October 07, 2006

I never really knew him

My uncle Nick: he died, on Thursday I think. My brother called to tell me. He was 47 or 48, died of cancer. It was diagnosed in June and he was told he had just weeks to live: but he seemed to improve, went from being on a ventilator in his sister-in-law's house to, when I saw him at the end of August, being up and about and getting ready to go home to Bradford. He'd got his hopes up but when they did the diagnosis again it was still grim and perhaps this knocked him flat: early in September he suddenly developed pneumonia, the cancer got in his bones and after a few weeks in Hammersmith Hospital he died.

There's a deep split in my family between black sheep and white. He, like me, was one of the black ones. He'd even been to prison - for possession, as it happens. I liked him when I met him. I thought he was one of the good guys, interested in life (though he had little left to him) and disinterested in money, greed, ambition, intolerance of his fellow citizens. I would have liked to have known him: to have had time to know him. But after my family exploded, I didn't see him for twenty years, and then only briefly - and then, not again until it was nearly time to go.

I saw him, after that twenty-year hiatus, shortly after finding out that my other uncle - his brother Patrick - lived near me in Acton. I'd not seen Patrick for those twenty years either, but after learning where he lived I went round, off the cuff, and said hello. We talked, about our lives and where they had gone, about how illness (for he, too, had been ill) makes you appreciate the value of life. The emptiness of things material and their pursuit. I said goodbye to Patrick and arranged to meet again soon. A few days later my brother called, to say that he had died after collapsing suddenly while jogging round the park. I never really knew him.


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