A while ago, the BBC broadcast a documentary made by Sir Terry Pratchett, about euthanasia. I intended to watch but, having forgotten it was on, managed to see only the last 20 minutes or so. Even this much proved too much for me to handle (as I should probably have predicted it would, given my much documented 'problems' dealing with mortality) and I sank into something of a depression. One symptom of this mood was a rather long and rambling stream of tweets on twitter, in which I spoke of a cousin who had lost his life to cancer many years ago. One follower opined that while what I was saying was interesting, it was hard to keep up on twitter and I should maybe write a blog about it.
My desire to keep these reminiscences in roughly chronological order (although that hasn't worked out exactly), coupled with the fact that once my mood lightened I didn't really want to throw myself back into the Dark Place straight away, has meant a bit of a wait, but now, here we are. Or at least, here we are at the beginning of the tale. There will be more.
Mathew was my cousin/uncle. He was born to my Uncle Eric and his first wife, but when that marriage fell apart and his mother (I can't remember her name, but then I think I only ever met her once) disappeared from the scene and wanted nothing to do with him, Eric decided that he couldn't handle raising a child alone and Mathew found himself being raised by my Grandparents. Hence his insistence on us calling him Uncle, which was nothing if not really fucking annoying.
And there's the rub. Mathew, or the memory of Mathew, is something of a sacred cow in my family. He died young, and not in a very pleasant manner, so of course he must always be spoken of kindly. So I don't speak of him. You see, I only knew him as a child, have only my childs-eye opinion of him to go on, and consequently have very little in the way of nice things to say about him.
The first time he came to stay with us, it was in the very early stages of his illness. We all knew he had been poorly, but we didn't know with what, or how serious it was. He himself gave no indication that he was anything less than 100%. We were told though, that we had to be nice to him, that we had to include him in our activities, and that we had to 'take care of him'. This last directed at me of course, as the oldest. It was easier said than done.
Everyone hated him. Seriously, everyone. He stayed with us for a week and day by day our group got smaller and smaller as one person or another decided they didn't want anything to do with him. He was arrogant, he expected everyone to do whatever he wanted to do at all times, and he spoke to people like they were shit on his shoe; I wanted to punch him on may occasions and am genuinely surprised that certain of my friends didn't do just that; thy weren't a bunch that were shy with their fists.
Now, I know what you're thinking; he was ill and we should have cut him some slack. Well, as I say, we didn't know he was ill. We knew he had been ill, but we had no reason to think he still was. Even he himself didn't know. He was, so far as we could tell, just a spoiled brat. Maybe he was spoiled because the adults knew the extent of what lay in store for him, I don't know, but that didn't change how the situation appeared to us. All we knew was that this kid was behaving in ways that would have seen us get the hiding of a lifetime, and getting away with it, while at the same time doing nothing at all to endear himself to us. We couldn't wait for him to leave.
Do I regret, now, that we didn't treat him with more kindness? Do I wish we had known what was down the road for him, so we could have made more effort to enjoy the time we had. I'd like to say yes, but if I'm honest, I don't think it would have changed anything. Regardless of what we knew or didn't know; regardless of how long or how short his remaining life would be; the truth remains the same. He wasn't a very nice person. At the most, we might have made more of an effort to pretend to like him, because that's what you do, right? Our true feelings would have remained the same though.
I often think back to those days and wonder what it says about me. Am I a bad person because I didn't like him? I don't think so; he gave ample reason. A better question perhaps, is am I a bad person for not feeling worse about it now?
Maybe the answer to that one is yes, I don't know. Maybe by writing this post, and putting these thoughts out there for the world to see, I am exacerbating my guilt; they say, after all, that you should never speak ill of the dead. No story of my life would be complete without him, however, so I must write about him, and I'm afraid to do so in any other manner would be to be a hypocrite.
So there you are. I am a heartless bastard. Who knew? Oh, yeah, everyone who reads this blog knew, that's right. I'll leave it there and I'll be back next week with another memory of my terrible youth. I'm a twat in that one too.