His death was soul destroying, at least it was as far as I was concerned. I knew it was going to happen but that didn’t make it any easier. The death of someone you love is always difficult, watching them die and knowing there is nothing you can do about it is far worse. Four years of training, Five years as a qualified nurse and I still couldn’t help him. Uncle George’s death was slow; cancer is a horrible way to die. I remember the day we got the diagnosis, - it was his birthday.
Some birthday present, - I just couldn’t believe it. Some of the patients I’ve seen told me that they were so stunned when they were diagnosed that the news didn’t sink in, and they didn’t know what to say or what to ask the consultant about treatment. I didn’t feel like that; I just felt incredibly angry. Why him, Why of all people should it be him? I knew there was no answer but that didn’t stop me asking.
Then there was the reaction of this family - though they are my family too in a way. They seemed to think my feelings were not as strong as theirs were, “after all he wasn’t a blood relation.” I think that’s nonsense. I agree I wasn’t related by blood, but Uncle George (I always called him Uncle George) was my Godfather and we were very close. He bought me up almost single-handed for the last Twenty -Three years so as far as I’m concerned the fact he’s not a blood relation is completely irrelevant. He did have treatment; Surgery, Radiotherapy, Chemotherapy but nothing made any difference. I had to watch him waste away, in the end there was nothing left of the lively, energetic, healthy man I knew. There was nothing but Skin and Bone.
It all started two years ago, shortly before his Fiftieth birthday. He had been feeling tired, losing his appetite and losing sleep. He put it down to old age but I was worried. I don’t know why I was so suspicious, it seemed normal enough at first; I just had a vague idea that something was wrong. Instinct I suppose. I persuaded him to see a Doctor and have some tests done, the Doctor referred us to a specialist, next thing I know we’re sitting in a consulting-room and he’s told that he’s got cancer. I didn’t know what to do and I burst into tears. I should have been comforting him; instead it was the other way around. He had been both mother and father to me since the day my own parents died in a car accident when I was Five years old.
I can remember that day quite clearly. I stood in the school play ground on my first day at nursery school as I waited for my parents to come and collect me. Three ‘o’ clock came and went; at half-past Three the teacher rang our house to see where they were, there was nobody in. After another fifteen of getting no reply she rang the police. I wasn’t worried at first, but after a while I thought they had abandoned me, or that I had done something terrible to make them disappear.
The teacher took me to her house and I had tea there. Then the police rang; my parents had been involved in a car accident. George was told and he drove forty miles to the hospital, only to be told when he arrived that they had died five minutes before his arrival. He came to the house and told me. I didn’t understand death; in a way I still don’t. He’s cared for me for nearly Twenty-three years and now he’s gone.
I don’t really remember the funeral. I remember his family trying to comfort me, and yet, even then I felt that they didn’t care as much as I did. I remember standing at the graveside feeling miserable at the thought that I would never see him again; guilty because I wondered myself if I had the “right” to be as upset as the rest of his family; and angry, very, very angry with the world, with the Vicar and God. I felt like screaming at the Vicar, “if God is so bloody wonderful, why did he let this happen?”
After a while I felt relieved because he wasn’t in pain any more, then I felt guilty again, because I thought this meant that I didn’t care any more. Coping with his brother was difficult; he wasn’t really unkind, he just didn’t seem to understand how I felt. The reaction of George’s family to the news that he had left the house to me was almost unbearable. I wouldn’t have minded if he hadn’t left it to me. But from the way they carried on, you’d have thought that I poisoned him to get my hands on it.
Then there were other people’s reactions. Some people didn’t know what to say, but I didn’t mind that, because somehow it seemed as if they understood far better than the people who did talk. I remember Mrs Morton’s comments: she compared my grief at his death, with her feelings about the fact that her favourite China Plate had smashed! I nearly screamed at her, “you stupid women that’s not the same as losing someone you love”. Except that when I thought about it, I thought that perhaps the comparison wasn’t totally inaccurate. After all, in both cases you’re left to pick up the pieces.
After I spoke to his family I realised it wasn’t that they didn’t care how I felt, or even that they felt that I couldn’t have been as upset as they were. It was just their way of coping with their grief. We get on better now, and they don’t really mind about the house, and I have tried to come to terms with it. I can’t stop missing him; but I also can’t let it take over my life - that’s the last thing he would have wanted. So I’ll just have to go on picking up the pieces.