My little brother Kenny
Kenny and I had a strong bond, I was his big sister and he was my world. I loved my little brother and always worried about him. He was my life and I cared for him from the day he came to live with me and my foster parents until the day he died.
Kenny didn’t have the best start in life, his family found it difficult to care for him so he came to live with us at the age of 18 months. I was seven at the time. Like me, they loved him and decided they couldn’t bear for him to be taken away, so they decided to adopt him when he was four years old. We had a happy childhood, and Kenny gained lots of new brothers and sisters, in fact our parents fostered around 100 children over the course of 20 years.
When Kenny was 18 he married a girl who already had three children. He adored his new wife and the children and enjoyed being their new dad. That all changed when an ex-boyfriend came back on the scene and sadly Kenny’s wife went back to him. Kenny’s heart was broken and I think this was a turning point in his life.
Over the next few years, Kenny spent time in prison; he had drug and alcohol problems and spent a lot of time in rehab. Actually his happiest years were the ones he spent in rehab in Bournemouth; he loved the sea. He was clever with his hands and helped to make props for the local theatre group and he discovered a love of acting, taking part in plays. He carved a beautiful totem pole from wood, which is on display in Bournemouth town centre.
Kenny never could settle anywhere for long, so after seven years he left Bournemouth and came back to London where he ended up sleeping in a tent in Finsbury Park with a group of people who all looked out for each other. He was eventually given temporary housing which wasn’t perfect, but he had his own room and he started to build a new life for himself.
Just before Christmas last year, Kenny found a lump on his neck and was diagnosed with head and neck cancer which had spread. I went with him to every hospital appointment and held his hand while he had radiotherapy. He rallied round at first and I thought he would make it, he really fought against this horrible disease.
During that time he had a couple of stays on the respite ward at St Joseph’s which was really good for him. When he was at home, the Social Work team from St Joseph’s used to visit him often. When he had issues about getting his benefits, the team came to help him and when he got into rent arrears, due to a clerical error, they also helped him fight the case, which we won. He couldn’t have done it without them.
Unfortunately Kenny’s health deteriorated and the Community Nurse Specialist from St Joseph’s encouraged him to come to the hospice. It had become harder to manage his pain at home, although he never complained, and he really needed help, we all did. He was happy and calm at St Joseph’s but he could never really settle for too long. He was always in and out, walking up Mare Street, which was fine as long as the nurses knew where he was.
The Social Work team visited Kenny daily on the ward and were so kind to him. They worked with Kenny, reminiscing about his past and discussing his fears about death and dying and how this might be. They spoke a lot about his concerns for me and looked at ways that I could be supported, one of these was making a memory box.
For me, the social workers gave me emotional support and carer support. Allowing me the space to talk about my relationship with Kenny and my anticipation of grief about losing him.
On the 13th August Kenny became really unwell. It was midnight and I stayed until 1.30am when he finally settled, and then I went home for some rest. I’d just got into bed when the phone rang; it was St Joseph’s and they told me to come back as quickly as possible. When I got there Kenny had passed away. I was devastated that I wasn’t there at the end but I know he was well looked after.
Four months on and my world has changed forever. I still come to St Joseph’s Hospice for bereavement counselling. I will open the memory box that Kenny made for me but I can’t bring myself to open it yet but I will.
I’ll come in and see Hannah, the Social Worker and we’ll do it together. I know St Joseph’s will be there to support me as they did throughout mine and Kenny’s journey.
The theatre company that Kenny loved so much are going to dedicate one of their passion plays in his memory. It’s a lovely way to pay tribute to him.