was not afraid to speak up and speak out -he never held back.  In one of the last emails he sent me, he wrote about the importance of speaking up without ‘fear or favour,’  he included a quote :  ‘All that is necessary for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.’ (For men include women nowadays.) (Sic)


That quote really got me thinking. And I am still thinking about it. To me, it is about  self-leadership and feeling safe.  Why would good people do nothing? What gets in the way of action? These days, there is no one leader. The cape of the heroic stand- alone leader, who would lead everyone out from the shadows and into the light, has been shredded. We are all leaders. The word leader comes from the Germanic word ‘leiten’ meaning to ‘light the way.’ This always gives me an image in my head of a lighthouse, with the bright beacon at the top.  I wonder how many of us feel like we are operating on full beam with our leadership?

Gill S 2


I have crashed many times on my own rocks of faulty thinking,  believing that I had to wait until it felt ‘safe’ to speak out.  Experience as a whistleblower in a former job and being a Non-Executive has shown me that the opposite can be true. Speaking up makes the environment safe. I am sure that there are many of us sitting on the sidelines with valuable information, insights and experience, that only we know and can share. We are waiting for the invitation from perhaps our managers or colleagues, that is not going to come, as they don’t know we have this important information. When others speak up in meetings, disagree with a decision, point out errors or provide clarity, it is inspiring. When we do it, it  can be scary and  we can feel vulnerable. ‘Pssst -it feels the same for those inspirational ‘others.’  You are an asset. You are enough. What you know matters, it may not necessarily be about a specific job or issue, it might be about you being a carer or the time when you solved a problem that others were struggling with.When you authentically act in the service of others, the environment supports you.


Self-leadership is a ‘rendezvous with reality’ according to International Coach Lars Sudman …he urges us all to go looking for ‘feedback’ to enable ourselves to grow deeper in our self-awareness and  to reflect on our decisions and how we are framing issues. Asking for feedback can often result in tumbleweed city being unleashed.  Try it for yourself and see what response you get. Do you hear a faint whooshing noise?! People don’t always think the ‘truth’ is a good idea. However, we can give ourselves feedback, based on our own reading of a situation and how we felt we did. If you ask yourself now about the worst leader you have experienced, what did they do? Did they shout? Did they use shame as a way to gain compliance and control? Did they with-hold information? Now score yourself out of ten, for the same things. How good are you at sharing information with others, for example? Based on your scores, what is your plan to execute your leadership and make improvements?


Research at the University of California has shown just 2 -5  minutes a day of this can increase compassion for yourself and others, thus leading to better decisions and less stress.  Harry Kraemer, Professor of Strategy at the Kellogg school suggests this mini-reflective exercise could be the key. Ask yourself:  ‘What are my values, and what am I going to do about it?’ He writes “ This is not some intellectual exercise. It’s all about self-improvement, being self-aware, knowing myself, and getting better.”

Gill S 3


This is nothing new, Marcus Aurelius, was a philosopher and Emperor of Rome from 161 -180 AD.  He was one of the most powerful men in the world and was described as a ’beacon of ‘leadership’. Every night he would  sit down and reflect on his day, and prepare for his tomorrow by asking  the question “I will encounter difficult people tomorrow, how will I react?” If you ask yourself now about the best leader you have experienced, what did they do? How did you feel in their presence? Now score yourself out of ten, for the same things. Based on your scores, what is your plan to execute your leadership and make improvements for your tomorrow?


Several years ago,  Bronnie Ware, a Palliative-care nurse from New South Wales in Australia captured the regrets of people who were dying, when she was with them in their final weeks of life. Ware wrote of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom. “When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently,” she says, “common themes surfaced again and again.


Here are the top 5:

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
  3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

If you reflect on these, what’s your greatest regret so far, and what will you set out to achieve or change before you die?

When others from the Board and I attended Robert’s memorial service,  I learnt lots of things I didn’t know, such as he loved the music of Leonard Cohen.

Here are the lyrics to ‘Dance me to the End of Love’ by the man himself. It is my wish that you enjoy your dance -and my wish for Robert that he is now safely inside his ‘tent of shelter.’

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin

Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in

Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove

Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the end of love


Oh, let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone

Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon

Show me slowly what I only know the limits of

Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the end of love


Dance me to the wedding now, dance me on and on

Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long

We’re both of us beneath our love, we’re both of us above

Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the end of love


Dance me to the children who are asking to be born

Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn

Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn

Dance me to the end of love


Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin

Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in

Touch me with your naked hand or touch me with your glove

Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the end of love


Gill S 4                                   

If you would like to add your own tribute, to absent colleagues, or relatives you have lost, follow the link.  Sometimes we don’t get the chance to say the things we really wanted to.


 Gill Stanyard is a Non Executive member of NHS Dumfires and Galloway Health Board





14 thoughts on “Absent Friends and Full Beam Living by Gill Stanyard

  1. I’ve missed the blog for the last few weeks – this is a great blog to start back. Thank you for sharing Gill, particularly your thoughts about Robert which are really touching and clearly genuine

    • Thank-you Alice for your kind response -and thank-you to you Ken Donaldson for your leadership in creating this blog in the first place.

  2. Great and moving blog Gill.
    I can’t help pondering about the top 5 regrets people had at the end of life. Mostly they seem very appropriate, though maybe difficult, but what about the second regret – people wishing they hadn’t worked so hard? The NHS seems to thrive on people working extremely hard and ‘going the extra mile’. I remember in clinical life at times staying late even though not on call just because an ill patient I was looking after had asked me to carry out a clinical procedure for them rather than the on-call doctor they didn’t know. Those are the sort of times when I felt I really made a difference in people’s lives and I wouldn’t have wanted to miss out on them. Time spent in meetings on the other hand…! Perhaps it’s more about giving attention to a balanced life rather than not working so hard?

    • Hi Andrew, thank-you. I feel what you have touched on is about values -deep inside of you -your core values you find an alignment with action of responding in a deep and compassionate way in the vein of the ‘extra mile.’ You describe your care of the patient as’looking after’ so already your language tells me how you saw your role and the care you put into carrying out your job. When the demands of our job clash with our values this = stress and feeling conflicted -i.e if you are a trained dr and you find yourself less and less away from patient care and clinical practice and like you said, more and more in meetings.

      Here is what Bronnie wrote about that particular regret:

      2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

      This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

      By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
      You can read the full blog here –


      I put your question back to you -where could you find more balance in your life, to do the things that are in alignment with your values?

      Thank-you again for your thoughtful response

    • I’m so sad to hear of Robert’s passing, we always had good chats together when I bumped into him at Crichton Hall. We had a common love of traveling, Robert with his caravan, me with our motor home and would share stories of our travels, and swap campsites to visit or avoid. I had noticed that he’d not been on FB recently and wondered if he had given up on social media! It really saddens me that weeks have passed before I’ve heard of his death. The board, I guess, will miss his challenge, sense of justice and equality. I know I will.
      Wendy C

      • Hi Wendy, your memories of Robert really made me smile, for yes he did love travelling and was a good walking almanac for caravan sites! I am sorry that so much time had passed before you heard of his death. You;re right, he is missed.

  3. Thank you SO much Gill for writing this honest, inspiring yet gently challenging blog! You’re a woman after my own heart and I just want to say ‘Amen’ to all you wrote. I echo Bonnie Ware’s Top 5 Regrets list, having spent a lot of time with dying patients and their loved ones before and after their deaths, particularly when preparing their funeral.
    We can learn so much from people who have gone on before us into the world of the unknown, many call heaven, some call paradise, others describe as the ‘after world’ and for some they’re convinced there is nothing more beyond life on planet earth.
    The welfare and wellbeing of all of us when we grieve the death of a loved one, friend, or colleague is paramount to being human and real. The ability and freedom to express ourselves as you know is far healthier than suppressing the emotion and experience of mourning. A great book I can recommend that was made into a film, ‘Tuesday’s with Morrie’ by Mitch Albom is about a retired university professor and his experience of terminal illness. He passed on some of his lived wisdom as he expressed it during this time to former student, Mitch. One of the things he said I will never forget, “The truth is . . . once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.” When he tells Mitch that one must know how to die before one can know how to live, he means that one must accept the possibility of one’s own death before he can truly appreciate what he has on earth, as the sobering awareness that one day, it will all be out of reach. This prompts the urge to appreciate and value what one can have only for a limited period of time, and to use every moment of that time doing something that one will not regret.
    RIP Robert Allan – you will be missed by those who knew you well.

    • Thankyou so much Gill for all your kindness ,loved reading your blog and keeping in touch,Robert would be so proud and i know he is sitting on my shoulder most days munching his blueberries ,i am not very good at letter writing, this was Roberts area but i try ,thankyou so much again .x.Anne

      • Hi Anne,

        Lovey to hear from you and so pleased you have enjoyed reading this. I too know he is at your shoulder,he loved you very much, this was clear to see. Hope to see you soon, Gill x

  4. Thank-you Dawn for your measured and graceful response -I have read a lot of Mitch Albom’s books, and that line in about learning how to die, we learn how to live. I also see it as if we acknowledge someone’s death, it means we can fully acknowledge their life. It is always ok to be a human being, when we give ourselves permission to pause being a human ‘doing.’

  5. Gill, I remember the work meeting we all attended after Mr Allan died. You had brought a small posy of fresh flowers and placed it on the desk in remembrance and to act as a presence, a gesture of esteem. This was so touching and such a genuine mark of respect and friendship it stays with me.
    You highlight the importance of feedback, sharing, safety, leadership. Key themes to take us into the shaky future of the NHS and exactly what each of us need to engage with on a personal level if we are to ‘rendezvous with reality’ in a meaningful way.
    I came across Bronnie Ware’s piece about the top 5 regrets of the dying in 2012. I remember thinking then while we are caring for others who is caring for our families? Who is caring for us? We need time to breathe, reflect, steady ourselves, spend time with family, friends, to reach out and to reach in. Thanks for reminding me of this. Thanks for this beautiful tribute, this compassionate sharing of wisdom and insights.

  6. Hey Val, Thank-you so much for your response. I remember walking through the Crichton Gardens at lunchtime before that meeting, collecting some flowers in the sunshine to fill a little empty glass jar I had found, to use as a vase. I got some real encouragement from Robert -I do not find it easy being a Chair even now after 3 and bit years, and the flowers I collected were my way of honouring him and silently saying ‘thanks.’ Your wisdom here: ‘We need time to breathe, reflect, steady ourselves, spend time with family, friends, to reach out and to reach in.’ is so true. Reaching out and reaching in -something for me to really switch my beam onto. Thank-you for shining so brightly.

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