The woman in bed had yellow skin and she was breathing low. She wore a thin white nightgown that rose and fell as she breathed. The woman in the bed was my Nana. Nana had cancer. Cancer was a word grown-ups talked quietly about, in corners or in whispers on the phone. Cancer was a capital letters word. It was written in bold black and underlined. Cancer was killing my Nana. I understood that, but I couldn’t cry, because my Nana had already gone and I had cried already. The woman in bed wasn’t the Nana that I knew, who played cricket with me, who bought me robot dinosaurs from the hospice bazaar, who taught my sister and I table manners; how to hold the spoon just so when you ate soup. That Nana I knew was funny and lively and she loved me. The Nana in bed just laid there, in the musty hospital room, breathing low and every now and again asking ‘what’s all this fuss?’ in a small, angry voice. Mummy said it was the drugs that made Nana like that, that made her confused so that she thought that we were making a fuss, when we were really all around her bed because she was dying and we loved her. But Nana still sounded angry when she said it.
When we weren’t at the hospital we all stayed at Nana’s house because it was close by. My Mummy, my Daddy, my sister and my aunts and uncles all slept in borrowed beds or on sofas, ate breakfast at Nana’s table and brushed our teeth at her sink that still had all her talcum powder bottles and lotions around it. My sister and I were sad and bored when we weren’t at the hospital, so the grown-ups played Monopoly with us. I was the hat, my sister was the boot. The game didn’t end the whole time we were there; the grown-ups didn’t let us win like you might think they would, but they didn’t win either. The game just went on and on, until my sister and I had huge piles of pretend money and houses and hotels everywhere.
The game didn’t end; it just stopped one day.
Mummy came from the hospital on the morning of the fifth day at Nana’s house. Mummy or one of my aunties stayed by Nana’s bed in the nighttimes, in case she died in the night and no-one was there. That seemed like a good idea – it would be bad for Nana to die and for none of us to be there. It would be lonely and no-one should be lonely, especially if you are dying because that was the loneliest thing of all. Nana wasn’t lonely when she died, because Mummy was there with her when she did. Mummy came in on the fifth day and told us that Nana had passed away in the night. Mummy was calm when she said this, but as soon as she finished, she cried so hard that she couldn’t breath and fell down onto her knees, then onto her side on the floor. She was breathing too fast and I didn’t know what to do, so I just stood there in Nana’s dining room. Daddy didn’t know what to do either, he just stood there too, looking a bit cross and a bit sad. Luckily my aunties both knew what to do and they knelt over Mummy and told her to try and calm down, to breath and asked if she wanted water. Eventually, she got up and Mummy and my aunties hugged and cried. My sister was sitting at the Monopoly table and she started crying too, sweeping piles of coloured money onto the floor with her small hands, then all the plastic houses and hotels.
For the next few days the grown-ups talked about funerals and wills and solicitors. They argued a lot. Sometimes one of my aunties would walk out into Nana’s garden and cry. Daddy spent a lot of time outside fiddling with the car, coming in now and then for a cup of tea and a quick hug with Mummy. My sister and I played Monopoly, on our own and with our own rules, not the grown ups’. With our own rules we won a lot of money but we didn’t feel like we were really winning it.
On the eighth day at Nana’s house we went to her funeral. Nana went to a Baptist church, so they had the funeral there. I sat in the back of a big black Rolls Royce, with a silver angel on the bonnet, that drove us all to the church. On the way I saw the shop were Nana used to buy me cola bottles and comics and I thought about how she wouldn’t be able to do that anymore. The vicar took the service and talked a lot about how Nana loved God and that God loved her too. I felt angry that he was only talking about God and not all of us, Nana’s family, because we loved her and she loved us and we saw her all the time and if God had loved her as much as we loved her then he wouldn’t have let her die. I wished that he’d shut up. As I was thinking this I looked at Mummy. She was crying, but without making any noise and Daddy was hugging her across the church pew. I looked to my right and saw my sister was crying too. She was looking at Mummy like she wanted Mummy to hug her, but Mummy was too sad to notice. I thought it was bad that my sister was crying with no-one to make her feel better, so I gave her a hug. Her tears made my shoulder wet and cold, but I felt good that I could help her. After all, the worst thing was to be lonely.