In My Father’s Words
03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018
This was not happening! She had made a mistake, had wrongly interpreted what he had said to her. It was the effect of the operation, and she was still groggy. She smiled weakly.
“I’m sorry, can you say that again?”
“I said that you have cancer. I am sorry, but you need to know.”
The smile was back. “No, I’m in here for a broken leg.” An icy chill gripped her heart and her stomach knotted into a tight little ball. Her mouth was suddenly so dry that the words rasped in her throat. It was the voice of someone else, some person she did not know. She was almost unable to speak. The young doctor cleared his throat, his Adam’s apple jerking. He looked at the papers in his hands. He didn’t, couldn’t look at her. She knew then it was true.
“You probably remember we took some upper body x rays, before the operation to set your leg. This is normal routine.” He hesitated. “Well,” he still couldn’t look at her.
Inside Eva a deep anger welled, and from somewhere a silent scream burbled up. “Look at me, you bastard, look at me. You owe me that. It’s bad for you, is it? It’s a damm sight worse for me. Look at me.”
No sound came, however, and he continued, his eyes still on the paper in his hands.
“Well, we found a spot on your lung, and we know it’s cancer. We see from your medical history that you were diagnosed with skin cancer in 1993.”
“Yes, but that was cured.”
“No, I’m afraid it wasn’t. It has spread. We can try chemotherapy, of course. Your fair skin and blonde hair, you understand, they make you more susceptible.”
The silent inner voice shrieked again. What does he mean, ‘try’?
“I’m truly sorry, believe me I am. Your parents will be here in a few minutes time. I will discuss your case with them when they get here.” Awkwardly, he touched her hand, smiled a frightened little smile and scuttled away.
No, dear God, no. I don’t want this to happen. It can’t, it mustn’t happen. Not now, not now. Who will tell Chris? She couldn’t do it. Could they still have a baby? A further thought struck her like a blow on the head with an iron rod. Perhaps she was going to die! Was that what the young doctor was trying to say? No marriage, no baby, no painting, no music. Nothing. She would know the answer when her parents, Hugh and Barbara came in. The message would be in their eyes.
She lay in the bed, her nerves raw, her senses screaming. From outside her door came the low murmur of the hospital going about its business. Out beyond that door, people went about their lives, living people, loving, hating but living. There was a slight antiseptic smell in the air and her sheets were cold to her touch. Eva shivered. Oh, please God, let it not be true.
She knew the moment Hugh and Barbara came into the room. She saw it in their eyes. It was true.
Eva fought her cancer for just over three months, continuing to paint, even to go on stage. Eventually the effect of the chemotherapy and the medication, the loss of weight, and of her hair, and the increasing bouts of vomiting confined her to the house and then to bed. More and more she found some peace in drug induced sleep, until at last, she slipped into her final coma.
Eva Cassidy died on the 2nd November 1996. She was thirty three years of age. Her parents, sisters and brother were there at the end. Chris Biondo, her bass player, manager and fiancee, wasn’t; he had not been able to bear the pain of this final farewell.
In life, Eva had been a little known country singer. In death, due in no small measure to Paul Walters and Terry Wogan in this country, her pure crystal clear voice brought, and still brings, the joys of love, and life, to many. In 2002, six years after her death, Eva Cassidy’s album, ‘Imagine’, became number one in the British charts.
I close with the words of the haunting, traditional, Ulster folksong, ‘The Londonderry Air’, better known as ‘Danny Boy’.
If I am dead, as dead I well may be,
Then come and find the place where I am lying,
And kneel and say an ‘Ave’ there for me.
Written by my Father B.M