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Conversation 9 Jan 2018

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Dying woman’s final words go viral because of her heartbreaking advice for all

HOLLY Butcher was just 27 when she lost her battle to Ewing’s sarcoma – a rare form of cancer in and around the bones that mainly affects young people.
But a moving letter she penned shortly before her death last week has gone viral after reminding others to cherish life.

Holly Butcher asked her family to share her final message on Facebook
Holly, from New South Wales in Australia, asked her family to share her message on Facebook.
She admitted it was strange to accept she would die so young after assuming she would live to an old age.
“The days tick by and you just expect they will keep on coming, until the unexpected happens.
“I always imagined myself growing old, wrinkled and grey – most likely caused by the beautiful family (lots of kiddies) I planned on building with the love of my life.”
Holly said she loved her life and never thought she’d die so young
She added: “I want that so bad it hurts. That’s the thing about life; It is fragile, precious and unpredictable and each day is a gift, not a given right. I’m 27 now. I don’t want to go. I love my life.”
She also urged others to forget the trivial things that we let bother us.
“You might have got caught in bad traffic today, or had a bad sleep because your beautiful babies kept you awake, or your hairdresser cuts your hair too short. Your new fake nails might have got a chip, your boobs are too small, or you have cellulite on your arse and your belly is wobbling.”
She said she wished to celebrate another birthday or just one more day with her partner
“Let all that s*** go.. I swear you will not be thinking of those things when it is your turn to go. It is all SO insignificant when you look at life as a whole.
“I’m watching my body waste away right before my eyes with nothing I can do about it and all I wish for now is that I could have just one more Birthday or Christmas with my family, or just one more day with my partner and dog. Just one more.”
And Holly insisted that whilst we should take care of our bodies, we shouldn’t become obsessive about it.
She explained: “I tried to live a healthy life, in fact, that was probably my major passion.”

Holly said to live a healthy life but not become obsessive
“Appreciate your good health and functioning body- even if it isn’t your ideal size. Look after it and embrace how amazing it is. Move it and nourish it with fresh food. Don’t obsess over it.”
She added: “Eat the cake. Zero guilt.”
Holly’s words have resonated with many, and the post has been shared almost 60,000 times since it was posted last week.
This story comes after a mum discovered her bloated stomach was incurable ovarian cancer.
Earlier this year, a student, 20, who thought she was pregnant discovers her ‘baby bump’ is ovarian cancer.
Fabulous readers trek the rugged landscape of Oman to raise money for breast cancer charity CoppaFeel
Brit mum to marry a US killer Justin Erskine doing life – and move over with her kids to be near him

gazed into her boyfriend’s eyes as he sat across the table and asked her to be his wife.
But this was no ordinary marriage proposal.

Mum-of-three Emma Pickett will marry US prisoner Justin Erskine after writing letters for five months
It was only the second time West Midlands mum Emma had met her American boyfriend, Justin Erskine, and they were not sharing a meal in a fancy ­restaurant.
Instead, the romantic encounter was in a maximum security prison and Erskine could not go down on one knee because he had to stay seated at all times.
The 30-year-old is serving life for first degree murder and will never be released.
But mum-of-three Emma has agreed to marry him and move her family from Stourbridge to the US so she can be near him.
The 33-year-old said she knew things were getting serious when she told her children aged 14, 12 and six

Emma, 33, says: “Justin is just so good with them and he really cares.
“They all get on so well. My son and Justin were playing a game of battleships together recently and Justin tries to call my youngest every night to read her a bedtime story.
“They call him by his name but my eldest daughter does refer to him as her stepdad.
Erskine was found guilty for his role in the brutal killing of two men in June 2006, after an argument over drugs. He supplied the knife used to stab one of the men and then helped bury the bodies.
The pair have exchanged 1,600 letters between them since they first wrote to each other
Emma, a care assistant, met the lifer after becoming pen pals with him last year through the website
She is backing a petition to free him and says: “There is a stigma attached to it but it is not the case that everybody in prison is automatically a terrible person.”
The proposal came five months after she sent her first letter.
She says: “It’s a case of when you know, you know. Although we’ve only known each other a short while, we had an instant, strong connection.”
Emma says that when she visits Erskine they are allowed to hug and kiss for 30 seconds
When Emma knew things were getting serious, she decided to tell her children, aged 14, 12, and six.
She says: “I censored some details because you have to be age appropriate. They know he’s in prison though.
“They could see how happy he made me and were excited.”
The ceremony will be held in the prison’s chapel and Emma has already bought their rings.
Erskine is serving life in prison for his role in a brutal killing of two men in June 2006
She says: “We have to take part in a marriage seminar, which won’t be until September. They only hold them once a year.
“We can have a couple of people there so I’ll probably take my mum and sister.
“He’ll have some of his family there. They allow minimal decorations and flowers.
“When you go for a visit, they’re quite strict with clothing so I will have to wait to see what they allow. I’m still looking for a dress though.”
Erskine was involved in an argument over drugs and he supplied the knife that was used in the murder
There will be no honeymoon and prison rules in Delaware mean they will never consummate the relationship.
Emma admits: “We try to have that intimacy in other ways. We have letters that detail more intimate sides of the relationship.”
She visited him in November and has another trip planned this month with her eldest daughter.
Emma says: “She is so excited to visit Justin. I will take her to one of the visits and I will go on my own for the second.”
Emma says the ceremony will be held in the chapel in the prison
“My ex, Mark, just wants to see me and the kids happy.
“He has actually written to Justin to try and make this a positive experience for the kids, especially as we will be moving over there.”
Emma decided to write to Erskine last April after discovering on his profile that they shared a love of poetry and books.
Erskine replied to her letter the following month and Emma says: “He was open about what he’d done but he asked me to make up my own mind. He didn’t want to influence me at all, so I did a bit of research myself first.
Emma has already gotten her wedding ring that is engraved with ‘ah, its you’
“He was sentenced to ‘natural’ life without the possibility of parole.
“It was appealed but without much luck. He was only 18 when it happened. When you’re young you make decisions you perhaps wouldn’t with experience on your side.
“I don’t think the sentence is reflective of the crime.”
Since their first correspondence, they have exchanged 1,600 letters between them.
Emma believes that her fiance’s sentence is not reflective of his crime
Emma says: “It started with one a week but by the middle of June we were sending up to four a week.
“I could talk to him about things I’d never talk about with anyone else.” But by the end June, she knew her feelings towards Erskine were more than just friendship.
Emma says: “I did have a moment where I thought, ‘I’m falling in love with someone that potentially might not come out of prison.’
“I really had to weigh up my feelings. I went into it with my eyes open. I could have stopped writing but I knew my feelings were strong.”
Emma says she isn’t waiting for him to get out of prison to have their lives together because they are living their lives in the best way possible
The first time the couple spoke to each other was last July, on a three-way call with his sister.
Emma says: “It was quite nerve-racking. But the moment I heard his voice the nerves disappeared.
“He told me he loved me. It was pretty emotional.
“His sister heard and so did my kids. They started crying.
“When I first told my mum I was writing to someone in prison she said, ‘What do you want to do that for?’ But they’ve talked on the phone and she just wants me to be happy.”
Erskine popped the question on her second visit to the prison in Delaware
As a birthday present, her mum gave her the money for a plane ticket. Emma flew out to meet Erskine at James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in Delaware for the first time in September.
She says: “When I saw him through the glass in the door, my heart was pounding. I stood up and we kissed.
“He isn’t behind a screen or handcuffed. We are able to hug and kiss for around 30 seconds at the beginning and end of the visits.”
It was during Emma’s second visit to the prison on the same trip that he popped the question.
Pill hunt ends in slaying
ON June 5, 2006, 18-year-old Justin Erskine was working as a landscape gardener. He and his colleague, David Hamilton, had the day off because it was raining.
One of Hamilton’s friends gave him money to get some drugs – percocet – which is a strong prescription painkiller that can cause heroin-like effects.
As they drove around searching for it, they picked up two men, 32-year-old Trevor Moncrief and Raymond Ward, 41.
They told Hamilton the drugs could be found but would have to drive to the source. But while trying to buy some drugs they were set upon by a gang, who Hamilton believed was trying to rob them.
They decided to leave, bought the drugs from elsewhere and went on to pick up another friend of Hamilton’s, Jesus Aviles.
The five men started to argue about whether Moncrief and Ward had set up Hamilton and Erskine before Aviles shot Ward in the face. Aviles then shot Moncrief in the head.
Hamilton decided to bury the bodies in woods in Maryland, and enlisted the help of his sister’s boyfriend. But while the two men and Erskine were getting ready to leave, they discovered that Moncrief was still breathing.
Erskine handed his butterfly knife to Hamilton and told him to “finish him off”.
Hamilton did so and Moncrief died shortly afterwards. The three men drove to Maryland, dug graves and buried the bodies.
Erskine was charged with first degree murder, possession of a deadly weapon during the commission of a felony, tampering with physical evidence and two counts of conspiracy.
He refused a plea deal that included a prison term recommendation of five to 15 years and relied on the defence of duress.
She says: “He wished he could have made it more romantic, but it was to me. There were only a few other people in the visitors’ room so it was quite private.”
Emma will permanently move to the US with her children once the couple get married.
She knows she may never see him in the outside world.

German workers strike for right to two-year, 28-hour working week

Workers have downed tools at more than 80 companies across Germany as the country’s biggest union stepped up its campaign for a 28-hour working week to allow employees to improve their work-life balance.

In what is shaping up to be the biggest industrial dispute in the metalwork sector in three decades, more than 15,000 employees took part in warning strikes at factories including those of the carmaker Porsche.
The IG Metall union, which represents around 3.9 million workers, wants every employee in the metal and electrical sector to have the option to reduce their working hours for a total period of two years, with the automatic right to return to full-time employment afterwards.
German family policy took a shift in 2007 when a so-called “educational” benefit mainly aimed at mothers was replaced with a “parental benefit” that can be shared between the mother and father of a child.
Under the union proposals, workers who opt for a 28-hour week in order to take care of young children or ageing parents would get an additional allowance of €200 per month. Those who want to take a break from doing shift work with a high health risk would be compensated with €750 per year.
With the German economy in robust health and unemployment at record lows, IG Metall is also calling for a 6% pay increase across the sector.
Nightshift employees of Kirchhoff Automotive take part in a strike in Iserlohn. Photograph: Guido Kirchner/AFP/Getty Images
“We want employers to recognise that traditional gender roles in modern families are changing, and we want workers to have the chance to do work that is important to society,” a union spokesperson said. “In the past, demands for more flexibility has come at the cost of workers. We want to flick a switch so that flexible working also benefits workers.”
Employers’ associations have rejected the union’s proposals, complaining that it would be too costly if, as predicted, up to a quarter of companies’ staff switch to the 28-hour model.
“We cannot meet the demands for compensatory wage increases,” said Oliver Zander, director of Gesamtmetall, in an interview with Die Welt newspaper. “At a time when there is a shortage of skilled personnel it would be mad to give an incentive to reduce urgently needed operating volume.”
Germany has around 1.1m job vacancies, and in a recent poll by the German Chambers of Commerce and Industry (DIHK) more than half of all companies cited a shortage of skilled workers as the biggest risk facing their business.
The employers’ group has compiled a legal dossier arguing that IG Metall’s proposals are illegal since they discriminate against workers who have already opted to permanently work fewer hours.
It has further argued that employers could only allow some workers to work shorter hours if in turn the union allowed others to sign contracts for a 40-hour week.
In Germany, where large companies are required by law to have workers’ representatives on their boards, industrial relations have traditionally been more consensus-based than in Britain or France.
The last major dispute in Germany’s metal-working sector came in the 1980s, when union demands for a 35-hour working week led to months of walkouts at factories across the country.
IG Metall launched an unsuccessful campaign of strikes in 2003 aiming to introduce a 35-hour working week in the states that formerly were part of East Germany. Fifteen years later, many metal workers in the former GDR continue to work 37 hours per week.
In Britain, where collective bargaining has over the years become dramatically decentralised, 37-hour working weeks remain the norm in the metalwork sector, in spite of efforts by the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions.
A third round of collective bargaining is scheduled to begin in Germany on 11 January. If the talks fail to yield a compromise, IG Metall could move from warning strikes to targeting individual factories with full-day stoppages.

‘I was a drunk party girl, out of control every night of the week’
Catherine Gray: “If I uncork that bottle of wine I’m going to drink it all”SARAH CRESSWELL FOR THE TIMES

If you enjoy a drink, there are many words you might associate with sobriety. “Blessed relief” might be the reaction of anyone doing dry January after a heavy Christmas. Your next-door neighbour may see not drinking as a boring fate worse than death, but wherever you are on the sobriety spectrum, one word you probably don’t associate with it is “joy”.
So Catherine Gray’s book, The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober, makes for, well, sobering reading. Gray, a recovering alcoholic, wants to offer hope to those who, like her, are hopeless drunks. She wants to make us question our reliance on drink and the way in which society pushes it on us. Mainly, though, without being remotely preachy, she wants to convince anyone who’ll listen that a booze-free life isn’t just worth living, it’s better. Sobriety is an improvement, she argues. Sobriety is a joy. Which is quite a turnaround for someone who says that for 21 years she was the drunkest girl at every party.
“People who can stop at one or two drinks find this really hard to understand,” says Gray, a vision of clear eyes and glowing skin, at her home in south London. “If I uncork that bottle of wine I’m going to drink it all. Not drinking for a night took the most superhuman effort and I felt cheated and pissed off. That’s just how I am. It’s how I always was.”
So legendary was her drinking that her friends turned her name into a byword for drunkenness. “I got Cath’d last night,” they would say if they went out on a big night and got hammered.
I’d wake up in strange beds with no idea how I got there
Yet for Gray, as time wore on every night was a big night and the consequences started to mount. There was the night when she ended up in a Brixton police cell for being drunk and disorderly, and the nights when she woke up in a stranger’s bed, wondering how she got there. There were all the times when she called in sick and the office Christmas party where she jumped in a hot tub topless, then had to endure the shame of realising, the next day, that her boss had heard about it. There was the day when she necked a miniature bottle of wine in the office loos first thing, just so that her hands would stop shaking enough for her to type her password.
“There’s a mass societal belief that the password to fun is booze,” she says. “As soon as you order a soft drink people are, like, ‘Don’t be boring!’ There are messages everywhere that the way to stay sane as a parent is to drink wine, and how ‘sober’ and ‘so boring’ sound the same. We need to start a conversation about addiction. We need to have people willing to stand up and say, ‘I’ve been addicted, I’m not ashamed.’ It’s about people feeling they can say, ‘Me too.’ ”
Gray was a shy, anxious child. Her parents divorced when she was ten years old and her mother moved to Birmingham, leaving her father behind in Ireland. At the age of 12 she started drinking with her friends and at 13 they started going to clubs.
“I remember thinking that alcohol was what would embolden me to get on to dancefloors,” she says. “It was what I’d been waiting for.”
By the age of 17 she was having her first blackouts and when she went to university “the wheels fell off and I just drank. I’m amazed I got a degree.”
She scraped a 2:1 in English and media and got a job working as a journalist at Cosmopolitan magazine. “You’d get invited to parties every night. You could fill your boots for free, but everyone else made it into work the next day.”
By her late twenties she knew that her drinking was sliding out of her grasp. She stopped keeping drink in the house and tried going to the gym straight after work. She switched from wine to cider, “because I thought, ‘It’s wine that’s the problem!’ Not drinking.” Suffice to say it wasn’t. She kept a diary of how many units she was drinking and dutifully noted in it all the alcohol-free days she was going to have each week. The aim was four. “I think I managed it once. The lowest number of units was about 40 a week, but there were weeks when I was drinking 50 or 60 units.”
All the alcohol was locked in the garage, which is how she ended up drinking Listerine
In her early thirties she hit rock bottom several times. She was dumped by her long-term boyfriend and started drinking at home because she was too sad to go out, but still wanted to get drunk. She went freelance and started drinking during the day. Her parents wrote her letters saying that they were worried about her behaviour. She ripped them up. She moved from wine to spirits because it got her drunk more quickly. Then one day, after an argument with her boyfriend, she googled painless ways to commit suicide and, as she did this, realised that she needed help.
There followed five months of failed attempts at sobriety. She would manage it for days or weeks, only to fall off the wagon. She moved back home to her mum’s, where all the alcohol was locked in the garage, which is how, one day, four years ago, she ended up drinking Listerine. Some mouthwashes contain alcohol, and Gray was desperate for the smallest hit to take the edge off. However, mouthwash isn’t meant to be swallowed and if you drink enough of it, she discovered as her stomach twisted in knots, it can kill you.
She decided there and then that enough was enough. That was when she was 33. Now 37, she has been sober ever since. She went to Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for six months and had weekly sessions with an NHS addiction counsellor. She kept a diary of her efforts and spent hours reading sober blogs and websites, drawing inspiration from people who outed themselves as addicts and picking up tips, not on how to endure sobriety, but how to enjoy it.
She joined something called a gratitude group, an idea so hippy she rolls her eyes as she mentions it, but it helped: the people in the group emailed each other, met up and actively searched for reasons to be grateful and for all the ways in which not drinking had made them happier.
She likens sobriety to learning a new language. What fires her up is challenging our social and cultural associations with alcohol. The endless, lazy association of drinking with fun.
“Alcohol is constantly pushed on us,” she says, “but in the past four years I think people have become less judgmental about non-drinkers. Millennials are much more likely to go for brunch at weekends and do a Spinning class than go and get trashed like me and my mates used to do. We could be at a real turning point.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing. She found dating difficult without the crutch of a drink and the prospect of sober sex terrified her. She dreaded moving into a world where she couldn’t go to bars or gigs, but has found that she can and it’s fine.
After 60 days she found that not drinking was easier and now it’s a habit. She realised that for years she had confused a need to relax with a need for a drink, so these days she books a massage, or reads a book.
“There are so many different ways to segue from tense to relaxed, but the thing is they take a bit longer than a drink. But the further away you get from it the easier it is. I want people to see that it’s not this dreary existence that they think it is.”
Mostly, though, she feels relief. Relief from the treadmill of drinking, from the craving, the guilt, the self-loathing, relief that her life is under her control, that she will meet deadlines and wake up where she intended. She hauled herself out of addiction by summoning enough self-esteem to believe that she was worth it, then getting help.
“I think of it as an emancipation, not a deprivation. I love everything about sobriety: I don’t do mad shit any more. I don’t get in a hot tub topless. I don’t wake up in a jail cell. I don’t spend my last £20 on Jägerbombs instead of food. My life was not fun. Everything about my life is better. Everything. There’s not one exception.”

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