This faded Polaroid is the last photo I have of all of my family together. It was taken in 1972 on my Mam and Dad’s 30th wedding anniversary. I am 20 and just about to go to University. It shows the three strong women who were the backbone of my family. My Mam, Edie, my big sister, Pat, and my younger sister Colleen. They were part of my life for as long as I could remember. Then within a short period in 2003 they were all gone.
Pat was the first to go. She had been ill for some time with cancer. We thought she had beaten it when she went into remission in the 1990s but it returned with a vengeance in 2002. She suffered for some months before finding respite in a hospice. During her final few weeks she was surrounded by her large family. All willing her to fight on and survive a little longer. She was a big women whose strength had helped many others but in the end it gave out. She died as we gathered at her bedside. Her final words were for her family who were heartbroken. My Mam looked on in disbelief. Unable to comprehend that her eldest child had died just as her eldest son had died so many years before. It was 19th January. In her diary she simply wrote “Pat died today”
Colleen was the next to go. We did not know that she was ill. I had taken my Mam to visit her some weeks after the death of my sister. She was worried about her husband Dean who had been diagnosed with bowel cancer. She mentioned in passing that she was having trouble with her eyes. But there was nothing to suggest that we would not see her again. I was at home when I received the call. She had collapsed at home and had been rushed into hospital in Leicester. Her condition was so serious that she had been transferred to a specialist unit in Nottingham. I went to collect my Mam and we waited for further news. She died from a brain hemorrhage surrounded by her close family. My Mam knew before I put down the phone that she was gone. She stared blankly in front of her. Lost in her own thoughts. It was 9th May. In her diary she simply wrote “Colleen died today”
My brother says that she gave up after that. The light had gone from her beautiful blue eyes. I don’t think that I saw her smile again. My last meal with her was a bacon sandwich which she could not eat. It was the last time I tasted meat. She went into hospital for the final few weeks of her life. As she became more ill she refused food and water. The last vigil had begun. My brother and I shared the visiting with my wife and sister-in-law. We were with her almost every moment. Yet a consultant chose to tell her when she was alone that her kidneys were failing and that she was going to die. I think she already knew. I was with her during her last hours. She was in a coma and her breathing became more laboured and shallow. There were no more words just the slow passing of one we all loved. It was the 10th July. The diary was silent.
Pat died in a room full of people. Colleen died with just her close family around her. I was the only one in the room when my Mam died but her bed was surrounded by the light of those who had gone before. Pat, Colleen, my elder brother and of course my Dad. For a brief moment we were together again as a family and then they were gone and I was alone once more.