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Jan Markby's Uncle Tom

06 September, 2019

Regrettably there has been both a sibling and some friends to whom I have had to say goodbye to after their struggles with terminal illness but the first and the one that has stayed with me for decades happened in 1960 when I was 12.

My Uncle Tom who had two daughters and an adopted son was a merchant seaman. He was a tall well built man who we called Popeye because he was the quintessential sailor, a strong fit man with an anchor tattoo on his forearm. He used to let us swing off of those forearms calling us little monkeys as he strode around the room with us squealing with laughter. Then one day Mum told us that Uncle Tom was unwell and that he would be in hospital for a while so our cousins Joanie, Dianne and Keith would be living with us for a bit so Aunty Joan could be with him.

We lived in a small village on the edge of Dartmoor and the District Hospital was quite a distance away. I can't remember how long Uncle Tom was in hospital but when he came home he was no longer the jolly giant. Aunty Joan had set up a bedroom for him downstairs and we used to go to spend time with him there, he no longer had the energy to tell us funny stories to make us laugh.

Day by day, bit by bit, little by little he wasted away in front of our eyes it broke my heart to lose my favourite Uncle that way.

I shall never forget the last time I saw him alive. No longer the man he used to be in any shape or form. A mere skeleton with sallow skin stretched over his bones in so much pain unable to speak, unable to recognise us. Later on I found out that Uncle Tom had stomach cancer and had had undergone surgery to remove a large part of his stomach in an attempt to save him.

Given the prognosis I'm certain that if he had been given the option he would have spared himself the physical pain and his loved ones the psychological pain of watching his decline into certain death.

Jan Markby, January 2019

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