The Healing Trip (Part 24)

From my journal dated Friday August 16, 2019

Sam Thompson texted: What do you need?

I texted back: I need a shower. I stinketh.

Because I did. I smelled like a morphine sweat.

I'll be there in twenty, she said.

Sam arrived a little after 9:30. We talked for a few moments while I gathered my clothes. "I won't be five minutes," I told her. I dashed into the bathroom, took a quick shower, then got right out and put on my clean clothes. I thought I heard voices, so I stuck my head out--slick from the washing. "Did I hear voices?" I asked Sam who sat on the other side of Van near the windows.

"The nurse," she said.

I nodded. "I'm just going to put on a little makeup."

"You're fine," she said.

I looked at Van. He continued to sleep, his breathing agonal. His chest rising. Falling. Rising. Falling. Every breath a struggle. A fight. A fight he will lose.

I returned to the bathroom. Applied mascara. Face cream. Lipstick.

Looked back out. Sam's eyes raised to mine.

"He's okay," she said.

"I'll dry my hair," I said. "This will take less than a minute." (No joke. Short, thin hair. Forty-five seconds, tops.)

As I started the process of drying my hair, a crazy thought came. "He'll pick now to die."

No sooner had the thought come and gone than I saw Sam in the mirror's reflection. I shut off the dryer and turned. "Come quick," she said, her arm waving me forward.

I ran into the room. The struggle of agonal breathing had stopped. His breath now came in puffs. I darted to the side of his bed, placed my hand on his chest, so bony, so skinny, then ran out of the room toward the nurses' desk, everything a blur around me. The receptionist took one look at me, stood, and shouted, "Libby!"

I ran back into Van's room. Sam now sat on the side of the bed nearest the windows, her eyes on her buddy, her friend. I slid into the chair next to the bed nearest the door. I placed my hand on his chest as Libby and another nurse walked in. They stood behind me.

No one said a word.

Van took a breath. Exhaled.


Took a breath. Exhaled.


Took a breath. Held it.

I watched his face. His eyes were half open, half closed. His jaw slack. His cheeks sunken.

The last breath left him, slowly, deliberately.

And the room stood still. Time stood still. It was over.

"Oh, Little Bro," I wailed, not caring who heard me. The agony of watching him die, the agony that had consumed me for 13 weeks, rushed out of me in a moment of my own torment. He was free, but I was now a prisoner of my own anguish. I pictured him, running toward eternity. Toward the Father ... the Christ ... our parents. While I . . . I was now alone. No one left. Just me. Mother, Daddy, I did my best . . . I did my best.

Libby's hands rested on my shoulders as the nurse behind her said, "Ten o'clock."

I sat up straight . . . and then, the strangest thing . . . I heard Van say to me, "You can only do what you can do, Jesse."

I could only do what I could do. And I had.

He had.

He had finished the race.

Crossed the line.

Broke the tape.


Clare, Diane, and I got up early and left for Dublin before the sun peeked over the horizon. I looked out one window, then another, trying to memorize the sweep of the hills, the feel of the air. Soon enough, the world grew brighter and, way too soon, Clare drove into the airport's parking lot. We pulled my luggage from the back of the car and pulled it into the airport, completely unsure where to go. But I had three hours, the required time.

Bing Image of the Dublin Airport, Dublin Ireland

Of course, we went to the wrong side of the ticket counters. Wasted time there. Then walked to the far side of the airport where I found the line I needed to be in. Which also meant it was time to say goodbye. We hugged, then three of us. Shed a few tears. And then, Clare and Diane left me to weave my way to the ticket counter where, wouldn't you know it, the wife of the couple in front of me couldn't find her passport. Time ticked by. Gracious. Finally, my turn at the counter. Luggage weighed. Luggage taken. Head to the right and through those doors.

The next two-plus hours were spent in a tizzy. The lines were painfully slow while the clock ticked ridiculously fast. Not making my plane became nearly a reality. Don't panic, don't panic. There are more flights leaving. Finally, after passing through Ireland's customs, I made it the duty free shopping area, not that I had time to even glance at the merchandise. From there I made it to the US customs. I glanced at my phone to check the time. My plane would board soon, and I was still in the masses of people not yet in one of the twelve lines that would get us to the gates.

Finally, finally I was instructed to stand in Line 6. There were two in front of me and... wouldn't you know it ... there was a problem, so I was told go now go to Line 10. I smiled, in spite of wanting to scream at the tops of my lungs, and went to Line 10. I pulled out my passport, handed it to the custom's officer standing on the other side of the table. He looked at it, then back at me. "Winter Springs?" he said.

"Yes," I answered.

"I'm from Winter Park!" he told me.

"Seriously?" And seriously ... I have about five-point-two-five minutes to get to my gate.

And then he told me how and when he and his wife had moved to Dublin. How much they loved it. Again, I smiled, my heart racing. Time ticking. But he had a kind face and . . . he held my passport, which he handed back to me. "Have a wonderful flight," he said.

I made it to the gate with only minutes to spare. By the time I got into my seat and stored my purse under the seat in front of me, I was exhausted! And it wasn't even mid-morning yet.

In no time, it seemed, I was entering JFK, grabbing something to eat, boarding another plane and headed toward Central Florida where my daughter waited to pick me up.

And take me home. But, already, I was planning my return trip to the Emerald Isle.

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