The wife of the late comedian Brendan Grace has spoken about the moment he was told his cancer was terminal.
Her usual gregarious and upbeat husband asked to be left alone when his oncologist gave him the bad news, Eileen Grace recalled.
“Brendan was sitting at the side of the bed. He just got into the bed and he kind of went into the foetal position. And I could hear his breathing change. It was panicked.”
Eileen and their daughter Amanda comforted him, but “he asked us to give him a few minutes. He just needed to be on his own to take it in”.
When they returned, there was “sadness and grief in his eyes. The three of us hugged and cried and said we will get through this.
“He was thinking of all of us. ‘How is Eileen going to cope? What about the kids?’ But that evening, it’s like he settled it with God himself. You could see it. He handed it all over.
"Because Brendan was always in control — of himself, his business, his career. Always in control. And this was the first time he knew he wasn’t in control.
“Brendan was the kind of person who would always give you options.
"And this was the first time in his life there wasn’t an option.
"He sat up and said, ‘Well this is what it is — it’s out of my hands now. But the time that I have here, I’m going to enjoy it.’”
Eileen will soon fulfil one of her husband’s last wishes when she opens an exhibition dedicated to his career.
The memorabilia, which includes the late Dublin comedian’s ‘Bottler’ and Fr Fintan Stack costumes, his Yamaha motorbike and countless photographs and letters from stars such as Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli and Prince Albert of Monaco, will be on display at the Newbridge Silverware Museum, Co Kildare.
When she saw it in place for the first time, “it took my breath away. For a split second, the emotion of it, I was overwhelmed.
"And then it just brought me great joy and I’m so proud. Brendan was planning it before he passed away so his dream is coming true.”
Life without him has, of course, been difficult and sometimes she feels “like my body feels like its split in two. I am looking for him everywhere I go. I go out at night and I look at the moon and I’m trying to find his face.”
There was one “very strange thing” that happened shortly after his funeral, she says. “Brendan loved animals. We used to call him our ‘St Francis of Assisi’. Very shortly after he passed away, a cat arrived and it has been living on my kitchen window sill for over two years since.
"I have been feeding it — and that cat has not left me since. I don’t know whether it’s a sign, but it’s a comfort. Every morning I get up it’s at the window and it brings a smile to my face.”
The funny thing, she says, is she never liked cats before: “I said if Brendan was going to have the last laugh, he would send me a cat.”
She remembers one of the last conversations they had after almost 50 years together.
“One evening it was just me and him in the [hospital] room. We talked about missing each other and I said to him, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to handle this.’
"And he said to me, ‘You won’t have to worry. I will be with you. I will walk beside you every day.’ And he said: ‘Never let anyone ever call you the widow Grace. You will always be Brendan Grace’s wife.”
The Brendan Grace Exhibition opens at the Newbridge Silverware Museum on Thursday. Admission is free.