Monday, October 1, 2012

Vacation as balm

I am in Italy with my husband Joe and friends. We are taking our first "real" vacation in several years. We canceled the last one, scheduled for early May of 2010, in early March when Brandon called to say one of the nasal polyps he'd had removed from his right maxillary sinus the week before had shown a malignancy. Poorly differentiated squamous cell carcinoma. Surgery was in his near future and there was no way to know how extensive it might be. The maxillary sinus is just below the lower aspect of the eye socket and just above the roof of the mouth. It is to one side of the nasal cavity, the brain and a cheek. The procedure he was to have is called a maxillectomy. The surgeon was to strip the lining of his right maxillary sinus and cut out any area, including bone beyond, where a malignancy was noted.

I wasn't going anywhere until we discovered how extensive the surgery and recovery would be and what, if any, further treatment was needed. As it turned out, the maxillectomy uncovered a small area on one bone between his maxillary sinus and his nasal cavity, so that bone was removed. There was no sign of the cancer in any other area of the sinus. The surgeon thought he'd gotten it all, and we thought Brandon was home-free after a major scare. unbelievable relief and a new appreciation for our family unit followed that news.

Within the next four months, our house (finally) sold - about three weeks before our son Tony's wedding to Kristin in New Jersey. Their rehearsal dinner was planned, but invitations had to be ordered and mailed for Brandon and Christina's rehearsal dinner - exactly four week's after Tony and Kristin's - while finding a mover to store our furniture, since our condo wasn't going to be ready for months, and a furnished apartment willing to take us with our large dog Rudy in the interim! Our move had to take place smack dab between the two four-weeks-apart weddings and, in the meantime, we had to make choices on materials to customize the condo. However, the stressors of those weeks seemed minor after the weeks of wondering and worrying between Brandon's diagnosis and surgery.

Both weddings were beautiful and I think more joyous because we thought the big C had been found early and removed. But the big C is a nasty, sneaky bastard. Soon after returning from their honeymoon, Brandon saw the surgeon for a regular two-month check. The CT scan looked clear, but the doctor found an enlarged lymph gland on the left side of his neck. A closer look at his nasopharynx showed a "suspicious" area, which was quickly biopsied and found positive for poorly differentiated squamous carcinoma. Although Brandon said he didn't want to be a reason we didn't take a vacation, I didn't want to go too far or for too long from that point on.

The roller-coaster ride had begun with its many downs and ups, ending 21 months later with his death on June 2, 2012 - 17 weeks as of yesterday. I'd stepped off of one roller coaster only to step onto another. So when friends asked if we'd be interested in spending a late-September to early-October week at a villa not far from Orvieto, Italy, Joe and I jumped at the chance! It gave us something to look forward to and plan for during a difficult summer, and there is just something about Italy. It is a balm for the soul.

We started the vacation with three days in Rome. I didn't expect it when I first visited Rome several years ago, but I fell in love with this city. Its architecture is a hodgepodge of historical periods that somehow works completely, and the city exerts an energy that seems to have built through and continues to encompass its many millennia. The people of Rome fit the energy, and I think I came to appreciate their dry humor on this trip. Death - the past - and life today constantly rub up against one another and not always comfortably.

Throughout our days in Rome, I'd duck into one of the too-numerous-to-count churches here or there. I looked for and found a number of depictions of Mary cradling her adult son after his death on a cross. The first, a painting, was hung on the wall of a room outside what used to be the Pope's bedchamber in the Castel Sant'Angelo
and was soon followed by Michelangelo's Pieta in the Chapel of the Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. Later the same day and while on my own, I found a third - the Pieta Braschi - in a side chapel of the Chiesa del Gesu, the mother church of the Jesuits. Before leaving Rome on Saturday, I came upon one more pieta in a church between our hotel and the Pantheon, which appeared to be a bronze "copy" of Michelangelo's marble masterpiece in the Pieta Chapel. My favorite? Although Bouguereau's painting remains my favorite, the expression on Mary's face on the Pieta Braschi is second. She looks to be THE sorrowful mother. Michelangelo's pieta may be the most famous, but it doesn't capture the depth of this sadness. I'm sharing my iPhone photos of the various pietas I came upon in Rome, so you can judge for yourself.

Michelangelo's Pieta in the Pieta Chapel of St. Peter's Basilica

Bronze want-to-be in another beautiful church

Castel Sant'Angelo - in the chambers of popes of a bygone era

Pieta Braschi in the Chiesa del Gesu

Saturday we headed to a villa Rocca di Benano, which is tucked into a corner of Umbria that borders Tuscany and Lazio. But more on our time in Umbria at a later date...

1 comment:

  1. I love your background. I was lucky enough to see a collection of Bouguereau's paintings (Montreal, 1986 maybe) and their size and detail is so very moving. This Pieta is lovely!