Delia's gone

In her mid/late teens Delia was a friend of the similarly aged Rod Stewart. This was even before Rod joined up with his pals to form The Small Faces - (the rest, as they say, being history). At that time he had painted on his guitar the American Blues title "Delia's Gone". Quite what had been on his mind with that I have no idea and if Dee knew she didn't say. But as I have reported in the previous episode, on September 9th 2013 we were informed that the cancer was terminal. She had but three months to live. Delia was going.

There are four district nurses attached to our surgery. All of them became such very good friends as well as essential support. Mary Ann, the Macmillan CancerCare nurse was an especially welcome visitor. It is difficult to explain her role because she didn't do 'nursing' as such, other than as a specialist go between with the local doctors. But the effect of her visits on my wife's morale (and therefore mine) was palpable indeed. She and her close friend Brenda Peace or one or other of the district nurses saw to much of her showering for me. One by one or couple by couple all the children came up to say their goodbyes. So did Delia's sister Gloria and her husband Peter. So did the two Hickey brothers, our landlords. Of course our local friends also wished to come in and sit by her bedside, especially Michelle and Yvonne, owners of the village shop who had been bringing her baskets of goodies throughout her illness - most of which she couldn't eat but which I surely could.  And our principal Burns Club friends, Ian, Jean, Tony and Ann. These were all, of course, very emotional visits.Towards the end Delia wrote personal letters to each of our sons and daughters, sending the daughters also some pieces of her jewellery. She was a truly brilliant writer. (How long since I had so constantly urged her to have a shot at writing stories for a living. Without success. She was always too self-effacing for anything like that.)

All her life Dee had professed a non-belief in the hereafter. Nevertheless amongst her many friends was one rather gloriously irreverent reverend called Pam Shinkins. One day she asked me to contact Pam and ask her please to come to see her. Over those final three months Pam was a frequent visitor. I usually left the two of them together so cannot be sure if she ever changed her beliefs. I would not have dreamt of asking that question of either lady then and cannot now. But what I do know is that Dee was invariably happier when Pam had been and gone than she had been beforehand. 

All the while the magnificent conservatory (aka 'sunhouse') addition to Kirkhill House was going on apace. Not ideal of course because of the noise and the inevitable dirt and dust, but we had agreed to this building work before moving in and we knew it would enormously enhance the living quality of our home when it was finished.. We were not to know how long it would take, nor that one of us would never live to feel its benefit..

In early November Dee asked to go into the Highland Hospice which is situated in the centre of Inverness. I was informed she made this request not to get away from my tender care but to give me a rest. It is true that, without realising it, the constant mental exposure to Dee's agony and to a lesser extent the physical wear and tear of looking after everything was eating away at me.Although the daily drives for Hospice visitations were then wearing in themselves, the week she spent there proved enormously beneficial for both of us. It is quite impossible to adequately praise its staff - as near to saints on earth as I feel I am ever likely to encounter. Sufficient to say that a private ten minute talk with the head doctor there left me on a totally elevated plane, all mystery removed, a certain conviction about the inherent goodness of humankind firmly in place. His answer to that most important question; how long does she have, doctor? It was said with ultimate kindness and without unecessary sentiment. Days, not weeks.  She wanted to come home to die, she said, and insisted I drive her - no ambulance again, please.

We made the car as comfortable as possible for her. I shall never forget that drive back over the hills, most of the time in a perfect silence and holding hands like lovers do. At a tiny drive-in called Tarvie she wanted her usual Magnum ice cream but could only eat a small portion of it and of course would not be able to leave her seat in the car until we reached home. By the time we got a far as the Inchbae hotel she was desperate for a drink of water. Shortly thereafter I stopped the car to allow her to empty her stomach and I told her if she didn't stop apologising I would finish her off myself. At least we could still have a laugh. When we reached the highest point of the journey she again asked me to stop. She (and I) spent five minutes looking around at the array of mighty,  Highland mountains, sun-kissed this day, then another ten minutes talking in the most relaxed way about our past and my future. When we got home I was so glad of help from our friend Chris, who happened to be passing by, in getting Dee out of the car and upstairs into bed. She would never leave it; she passed away one week later.

Delia Mary Islip died at 13.01 hours on Tuesday 29th November 2013. I had been by her bedside as she lay unconscious for three days and almost all of three long nights. I distinctly heard the slow expulsion of that last breath, stood up, straightened her bedclothes one last time, bent over to kiss her forehead and said some things to her - some things for her alone - and picked up the telephone. One of the nurses answered. "Delia's gone," I told her.

1 comment:

  1. One of the most amazing things about being human is our ability to see the miraculous beauty in the horrendous moments. This is a beautiful story.


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