He Was Feeling Blissful

18 Mar

Last month, my uncle discovered that he had cancer, and he went in for an operation which he was told had a 20% survival rate. Being very fit and healthy, he was confident about the outcome. He woke from the operation and told the nurses he felt “blissful”. But by the time the family and I arrived at his hospital in Leeds, he was in a coma.

He was allowed two visitors at a time, so I mostly accompanied my grandmother, his mother, to sit at his bedside. It seemed to us that, though he was lying still with his eyes closed, there was a difference in his face between one time and another; as though sometimes he was asleep and dreaming, and sometimes he was listening and aware.

I therefore made a point of speaking to him. I greeted him when we arrived, told him who we were and who was waiting for him in the waiting room. I told him what tests the doctors were doing on him and why, and when we left him I said goodbye and told him when we would be back. His other visitors spoke to him too. His mother held his hand and stroked it gently, telling him she loved him and would visit him every day.

I brought in my book to read to him during these daily visits. It was the biography of the naturalist Gerald Durrell, my childhood hero and role model. I have no idea what my uncle thought of him, but I hoped that the colourful images of Gerald’s childhood in India, and of his experiences with exotic animals, might be pleasant for someone stuck in a hospital bed. I felt it must be dull to be lying there hour after hour, day after day.

The doctors and nurses working in the ward began to find reasons to carry out tasks near my uncle’s bed when I visited. After a while, they began asking me when the next chapter would be read out. I liked this: having so many specialists close by meant they would immediately notice changes in my uncle’s health. Reading to him made him safe.

But in the end, safety was not enough to see him through. My uncle was not one of the 20% who survive the Whipple operation. He died with a head full of happy plans, blissful emotions, and perhaps some images of a small boy in India who had pet bears.

Gerald and me

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8 Responses to “He Was Feeling Blissful”

  1. Jigme Datse Rasku March 18, 2011 at 12:26 am #

    You knew Gerald? I see you got your photo taken by him. I’m so glad you got to meet him.

  2. IslandTiffiney March 18, 2011 at 3:02 am #

    Great post. I’m sure your uncle heard you, and was grateful for the story as well. I know for a fact that people in comas are aware of what is going on around them, and what is being said. How very kind of you all to comfort him in his final hours.
    I think the greatest mystery in life is “Did I impact anyone’s life for the better, and did I somehow make a difference?”
    I’m sure you all helped answer that question for your uncle.
    Thank you for sharing a part of your personal life with us.

    • Snailquake March 18, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

      Since his death, the family has been discovering that he didn’t just make a difference to us – he made a profound difference to the lives of a great many people we had never even met. We have been receiving really heartfelt messages about him from all over the world.

  3. John Champneys March 18, 2011 at 9:44 am #

    Well…
    Delightful!
    Nothing whatsoever to grieve about here!
    :-)

  4. astrawally March 18, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    I hope that I am blissful in my last days. He was a lucky man to be so loved. Excellent post.
    Much Love
    Astra Wally

  5. Brianda March 18, 2011 at 2:16 pm #

    What a beautiful experience of sharing. A treasure to hold through the years. Your response-ability amazes me. Thank you for sharing this experience. Brianda

  6. Wazeau March 18, 2011 at 7:53 pm #

    This must have been painful for you. Thank you for sharing.

  7. SEF March 19, 2011 at 8:10 am #

    I too have noticed the way full-grown adults (or even sulky teens) will sidle up (while pretending not to be there) when I’ve been reading to small children. Interestingly, it even happens on the occasions that I’ve been somewhere like the Natural History or Science Museum in London and was explaining something in a simple and demonstrable way to the youngsters with me.

    Its a shame it didn’t pay off for your uncle in terms of him getting better, but it may have made certain that they would have noticed if he had been in pain at all.

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