Farewell to our dear friend Rabbi Lionel Blue
Epilepsy Society has paid tribute to Lionel Blue, the nation's much-loved Rabbi who has died at the age of 86.
The Rabbi rose to fame as one of the most popular contributors to BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day slot. But he was also a great friend and supporter of Epilepsy Society, drawing on his own personal experience of epilepsy to raise awareness of the condition and also to help raise money for the charity.
'Wonderfully funny and normal'
Former trustee at Epilepsy Society Sally Gomersall recalls how she and Rabbi Blue had both attended a gala dinner for the charity in 1996.
'I had just undergone epilepsy surgery and was talking at the dinner about how it had changed my life. Rabbi Blue was talking about how he coped with seizures and the impact they had on his life,' she said.
'It was the first time I had ever heard anyone talk openly about their epilepsy and he spoke with such humour and made it so wonderfully funny and normal. It was really uplifting and inspiring.'
Once in a blue moon
Epilepsy Society's chief executive Clare Pelham said: 'People like Rabbi Blue are gold dust. Ironically, they come along once in a blue moon, and with great generosity are able to share their own very personal experience of a condition that affects hundreds of thousands of people, making them feel less alone and more able to cope with the daily impact of seizures.
'We are very grateful to Rabbi Blue for his wise and wonderful words .The listeners of BBC Radio 4 were able to enjoy his thought for the day. Our supporters were able to enjoy his thought for life. We will miss and remember him always.'
The article, below, about Rabbi Blue was first published in our magazine Epilepsy Review, Issue 1 2010.
Rabbi Lionel Blue believes that if you can laugh about your epilepsy, it can help dispel melancholy and myths. Here he shared his uplifting take on life with Epilepsy Society.
The creases on Rabbi Lionel Blue’s face bear testament to the fact that laughter really is the best medicine. The 80-year-old Rabbi, who has entertained millions of Radio 4 listeners for many years, makes no secret of his epilepsy.
At the start of his one man Audience with stage shows he insists on the house lights being up and explains to the audience that flickering or flashing lights may cause him to have a seizure.
Although that is the truth, the Rabbi also uses it as an excuse to engage with his audience. He likes to see their faces and gauge how his witticisms are being received.
Talking about epilepsy
He also likes to be the last to leave after his performance and enjoys a personal drink and a chat with the audience during the interval and after the curtain comes down. It’s during those moments that people tell him how pleased they are that he talks about his epilepsy.
On one occasion I had an aura before a seizure and knew I had to get myself to a place of safety. I was passing an antique shop and had just enough time to step inside and settle myself safely on an antique Victorian chaise longue! Once the seizure was over and I explained to the antique dealer he was very understanding.
‘For some people epilepsy is a sort of “spook” in their mind,’ says Rabbi Blue, ‘but when you talk about it the horror goes. And if you can laugh about it then even better. Laughter is a way of coping with problems. To my mind, bitterness and anger hurt you – humour and laughter release you.’
For Rabbi Blue a diagnosis of epilepsy took many years to reach. For a long time he put up with odd feelings of ‘fuzziness’, which he likens to a badly tuned radio. And although he had the odd fall, because he didn’t lose consciousness, the connection with epilepsy was never made.
First seizure at a funeral
Today he makes light of his first tonic clonic seizure which occurred while he was conducting a funeral. ‘I’ve had seizures in all sorts of places – even by the side of a canal in Belgium,’ he says. ‘It took time for doctors to piece together my history and come to a diagnosis. During my worst period I was having two or three seizures a day.’
Rabbi Blue’s seizures often used to be at their worst during periods of emotional stress. He was devastated when his first long-term relationship ended. ‘To be honest at that time the seizures were a release,’ he continues. ‘The epilepsy somehow cleared my mind of the woe I was suffering. It seemed to release me from a ball of anger. And the fact that I ended up on a hospital ward on several occasions also brought me peace. I realised that while I was in hospital all my problems were on the other side of the ward window. The medical staff were all so kind.’
He also believes that thanks to his epilepsy, he experiences more than his fair share of human kindness. ‘If you’re open about your epilepsy and explain, people do understand and then want to help.
‘On one occasion I had an aura before a seizure and knew I had to get myself to a place of safety. I was passing an antique shop and had just enough time to step inside and settle myself safely on an antique Victorian chaise longue! Once the seizure was over and I explained to the antique dealer he was very understanding.’
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