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When my sister, Evelyn was diagnosed with cancer in April 2007, none of us knew we were about to embark on a fifteen month journey with her. She had been trapped in what she described as a dungeon of alcoholism for a very long time and this diagnosis of cancer was, ironically, the very force that freed her. Fifteen months is a very short time, but Evelyn was to pack more into those months than some people pack into a lifetime. She took her place once again in her beloved family, getting to know her nephews and nieces and re-connecting with old friends. But most importantly, she let us back in once more and allowed us to shower her with all the love we had for her. In return, she overpowered us with the love she had for each and every one of us. Evelyn was a unique human being. She was the most non-judgemental person I have ever known and accepted everyone for who they were faults and all. She had an uncanny ability to hone in on what made a person tick and people found they could be completely themselves in her presence. She was as skilful a hair stylist as our mother, Alice, was a dressmaker and her years at the helm of Mai Hair Fashions on the Clontarf sea front were probably some of the happiest of her life. It seemed to me at times that Evelyn was also running a counselling service, for her clients would often emerge from her hair salon not only looking better but also feeling better after the time spent with her. Evelyn was a font of wisdom, mixed with a good dollop of common sense and a generosity of spirit and of pocket that knew no bounds. She also had a wry sense of humour that cut through the absurdities and injustices that life throws at all of us sometimes. Evelyn faced her illness with bravery and courage and each of us, her sisters and brothers, extended family and her many friends, has a unique story to tell of those last precious months with her. This is my story. Thank you Evelyn. What a time we had.
appointment. How she’d warned me on no condition was I to call the District Nurse, or anyone for that matter. How I’d paced back and forth in the kitchen, texting Geraldine, Máire, Margaret and Dave, needing help but not knowing how to go about getting it. How Margaret had texted me to say she couldn’t stay in work any longer and would come as soon as she could. How Geraldine rang to say that she too was on her way. To my enormous relief, they both arrived within minutes of each other with Dave
“headachy” and holds her head in her hands sometimes when no one is looking. She never complains and apologies sometimes for being “sick”. She never talks anymore about dying and fixes me with a warning eye when she says “I’m going back to work on Wednesday”. Everything is always in the future. “I won’t eat now, I’ll eat later.” She hasn’t eaten anything of substance now for twenty-one days, ever since she got the news that cancer was back in her mouth, in that most awful place under her tongue.
last week, the batch loaf, the jelly, the soup, the kiwi fruits, the chicken drum sticks, have all, one by one, found their way into the bin uneaten and unused. She walks down the hallway and sits in her chair. I make tea for us both and for a while, all is normal. We talk of everything under the sun, like we always do. She admires my hair and whips off her turban to see if hers is growing back. We agree that it is. I tell her it is time for me to put her hair out on the lawn because the birds
I said. “No, we won’t” said Evelyn quick as a flash. “I’m going home, remember.” Friday 16th May 2008 John and Trish left this morning with promises they would be back in a couple of weeks. Evelyn had already called me. “I was wondering what I should wear home today. My cherry or my black?” “Wear your cherry,” I said. “It’s triumphal. You’re going home.” “Yes, I thought that myself. I just wanted to check if you agreed. Black and white was perfect for yesterday, meetings and things, but
16th 2008: 9.50 am Last night, Kerry rang to tell me Evelyn had upturned a pot of tea over herself and it had seeped through the bed clothes onto her right hip, scalding it. Máire is visiting the hospice first thing this morning and will let me know how she is. I didn’t sleep very well last night and when I saw the sky brightening, I filled a flask with coffee and drove to the seafront to catch the sunrise. I sat on the wall and waited there, cold, while the sun pulled itself out of the sea.