Looking for more in Scotland's Stories?

Sometimes the brightest stars shine for the shortest time

Author: Mrs Joyce Davies

Please note: this piece contains descriptions some readers may find upsetting.

He sat beside her, like he always did. Real close, touching her body. She could hear his laboured breath, she noticed it each time they met, but he never did. He had never known anything else. He was a tiny boy, his feet swung beneath as if trying to stretch them out to reach the floor. His arms swung by his side and his huge, gorgeous smile lit up her room.

His black scruffy hair was often across his eyes, but it never seemed to bother him. His tiny body worried everyone, for although Rhuairidh was six years old strangers would have guessed he was around four. Life had been tough, born weeks before he was due, months in a incubator, then more weeks in hospital with his mam never far from his side. Dad came sometimes but often had to look after his brother and sisters.

The first time she saw him, he smiled straight at her and told her his name. This little boy knew how to talk to adults. He also knew how to deal with pain and a huge amount of uncertainty. She quickly learnt that he knew how to protect his family from his worries so as he got to know her, she became someone to trust with his secrets.

They didn’t always talk when he came to see her, sometimes he would draw or write or even just curl up with his blanket on the chair and sleep for a bit. He knew it was his time, his space, and his choice. He looked around the room, saw the toys, the sand tray, the books, the paints and pencils. His mam had simply said he thought it would be good to have someone just for him to talk to. Not somebody who was going to examine him or take blood or do surgery, none of that. So, nothing to worry about, he had many many operations and knew every medical procedure on offer.

Rhuairidh knew a lot about life. He knew a lot about death too. He knew each day was precious. Since a baby he had made friends, a lot of the time in hospitals and many of them had died. He had dealt with loss for as long as he could remember. He sat in this room with the sun shining in the window and the toys around him and he told her that he was going to die. He asked if she knew that. She simply said yes. He said he wasn’t frightened. He said he wouldn’t have to carry this machine around with him in his backpack that helped him breathe. He said people would stop worrying about how hard it was for him to eat and he wouldn’t have this tube that went straight into his stomach so his mam could put food through it every mealtime.

Food meant nothing to Rhuairidh, she knew that. One session Rhuairidh was dancing around the room and singing a song. He spotted a bag of crisps in her bag, a snack that lunchtime hadn’t provided her with enough time to eat. Rhuairidh stopped still and turned and looked at her. 'Crisps,' he said, sounding surprised. 'What flavour are they?' 'Cheese and Onion.' 'Oh,' said Rhuairidh. He reached in with a cheeky grin and took the bag out.

'Will I open them?' She said he could if he wanted to. Rhuairidh looked surprised but opened them so fast a number fell on the floor, she quickly said it was fine and, putting those ones in the bin, she watched the little boy. 'Do you want one Linda?' Linda took a crisp and put it straight into her mouth, then Rhuairidh did the same. Over the next couple of minutes where the only noise was the sound of munching together.

Rhuairidh said he wanted to make a list of all the things he wanted to do. She knew he meant before he died. Linda just smiled, and together they got out a large piece of paper and big, bright colourful crayons. For the next half hour, they soon filled the page with plans, hopes and dreams. Some were things to do with his brother and sisters, some with mam and dad and some with his friends.

When he was happy with his big page, he looked at it and grinned from ear to ear. 'This is my life Linda, and I am going to make all this happen.' She nodded and said that she believed he would because he was a rascal and a very clever and determined one at that.

Over the weeks that passed Rhuairidh would come in to her room and find his large piece of paper. Whatever he had done since he had last seen Linda, he would put a tick and a smile beside. He was always pleased with himself and desperate to tell her about his achievements. She was proud of him.

Rhuairidh grew weaker, his ability to fight infection got less and less. Cystic Fibrosis didn’t dominate your view of this little boy because he was so much more than his illness. He was strong, he had great faith, he had love and he was loved.

'Sometimes the brightest stars shine for the shortest time, my granny says.' He was saying goodbye and they both knew it. That day he didn’t sit beside her, he sat on her knee and he held his blanket. He had written a letter for his mum and he asked if she would give it to her when he was in heaven. She said she certainly would. Again, he smiled. As he left the room that day, she knew he had left her life, but she knew this little boy had taught her some of life's most valuable lessons and in her heart, she celebrated the fact she had been so blessed to know him.

If you've been affected by this piece, please see our support page(this link will open in a new window) for help and advice.