I arrived at Candler Hospital in Savannah, Georgia early on the morning of Friday May 17, 2019. My goal had been twofold: 1) to beat the heavy influx of traffic between Rincon, Georgia (where I'd spent the night with Aunt Janice, only 10 years my senior and, like my brother, also battling cancer), and 2) to insure that I didn't miss the doctors' visits, which tend to be before office hours or scheduled surgeries.
I found my brother's room easily--we'd walked this path before. When I stepped through the open door, his eyes told me of his relief at my being there.
Only the day before had he called--the day of his endoscopy--to tell me the grim news. The cancer had returned; it didn't look so good this time. But, as he told me, "I'm okay ..."
As I'd driven from my home in Central Florida, leaving not 20 minutes after his call, I had cried out in my sorrow, knowing by a big sister's instinct, that my time on earth with my brother was drawing nigh. Even as the sun dimmed across my beloved marshes bordering the Georgia coastline along I-95, it also set on the two of us, the only ones remaining in our core family.
In spite of his illness and the havoc it had spilled into his life over the past couple of months ... in spite of lying in a hospital bed ... my brother looked both content and handsome. I grabbed my phone and took his picture. "I'm sending this out to everyone who is freaking out," I told him. "I'll also post it on Facebook."
"Good." he said. "I don't want anyone to panic until we know more." Even after, he wouldn't want anyone to panic; in fact he chose to remain fairly silent about the prognosis until it became evident to anyone who saw him.
Later that morning, after the doctors had left the two of us alone, after they had told us the horrible news ("The cancer is everywhere ... six months to a year ...") I collapsed in a chair across from my sweetheart of a baby brother, only 58 years old. I stared at my feet, I allowed my vision to focus on the pattern of the floor, unable to say much more than, "Okay then ... okay ..."
My brother called my name and I looked up. Tears shone in his eyes as he said, "I want you to know something ... something I've wanted to say for some time now ..." His lips quivered as he drew in a breath, a precious, precious breath. "You've been the best big sister I could have ever asked for."
Tears spilled down my cheeks. "I love you," I whispered, then walked to the bed, sat next to his thinning body, and wrapped my arms around his shoulders.
"I love you, too ..."
I arrived in Dublin, Ireland on September 13, 2019, nearly four months after my brother's declaration of love to me. My Irish friend, writer Clare Campbell, and I had gone to Bray, hiked up Bray Head, and then driven to the AirBnB we had previously reserved. We met the owner of the home situated in a quaint section of row houses with front doors painted in colorful welcomes, settled in, took showers and then dressed for an evening in Wicklow where we planned to have dinner at a waterfront eatery, The Lighthouse Restaurant.
Wicklow is the county town (or, the most important town) of County Wicklow, shadowed and lit by a sun that rose from the water along the east only to disappear behind the lush, rolling hills and jagged mountains toward the west.
After parking, we walked along Main Street--so quintessential in its appearance, I felt that I'd been dropped into a movie or television show set anywhere in Ireland. I commented to Clare that this lovely harbor town reminded me of the setting of Doc Martin, one of my favorite BBC shows.
For a while we slipped into a few
shops, purchased a few baubles and gifts, then walked down a set of ancient (by American standards) stone steps leading to where the River Leitrim gave way to the harbor itself.
We dined that evening in the tiny but warmly inviting restaurant, moaning our way through some of the best food I'd ever placed in my mouth! After eating, we enjoyed a cup of hot tea served in a lovely service. As I sipped from its deliciousness, I felt a tension I'd not been aware of sliding from my body.
"I'm tired," I said to Clare as we left the restaurant and walked along the harbor ... but it was a good tired. Not one born of exhaustion; this was contentment. I had survived one of life's hardest storms. I had watched a wretched disease eat my baby brother alive until there was nothing left of him to hold on to this life or life left for him to hold on to ... and I had somehow managed to draw enough strength afterward to cross an ocean.
Two years earlier, I had not planned this trip to be one of healing, but simply a vacation to treasure and enjoy ... but the healing had begun anyway.
As we headed back to Bray and to the house with the purple door where we would sleep over the next two nights, I noticed that the moon---luminous and full---had risen over the North Sea. Too exhausted to chase after it that evening, I made a vow to do so the next. Clare agreed. We were tired and my the app on my phone indicated that I had walked nearly 12,000 steps since arriving that day.
Besides which, as Scarlet O'Hara once declared, there is always tomorrow and tomorrow is another day.