Waking up on Wednesday morning, the world was shocked to hear the news that Professor Stephen Hawking had passed away at the age of 76.
I was exhausted when I woke up on Wednesday morning, so I did something unusual. Normally I won’t look at social media until after I’ve showered, but hey, it meant five more minutes in bed. The news was at the top of my feed, a Guardian article posted at 4am. I sat up in bed, immediately awake, and told my partner. I couldn’t believe it.
Professor Hawking was a source of huge inspiration to our family. The day after Mum’s diagnosis, she talked about Stephen Hawking, who had lived fifty years with MND. That was Mum’s hope in the early days, when it was all so new and she was terrified of what was ahead. If he could live fifty years, then the average ‘six months to three years’ for her type of MND could go whistle.
For me, it was his attitude towards life that I found inspiring. As an undergraduate, I briefly met Professor Hawking during his filming of a Comic Relief sketch with David Walliams and Catherine Tate – long before Mum’s diagnosis. I was leading a tour of 14 and 15 year old boys who had had to wait in silence, in the rain, while they were filming. As we walked past, he smiled and acknowledged us – something so small that had all the pupils excited. I hope some of them did make it to Cambridge.
Every time I saw Stephen Hawking engaging with comedy and popular culture – from the Little Britain sketch to the Big Bang Theory and the Simpsons – I felt amazed by the strength of character, the man who could find light and joy and humour despite such an atrocious, debilitating condition.
Mum and I draw on a similar strength in our own fight with MND. Humour is a huge part of how we cope – daft jokes make us smile, and we can draw on that to help us face each day and enjoy life.
Stephen Hawking was able to achieve so much throughout his 76 years, 54 of which were spent living with MND. The vast majority of people with MND won’t have as long to make such an impact, which makes his death even more poignant.
He was an example and a symbol for hope, and now I hope that he was wrong, and is heaven right now.
For all those wishing to mark Professor Hawking’s life, achievements, and passing, the MND Association have set up a JustGiving page.