Actor Greg Wise challenges death taboo
Blog written with ‘kind, loving and graceful’ sister during her cancer treatment brought comfort
22 February, 2018 — By Tom Foot
Clare and Greg Wise
FOR three years of her cancer treatment, Clare Wise kept a sharp-witted and often profound blog updating friends on how she was feeling and reflecting on her impending death.
When she became too sick to continue, her younger brother – the actor Greg Wise – took over and finished the job. Now Mr Wise, currently starring in the hit Netflix drama The Crown, has turned their blog into a book, which will be launched at Hampstead Waterstone’s tonight (Thursday).
He hopes the book will encourage people to talk more openly and less awkwardly about death, and start a debate about family carers and the NHS.
“We have two days that are less than 24 hours long: the day we are born and the day we die,” said Mr Wise, who lives in West Hampstead with his wife, Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson. “My schtick is that we expend an enormous amount of energy on social media celebrating the first day. But nothing on the second. It’s because we don’t know what to say to each other. We feel shame, and often anger.”
The sister and brother as children
He added: “I know stories of bereaved people who see a friend in the street, and the friend crosses the road out of sheer embarrassment. We have forgotten the language of death, and we have to relearn it. This has to start at school. We don’t talk about it because we want to protect people, but that is a misunderstanding.”
Ms Wise worked for the UK Film Council and as vice-president of Universal Pictures. Her brother described her as “honest and kind and loving and graceful”. He said it had been an “extraordinary privilege” to be there when she died at her home in West Hampstead in September 2016.
Mr Wise, who starred in Sense and Sensibility, said: “I am lucky. I am self-employed and I was able to drop everything and keep her at home. For the majority that is not the case. No one should die in hospital. They are not built for that. That is something we need to talk about.”
He added: “There are seven million carers in this country, who each year save the NHS almost exactly its entire annual budget. When you are caring for someone you have to dig in. You realise you can start to suffer from compassion fatigue. You begin to mirror the person you are caring for. You can become isolated, not looking after yourself. You do go pretty bonkers. People doing it year on year. It is criminal that we are taking apart the entire fabric of the social care system. It is insane to cut back the NHS and social care. Don’t hack at both sides of the equation.”
On writing the blog with his sister, he said: “She wanted everyone out of the system, and just me, and to keep people at arms’ length. The blog was a way of letting people know what was happening. We would just sit and write and bang it out.”
He added: “It was very comforting. I really hope it will be helpful for people.”
Not that Kind of Love, by Clare & Greg Wise, Quercus Publishing