In the book I mention that after selling my café and property I spent a couple of months helping my sister Marie nurse her husband Ralph through his terminal brain cancer. I would like to expound on that experience as it was so life-changing.
When he came back home after three weeks of respite, the living room was all set up for him with an adjustable hospital bed. He could no longer stand or go to the toilet and this was the hardest thing for him, having to wear adult “nappies” and be changed like a baby by his wife and sister-in-law. I deeply admire those who devote their lives to taking care of people who cannot care for themselves as I just don’t have the stomach to be able to do that, although one doesn’t know what they are capable of until they are put in that situation!
Marie needed to wear two hats; one as a care-giver and the other of a grieving wife, which she had to put aside as she needed to remain strong for him. There would be plenty of time to grieve afterwards, and if she needed a good cry to let it all out, she did so at night all alone in the bed she used to share with Ralph.
Being around someone who is dying is a roller-coaster ride of emotions but I have never felt so alive and appreciated life so much through having had this experience. This was the hardest thing I have ever done so far, but also the most rewarding, as it stretched my soul. I couldn’t believe that I had actually contemplated taking my own life many times as I now realised that it is such a privilege and a gift, not to be wasted or squandered.
When I had some free time every day, usually during the long stretches when Ralph was asleep, I would enjoy the late summer sunshine and fresh coastal air, walking, running and cycling. However I couldn’t help feeling guilty that Ralph, a keen cyclist and outdoorsman, was stuck inside, confined to a bed, so as I sped along, full of joy and appreciation for life, I would say to myself, “This one’s for you, Ralph!”
The spiritual aspect of the final few weeks of Ralph’s life was so tangible and electric that it blew my mind. About a week before he passed a lady came up to me and asked for the time. I wasn’t wearing a watch so I took out my phone and it said 11:11 in large numbers on the screen. I told her the time and she walked away, but for some reason my gut feeling told me that this number meant something. I told Marie and after that every day as 11:11 approached we wondered if this was going to be the time of his passing, but the clock kept on ticking and so did Ralph’s heart.
By this time he was just on fluids and only lucid for short periods. One time, after we thought he wasn’t going to come out of it, he opened his eyes and looked at the both of us with a huge smile on his face, as though he had just seen something beautiful. He blue eyes, that had been dulled by age and illness, now sparked like luminescent, crystal-clear, light-blue sapphires. After recognising and saying hi to me he turned to Marie and they gazed lovingly into each other’s eyes and I snapped a photo that she treasures greatly.
Ralph had lost so much weight and sometimes he ran a fever so he would just be laying on the sheet wearing nothing but his adult “nappy” in order to cool him down. On one such day I walked in and was taken aback at what I saw. Marie had draped a wet washcloth over his head and for a moment it looked like shoulder-length hair. Along with Ralph’s short beard to complete the picture I saw the face of Christ, just as it is on the Shroud of Turin, superimposed on top of Ralph’s face and his body looked just like the body of Christ as it is depicted so often in paintings when he was taken down from the cross, draped in his mother’s arms, wearing nothing but a loin-cloth. I gasped and told Marie what I had seen and she said she had had the same impression.
Continued in Part 3