The Healing Trip Part 16

(From my journal, dated Friday, August 2, 2019)

My brother sleeps. This means the pain, although not out of his body, is out of his mind. He sleeps and his hands move as though he is eating a sandwich. Or working on something intricate. I watch him, noting every detail until I cannot bear it another minute and so I walk out of the room, quietly so as not to disturb him.

As soon as I come around the corner of the nurses’ station, I see two of my angels—Carla and Jo Beth—walking shoulder to shoulder, smiling when they see me. They carry cups of Dunkin Donuts coffee and a box of Dunkin donuts. I smile at that. They have come to bring not only life’s necessary sustenance, they have brought donuts and coffee, too.

We step down the hall and into the waiting area where, for days now, the television has been turned to the Sci Fi channel and a Twilight marathon is being featured. I am not only sick to death of death and dying, these halls and these smells, I am sick to death of vampires and werewolves and people who seemingly live forever because of a curse they cannot escape.

My angels and I eat donuts and sip coffee and discuss reality while I attempt to keep my eyes away from a ghostly Robert Pattinson.

A photo I took from the end of the hall near my brother's hospital room. The nurse you see on the right is standing near his door. I blurred the image because that was how my life felt.

When I tell Carla and Jo-Beth that I am taking Van home and that hospice has been called, they both hesitate, concerned as to what may and probably will happen when we are alone. I tell them I’m not sure as well, but it has to be Van’s decision. They understand, but they are still concerned.

Later, Dr. Negreya stops by Van’s room bearing the news that nothing he does will change the outcome. Van looks up at him and says, “No more chemo, Dr. Negreya.” The good doctor looks sad—he will lose this patient. The outcome is not what he or any of us have hoped for. He shakes Van’s hand and says, “It’s been a pleasure, Van” and Van thanks him for all he did. Dr. Barnes comes by as well and I see the love and respect he has for my brother. They shake hands. “Man, you have so inspired me,” he says. “I’ll never forget you …”

Later, the social worker stops me in the hall. Her name is Cheryl and I like her a lot. “I’ve called hospice,” she says. "Everything is set up."

Okay … okay … okay.

Jessica calls. She is on her way up from Florida to see her uncle a final time. Donald and his grandson stop by as well. He and Van—the best of friends since childhood—share laughs and stories only they are privy to. Later, I walk Donald and his grandson to the elevators so I can update him better on what's next. That Van has stopped chemo. That he will see the face of Jesus sooner than we expected.

Halfway to the elevator, Donald stops, leans against the wall, and cries.


After exhausting ourselves at Edinburgh Castle, Clare and I decide that it's time to head back down the hill and toward the hotel. Our official check-in time has come and we're anxious to get our luggage from the storage closet to the room. Perhaps have a cup of tea to sustain us for the rest of the evening.

But halfway there, we stop . . .

There is a cemetery in Edinburgh . . . many, actually, but this one sits near the base of the castle and is adjacent to the Parish Church of St. Cuthbert, a church believed to have been founded between 600 and 700 A.D. We had no idea about this at the time, of course, but the solitude . . . the green . . . the hewed stones of witness to lives lived and lost beckoned us into it's walled sanctuary as if they'd been expecting us all along.

We walked along the intricately carved markers and impressive statues, breath caught in our chests, neither of us saying much. Time slowed. A breeze came through and billowed our clothes and tussled our hair with the tenderness of an old woman's fingers. I couldn't get over the ancientness of the burial ground. The reminder that, since time began, men and women and boys and girls have been born and, most times, lived and loved and died.

"Dying is as much a part of living as being born," my brother had said to the friend who couldn't grasp his news, and these reminders marked his words as truth.

People die...

Yet looming over us, beyond the high stone walls, the steeple of the church stretched toward the blue arch of the sky, reminding me that this ... this ... is not the end. And the cross that glimmered in the afternoon sun spoke of life everlasting and the one who had defeated the finality of death.

"I'll take one breath here," Van had told the doctor who'd brought the bad news, "and one breath with the Lord." And so, he did, and he had, leaving me to walk within gardens of stone.

Long minutes passed as we stopped to say several of the names of those who'd been buried there. We mourned over the lives of the children who'd not seen enough birthdays and ooh'd over the heartfelt tributes from loved ones to loved ones.

And then, we spilled out into the hustle and bustle of the city center as if death were no more and the busyness of life was all that was. We found our way back to the hotel easily (a first), claimed our luggage, found our room, and had our tea.

Life continued according to schedule.

Additional images of St. Cuthbert's Parish Church

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