A cross on the wall in my aunt's room at Mercy hospital in Baltimore, MD.
Around this time two years ago, I had just celebrated a great, birthday weekend with Ian at the Pier 5 Hotel located at the Baltimore Inner Harbour. We were in town to attend the Cosmic Cocktail Party, just a few minutes away from the hotel, at the American Visionary Art Museum. We were surrounded by great food, drinks, entertainment and colorful characters. Very colorful characters. The backdrop didn't hurt either; the museum was filled with amazing sculptures that magically served as the highlight of the event's decor. Each floor hosted a diverse group of party-goers that allowed every guest to get in on the action. It was a wonderful night.

Perhaps our "old age" did us in, but Ian and I left the party a lot earlier than others. We decided to stop for a more intimate dinner at the Cheesecake Factory before heading back to our hotel. This gave us time to catch up on life, laugh a bit and just slow things down. Live in the moment, if you will. My shrimp and chicken gumbo was delicious, but the conversation between the two of us was even better. I thought to  myself, "I'm a lucky girl." (I just wish I could have bottled my "luck" and sprinkled it over my loved ones.)

Shrimp and Chicken Gumbo from the Cheesecake Factory in Baltimore, MD
While all of the festivities kept my spirits high and positive thoughts flowing abundantly, I could not help think about my aunt who was in a near-by hospital, recovering from a major surgery. Ian and I were going to pick her up for discharge the next day, after we checked out. So, I took comfort in knowing that we would get to see her in less than twelve hours. I just didn't know that she would be taking away more than a bag of her belongings, balloons, plants and get well wishes. Her burden was heavier than I could have ever imagined. 

The next day arrived. The air at the Inner Harbour was extremely crisp and refreshing. The sun peeked playfully under the clouds. I could hear the bustle of cab drivers and city-goers on the busy downtown streets. It felt and look like a promising day.

Ian and I took the short drive to Mercy hospital from Pier 5 Hotel. From a few blocks away, I could see the beautiful building towering over others near it, shining brightly in all its large-windows glory. It was a great gem amongst broken-down brick  properties. The green M-E-R-C-Y letters brought immediate attention to hospital and had more meaning than I knew at the time.

I had spoken to my mother on the phone and she had given me my aunt's room information. I wrote it down on a piece of paper, then tucked it in my purse. Upon arrival at the hospital, I fumbled through my purse to retrieve it as Ian and I sat in the hospital's garage. I found it, hopped out of the car and headed to the elevator.

If I thought the outside of the building was spectacular, I was in for a real treat when I walked into the lobby. There were enormous photographs and artwork covering almost every inch of the walls. The lines were clean. The lighting made it extremely bright and cheerful. No one would guess that there were sick patients on the other side of those tastefully-decorated walls. Even I did not know I was heading into a room where this was also my truth.

As Ian and I stepped off of the elevator and onto the floor where we were directed to, butterflies filled my stomach. I hated hospitals. They always gave me chills for some reason. Even when I delivered both of my boys, I wanted nothing more than to leave and reside in the comfort of my own home. And to my surprise, the elevator door opened and placed us in front of a sign that confirmed my dislike for hospitals even more. We were greeted by, 'The Cancer Institute at Mercy'.

I remember stopping in my tracks, turning to Ian and saying, "Did you read that sign?...It says we're on the cancer floor. This can't be right."

Ian looked at me with hesitation, shrugged his shoulders and began walking to help me get pass that moment.

I was stuck.
Like, stuck.

I walked slowly to the receptionist desk. I already had the room information, but I wanted to make sure I was even in the right place. For once, I was hoping to be given the wrong directions. I wanted the receptionist to tell me to turn around and head to another floor.

But, she didn't. Instead, she confirmed the room information and sent us on our way. My thoughts began to race. My palms grew sweaty. My knees weakened. My heart was heavy. I pushed open the large door to my aunt's room, pushed back the curtain slightly and there she appeared.

My fears were diminished the moment I saw her pearly white teeth. She always did have a big smile.

Just so you know how beautiful her spirit and how positive her outlook on life was, the first thing she asked me to do when I entered the room was to take a picture of her view.

"Do you have a camera? There's is this church over there (pointing) and it has a beautiful cross on the top of it. I want to get a picture of it."

She said it with such joy, like a kid who was let loose in a toy store and told to pick anything they wanted.

I took out my phone and shot a few pictures of her view.

A few minutes passed as we all sat and talked about random things. It was a big distraction from the real issue at hand. I knew that soon a nurse would enter the room and give detailed discharge instructions and update us on my aunt's condition. I was already preparing myself for that nasty word.

As we waited, I began to gather all of her belongings. Family and friends brought and sent flowers, cards and balloons. She was surrounded by love because she loved so many people. A statue of Mary stood out to me. I was as if Mary was praying for 'Mercy' for my aunt and watching over her as she laid in the hospital bed. My heart was warmed for that moment.

Finally, the nurse arrived. She made sure it was okay to talk about health-related issues while Ian and I were present. My aunt, in her normal care-free fashion, agreed. She had no secrets. The nurse began to talk.

The conversation sounded like this to me:

Blah. Blah. Blah. CANCER! 
Blah. Blah. Blah. CANCER! 
Blah. Blah. Blah. CANCER!  

I caught Ian's eye again. He could tell I needed his confirmation. My aunt, on the other hand, was nodding along and acting as if she was hearing a different set of words than we heard.

When the nurse left the room, there was an awkward moment of silence. I looked to my aunt with teary eyes and asked, "Did she say 'cancer'?"

My aunt shrugged her shoulders. Even she did not believe it. At least that is what I think. Still, to this day, I'll never know if she fully embraced that news when she heard it, whether she realized what was being said, or if she wanted to mentally numb the pain. Either way, I wanted to be there for her and respect her decision to delay acceptance.

I helped her get dressed, made sure the room was all cleared and we were on our way.

The mood changed quickly. I was silent. Confused. Sad. Angry. Upset. All of the above. I felt quite selfish for all of the emotions that I was going through because I was not the one who had been delivered such life-changing news. She showed great mental strength even though her body displayed the opposite.

I knew that life as we knew it, was no longer. 

This is the last pic I took as we were leaving the hospital that day.

I never shared this story before. I guess the wounds are still so fresh, having buried my aunt this past October. I still cannot believe she is gone from this Earth. We are told to never question God, but as the Father said during her funeral, "I think God made a mistake on this one."

My Aunt Bebe meant the world to me. Still does. Who would have thought that after all the years she spent being their for me, during all of my life's experience, I would return the favor for her in such a big way? My Aunt asked me not to share her struggle with cancer with anyone in the beginning. I drove her to chemotherapy treatments, administered needles and made medicine runs for her in the early stages. It had little to do with secrecy; she more or less hated to be a "burden" to anyone. She said she did not want people to start treating her differently or altering the way they acted when in her presence. She wanted life to stay the same. But as we know, it never did.

She lost her battle with cancer in the presence of dearest family and friends. Her life was taken, but her memory was preserved and etched eternally into our hearts. My aunt was the personification of selflessness, beauty and love.

They say you can forgive, but not forget. Somehow, I am finding it difficult to do either when it comes to cancer. It's ugly. It tears down any form of hope. It rocks your world.

Rest in peace, Aunt Beverly. Your love is my love. Thank you for all of the memories.
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