A phone rang through my dream.
I woke to darkness, hearing sound persist.
Reached the living room too late.
No message. Number unknown.
Who’d call at one a.m.?
I fell asleep, again.
By dawn, a recording has turned up, after all.
My uncle is in hospital.
I arrive on the ward. A nurse asks our relationship.
“Nephew: next of kin.”
“He’s been telling us what a lovely person you are,” she says.
“Must be taking strong meds!” I almost quip; but,
unsure humour is appropriate, only emit a subdued
Ray halts eating dinner. Complains about stress.
“Finish your meal,” I say, “I’ll go and have a word.”
Staff wheel his bed to a single room, I’d noticed.
“Wow! This is more like a hotel. Own lavatory. Lots of space.
How did you manage it?” he exclaims, delightedly.
Being intense in his enthusiasms, future visitors would endure
loud praise of my resourcefulness.
I imagined their eyes glazing over.
Discharge dates revised, his stay extended toward seven weeks.
One evening, as I readied to depart, Ray’s face changed.
Looking oddly young and vulnerable.
A small, unfamiliar-sounding, voice implored:
“You won’t forget me, will you?”
“Of course not,” I answered, tenderly.
His hand, that had clutched mine, relaxed.
A strange impression rose, of having glimpsed some inner child.
A few days later, gripped by an abrupt urge to visit, I suddenly stopped.
And found myself talking softly, as if he could hear me.
“Ray, I don’t want you suffering any more. I know you have to leave, soon.
There’s no need to hold on, just for me.”
Ten minutes passed.
The phone rang.
A matron from the Cardiac unit says Ray has died.
“When did it happen?”
“Ten minutes ago. He quietly slipped away.”
Blue curtains surround the bed.
Behind them a nurse declares,
“I’m going to give you a nice wash, Raymond. Is that OK?”
I felt briefly disconcerted.
She peeks out.
“I’m Ray’s next of kin.”
She allows me private moments.
I kiss his cold forehead, one last time.
“So sorry not to get here sooner for you, mate. Late as usual. Hate to say goodbye.”
I lift his lifeless hand.
Then place it, carefully, back upon the blanket.
I walk down shiny corridors.
With Ray’s belongings stuffed in carrier bags.
Trudge out, to chill November air.
Squinting at car headlights, amid bustle and noise.
In a city full of people I don’t know.
I had four weeks to clear his flat.
“Here I am again, Ray!” I say, stepping inside.
Light fell on his favourite chair.
I half expect to find him sitting there.
Everything is as it was.
Yet he is gone.
I kiss the spot his head would rest.
It has no scent.
Before obtaining a death certificate, I detour.
Along St Thomas Street, where he was born.
This day’s for him.
I brush each post and wall with fingertips.
The road’s deserted. No one sees.
I am hallowing the ground.
As I exit the register office, rain begins.
Seeking shelter in a covered market, I scan local papers.
“Day of the dead,” their headline reads.
Ray sought coincidences. I cannot show him these.
Back home, my mind replays our conversations, on the ward.
“You’d hold my hand all the way to the shops,” he said,
“and talk to everyone. Full of life. A joy to be around.”
“I thought I’d always been depressed?”
“Not til your teens. Once you gave up art.”
I asked his earliest memory of me.
“I came in from work, and there you were.
A baby. Lying, peacefully, on the sofa.
It was love at first sight.”
Thus, hand in hand, we neared the end
of our long togetherness.
As he moved beyond my grasp.
(Meanwhile, I could now anticipate
a bleak decease
without shared family stories.
No bedside visitors.
Nor human touch.
Having failed to win a woman’s heart.
An experience for others.
Next, recalling when
he’d gazed into the distance,
sighed, and said,
“I wish you’d been my son”.
we both fell silent.
Ray, who often talked profusely
lay, just staring upward.
Here the silence seemed
quite beautiful to me.
I didn’t want to break it.
Then Ray gave my hand a gentle squeeze.
And this is how
to remember him.
R.C.H. Webber (1923-2017)
I’m blogging the above work to mark the second anniversary of my uncle’s death,
Apologies for writing an unusually long post.
Comments are always VERY welcome!
(Especially on such a personal piece.)
Thank you all for reading.
( anxiety / art / blog / blogging / depression / life / love / mental health / photography / poetry / reading / relationships / writing )