On my way to Savannah, I called Aunt Janice, my mother's stepsister who, being only a decade older than me, had been like a big sister to me my whole life. Aunt Janice had battled cancer for several years, but all-in-all, seemed to be doing okay. We spoke at least twice, sometimes three times a week and, when we did, our conversations could go on for hours. Aunt Janice entertained with her sharp wit and conversation whether she meant to or not. She could tell a story--any story--and leave you either weeping with grief or laughing hysterically. I rarely wanted our conversations to end, but she would grow tired or I would need to "get back to work."
More importantly, for me, since my mother's death in 2010, Aunt Janice had become one of the sturdy docks I could hitch my ship to. As I drove toward Savannah, I knew I would need her now more than ever.
The night before my brother's diagnosis, I arrived at her Rincon, GA home--only 18 miles from Candler/St. Joseph's in Savannah. We talked about the possibilities of what lay ahead. She declared that she'd warned my brother that this could be bigger than he imagined but that, she feared, he had played a dangerous game by not demanding the doctors "rush him through."
The evening of diagnosis, I called her on my way from the hospital back to her home to ask what I could pick up for dinner. She didn't ask any questions and I didn't offer any information. In some ways, I believe, she knew the worst was coming. Then, after eating, I gave her the prognosis. She pursed her lips as tears sprang to her eyes. She nodded once. It was all she could do.
Later that night, just as I crawled wearily into bed, I heard her call my name. I jumped up, dashed down the hallway and into the living room where I found her standing, holding onto a chair. "Honey, can you go to the garage and get my walker? I just don't seem to have the energy to walk on my own tonight."
The following evening, I had to feed her dinner; she was that weak. By the next day, she, too, had been admitted to the hospital and, by the next night, I sat in the living room with my cousin Carla, who had flown in from New York. Together, over the next several nights, we two nurses (both professionally and figuratively) spoke of what had transpired medically for our loved ones during the day. We sat. We sipped. We had already begun a mourning we didn't know could exist ... we had not yet begun to plan for it at all.
A few weeks after my brother's death and a little more than a week after Aunt Janice had rushed into the arms of Jesus, Clare and I woke up early on my first full day in Ireland. We had hot tea and buttered toast with jam for breakfast, then left for the Bray train station. We were headed for Dublin!
Our first stop--I'm not going to lie--was to a donut shop that had the most incredible, inventive donuts I'd ever seen. We scarfed down donuts and coffee, then headed down the busy sidewalks toward the Book of Kells, the number one thing on our itinerary for the day--our faces planted on Clare's phone's GPS, only occasionally looking up to enjoy the scenery of this old but modern city.
But ... we got sidetracked by the Museum of Natural History where we were awed by the displays and were yelled at by a security guard who informed us, after seeing Clare touch a zebra, that "the animals are dead, ya know!"
We both got the giggles. Gosh, if he had not told us the animals were dead, we would have never known it! Eventually we found ourselves in the gift shop where Clare found a book that would become prophetic.
After making a couple of purchases, we headed out, once again searching for The Book of Kells ... only to be stopped again by the National Gallery of Ireland, a building with lack of flare on the outside but that managed to make up for its lackluster once we stepped inside.
I could have lived and died there. Rooms stretched on forever, each one with high-peaked doorways leading to another room ... and another ... and another.
Never have I seen such exquisite art. Never have I been so overwhelmed by man's talents. A type of hush fell over us as we strolled from room to room, taking in and awed by
the various types of art. I created stories as I walked through the hall of portraits--who had these people been?--and was then especially moved by the paintings of biblical moments. At one point we stopped before a massive painting of Jesus and, as we craned our necks to take in the height of it, I declared, "How could anyone study the life of this one man, see what he accomplished--never mind the cross--and not believe."
Clare asked me what I meant.
"Our very calendar is formed around his date of birth. We live two-thousand, nineteen
hundred years after his birth. There are more paintings depicting his life than any others. More songs written about him than any other human who ever set foot on this earth. There are hospitals and cities named for those who followed him, including the ones my brother and aunt had been in. If that were not enough, bless God, we have the cross ... and the resurrection."
(I didn't come up with this on my own ... the book Who Is This Man by John Ortberg is a must-read!)
Although we were not able to see all of the museum, we stopped in the gift shop, made a few purchases, and then set out to find Trinity College and The Book of Kells.
This short excursion would become quite the adventure ... and one we had not planned on ... not in our wildest imaginings!
Additional photos from the National Gallery: