The Healing Trip (Part 5)

Van and me, circa 1962

My brother would need another "J-Tube" or, as it is commonly called in medical circles, a jejunostomy tube, to receive nourishment. The J-Tube is a soft plastic tube which is placed, in Van's case, through the skin and into the intestine beneath the stomach. Two years ago, when a doctor had placed his first J-Tube, it had been a temporary thing. Something to sustain him until he could, again, eat.

This time, it would be forever.

Immediately before surgery, his surgeon gave reports of optimism, telling us that he was going to "go in and see if I can't get that bad-boy out of there."

That bad boy ... meaning the tumor.

The lyrics to "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" fluttered across my mind. Do what you can, yes, I thought. But don't do anything to make this worse. Heaviness sank within my own stomach at the thought.

Candler Hospital in Savannah, GA where Van spent nearly all of the last weeks of his life.

The medical staff from the OR at Candler Hospital came to get my brother late that afternoon. "I'll be right here," I told him as the gurney slid out the door and into the hallway. "I love you."

"I love you, too," he called back.

And then, I waited. I knew about how long the procedure would take, so I settled in and sent text messages to three groups: 1) the husband and children/children-in-law group; 2) the Kicklighter cousins group; and 3) the Purvis cousins group. In all three, at least one RN resided (and in the Kicklighter group, one doctor), so I knew exactly how much medical jargon to include and how much to leave out. I was immediately comforted by their words of prayer and well-wishes and especially comforted by knowing that one of the RNs happened to be only a mile and a half away tending to her ailing mother, my aunt.

I opened my laptop and started working on an editing project that now seemed one-part work and one-part salvation. At least I could think about something else for a while.

As the room grew dark, I realized that too much time had passed. I put away my work, got up, and walked into the hallway to the unit station where Van's nurse, a woman I'd come to adore, sat looking at her own monitor. "This is taking too long," I said.

Jennifer (not her real name) nodded. She knew of my own medical background, so we'd spoken openly about things. She'd previously shown me X-ray and other results and she had been in the room when the oncologist had given the awful report of terminal cancer. The one my brother didn't want to share yet.

After a few minutes of chit-chat, she said, "There he is." I turned, expecting to see my brother lying on a gurney, covered by a pristine white sheet, but instead his surgeon stood before me, eyes brimming with tears.

"It's worse than I thought," he said. And then he wrapped me in his arms and squeezed, something I knew was hardly commonplace. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," he whispered. "Van is such a good man. This isn't right."

I said little before slipping back into Van's room, followed by Jennifer who handed me a still-warm copy of the surgical report that had just come to her desk. I took photos of the pages, then sent them to the RNs and doctor in my groups. Again, I waited. Not ten minutes later, the door slid open and my nearby cousin stepped into a room lit only by the glow from the muted TV overhead. I stood, walked into her waiting arms, and began to sob. "Oh, Nancy," I said. "What am I going to do? What am I going to do?"


Clare and I stepped onto the train at the Dublin station, took our seats, and watched the world whiz by as we headed away from the city and toward Bray. Everything about the day had been perfect, including the getting lost. We couldn't complain, we were laughing too hard. Off and on we spoke of the events, but mostly we looked out the window, taking in the beauty of the Irish countryside, the hills and valleys, that slowly gave way to the harbor.

Clare, waiting for the moon to rise over the North Sea

Night was descending and a full moon was expected to rise soon, so as soon as we left the station, we got into Clare's car and drove toward the beach. Others had the same idea--to come and watch the moon rise. Or, as Clare so perfectly put it, to "catch the moon." They sat in both small and large clusters; behind us a man and woman snuggled against each other while, up ahead, a group of teenage girls circled a small fire to stay warm.

The water continued to ebb and flow along the pebbled beach as it had done the day before, creating whispered words that said, "I'm here ..." and then, "I'm gone." Clare and I eased ourselves onto the dryer rocks, ignoring the discomfort altogether for the splendor of the show. The wind picked up, bringing laughter from the others who waited as did we.

I kept my eyes turned toward the horizon where the Irish Sea disappeared like a waterfall, dipping to the other side of the universe. (Click on the link above for my video.) One by one, stars emerged in the orb of the blackening sky. They were brighter here than at home, I told Clare.

And closer. For a moment, I thought I saw one in particular wink at me.

Reach up ... and touch.

And then, slowly, a golden light peeked from behind the indigo waterline so far ... so far ... in the distance. "Look," I said. "There it is!"

The moon rose in all its fullness. In all its glory. Around us, "oohs" and "ahhhs" echoed within the breeze, blending with the light crashes of waves upon the shore.

We took photos but they did little to truly capture the beauty of watching something so brilliant return from its hiding place, playing peek-a-boo with those who wanted only a moment of its time. And it gave all it could give.

The day's events now lay upon our shoulders. We were tired. More than that; we were truly, happily fatigued. We spoke of how well we'd sleep that night, and we did.

Tomorrow ... tomorrow we would rise whenever we wanted, have our tea and toast with butter and jam, and then we'd drive clear across the island to the west coast of Ireland to the Cliffs of Moher. Easy enough.

But what lay ahead, we couldn't have anticipated.

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