Carol Anthony and her parents and siblings will gather in Co Cork today for a very special birthday dinner at the Barn restaurant. It is a restaurant the Anthony family have been coming to all their lives and have nothing but happy memories of it.
With the best will in the world, however, the meal this afternoon on the Old Youghal Road in Glanmire won't be much of a celebration at all, despite tomorrow being Carol's sister Audrey's birthday.
Audrey would have been 50.
She died on January 21 at 4.30p m in her own bed, as she wished, at home in Killarney.
"It was Audrey's wish to go to her own birthday dinner," says Carol last week, sitting in the Soho Hotel in London where she is based. Her face is etched with the pain of losing her big sister to cancer so terribly recently.
They say grief is the price we pay for love, and that much is obvious with everything Carol says this afternoon in London about Audrey. "It's all a daze, a horrible daze that has not left me," she says. Carol - who lives in London with her partner, Liverpool Football Club's bona fide legend, Ian Rush - remembers getting a call the night before Audrey's death from her mother Catherine saying Audrey's condition had worsened dramatically and she better come home.
First thing the next morning, she arrived back in Cork to her "very distraught" parents. Carol wanted to be strong for them and tried her best to keep her emotions in check, she remembers.
They all drove to Killarney - where Audrey was living her last few weeks at her home - and spent the last few hours with her.
Carol was happy to be home in Ireland "before Audrey passed. It was incredibly hard to take and it is something that you can never be prepared for," she says, adding that the only peace she found - apart from Audrey not being in pain anymore - "was that my mother was with her when she took her last breath.
"She died in my mother's arms. She held her and gave her the comfort she needed."
Carol adds that she took great solace from the fact that "my mother was the first person Audrey saw at birth - and the last person she saw when passing. It was incredible."
Carol pauses to reflect on the spiritual magnitude of what she is saying. "It was like she waited for that moment to hear my mum's voice. My parents, Catherine and Leo, were so good throughout her sickness and Audrey knew it right to the end," she says of her sister who was first diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago. "She was given the all-clear but it returned worse than ever and spread throughout her entire body."
Almost in defiance of the disease that was doing its worst to kill her, Audrey "never once complained about her illness," Carol continues, fighting back the tears.
"She battled the worst of cancers. She had it everywhere and even towards the end she battled it with a smile. She was so brave you couldn't even imagine, against all odds."
"Audrey is our angel now," she sighs.
Asked how she has dealt with Audrey's death, Carol hesitates at first, then says with raw honesty: "I don't think you ever deal with it. My heart is broken. It is such emotional turmoil.
"The first instinct was to be there for my parents, I am the youngest. So I stayed with them and tried to help with the pain together. We prayed so much and that really helped - prayer is such a comfort," she says.
"We stayed together and helped one another. But when it was time to return to the UK I really fell apart, my parents and family weren't around and I really found it hard to settle."
"It is hard being away from home right now. Ian has been fantastic though," she says, referring to her boyfriend of two and a half years, Liverpool FC's all time highest goal-scorer, Ian Rush. "He is an incredible man, such integrity."
Born October 11, 1981, Carol was the youngest of nine siblings - Ruth, Avril, Veronica, Shane, Leslie, Keith, Redmond and her beloved Audrey - and grew up in Togher, a suburb of Cork city.
She has just got off a plane from India where the reality TV star (she was one of TV3's Celebrity Salon in 2012) turned pop star (she sang under the name Havana and was managed by former Wham! mastermind Simon Napier-Bell) was reading for not one but three Bollywood movies.
Last November, she explains, she had the chance to "shoot a documentary in India about the grassroots of football there and giving kids the chance to play football. Ian is in it. He couldn't say no to me!" she laughs. "It was also amazing meeting such great sporting heroes like Sachin Tendulkar" - former Indian cricketer, captain and all-round deity of cricket in India.
Carol is now an ambassador for the NGO, Reality Gives. "The work they do is incredible, it's based in the biggest slum in India and it is heart-wrenching but completely rewarding to help out."
The brunette also managed to bag herself a top agent in India. As a result, she says, she "shot some extra bits for a production recently, and I have been asked to read for three big Bollywood movies. It was great dressing in a Sari, and I felt the part," she gushes. "Saris are so elegant you truly feel like a princess when they dress you in one! The Bollywood casting director loved the fact that I looked Indian but spoke English," she says over lunch with her sometimes impenetrable Cork accent.
"I am going out there soon for my first meeting and have been offered a campaign to launch a jewellery brand! People really do not realise how strong India is."
Carol has just set up her own production company, Home-run Productions. So, how does she make her money now? "Making TV shows, the next project I wrote, and is in pre production, is an X Factor type show," she says. "I also dabble now in property and I have a bag company in the Far East. Everybody knows you've got to be business savvy if you want a good lifestyle!"
Is she rich? "I am very comfortable and I am healthy."
Not so healthy, sadly, was Carol's ill-fated marriage to Cork publican Bernard Murphy. They married in a bling bash for over 200 guests in Castle Oliver in Co Limerick in August, 2012. The marriage appeared to come to an end shortly afterwards. In September, 2013, in an interview for the Sunday Independent's LIFE magazine, Carol told me: "My marriage ended ages ago. My relationship with Ian just blossomed after that."
I ask her why did she get married to Bernard.
"Looking back I did things to please everyone else, I lost the sense of who I really was and what I wanted to do in life, if I had my time back I would have picked up the courage and said no. Now the majority of the time I live my life based on decisions from my heart not my head."
What - in her opinion - went wrong, looking back on it all?
"I would be wrong to say what specifically [went wrong] because there was an accumulation of numerous reasons and I lost sight of it all, but looking back now I can identify every single matter.
"Lots of people I know are in the same situation but they are afraid of change."
Does Carol regret getting married now in hindsight?
"Yes," she says adding that it is now in the hands of her legal team "who will deal with it correctly and privately."
Carol has nothing but the happiest feelings about her relationship with Ian Rush. They've been over for dinner umpteen times at my house in Dublin - Ian, who is a softie with a big heart, literally made my Liverpool FC-mad godson Zack's year by posing for a picture at a party at my house last summer and organising VIP tickets at Anfield for a big game for him and his dad Fin.
There have also been numerous hangover-heavy nights out on the town with Carol, Ian and myself. They are two lovely people.
Some begrudgers thought of Ian and Carol as an affair. Others said it would never last. Two and a half years later they are stronger than ever.
It wouldn't be an exaggeration to describe them as a very strong and loving couple who are good for each other. They compliment each other on many different levels.
Indeed, her somewhat mischievous Cork wit at times seems to be more than a match for his Welsh gentleman's charm. This was very much in evidence when she introduced Ian to her parents a year ago at their home in Togher when Cazza, in cahoots with her father, proceeded to 'punk' Ian goodo . . .
"Ian came into the house and naturally kissed my mother," she smiles at the memory.
"What he didn't know was that my father was in on the prank. So my 'very angry' dad took Ian to one side and explained that it was against all belief within the household - and with most Irish people - to kiss the wife of any man. My dad continued that he would not be welcome in the house if it happened again. My dad kept it going and Ian kept apologising with a bright red face. We kept it going for days, and Ian repeatedly apologised on the hour every hour."
Ian has more than got his own back on her since. "He brought me to the theatre in London recently to see Phantom Of The Opera and at half time we went for a drink," Carol recalls.
"Ian needed the toilet and went over to a bunch of complete strangers and loudly said: 'Can you look after that lady over there she has anxiety problems about being left alone and I really need the toilet, she is really scared can you go and stand with her?'
"I was fuming," laughs Carol, " and I spent the next 15 minutes being patronised by complete strangers making small talk to assure me I was going to be fine. Ian and I are always playing pranks on each other."
What is your secret of the success of your relationship?
"Being best friends, and loving the same things in life and being on the same journey, " she says. "Ian is very romantic and we always keep romance very much alive.
"We both love travelling the world. We love different cultures. We both come from a large family. He understands me and never holds me back on anything I want to do. He loves listening to my ideas and I love listening to how his work is going. Ian, who commands respect as a sporting brand himself, is an official ambassador for Liverpool Football club - for whom he is constantly in far-flung corners of the globe promoting their brand, to say nothing of international TV work and global media commitments coming out his ears.
The golden couple live together in London and in Chester. Who does the cooking? Does the soccer icon (and hugely popular Irish Independent football columnist) clean around the house?
"I do the cooking but Ian is very eager, bless him! He thought he cooked a roast chicken recently just by putting my pre-prepped chicken in the oven!" she chortles.
"Ian knows I am a neat freak, everything seems to be white in our London place and he's very good at cleaning bits as he knows I'll just be all day doing it."
What is Ian's most annoying habit?
"Leaving his training gear everywhere!" she laughs. "But I love football. It's on in our house all the time. I'll happily watch any game while doing a crossword."
Word games on paper with clues written in rows of squares notwithstanding, Carol describes what she loves about Mr Ian Rush thus: "His honesty, his passion for life and his ability to make me love every day as it comes. I am a hopeless romantic, Ian knows that and I love surprising him!"
Is Ian a romantic person?
"Ian is great at doing simple little things that mean so much," she says. "To be honest, if Ian thought I needed him he would drop everything to be there with me. He was a great support to me when Audrey died. He was just so lovely to me and my parents. He's a gentleman and is so caring."
That caring side more than came to the surface throughout the week of Audrey's funeral. She was buried at Glenflesk, St Agnes Church, Killarney, on January 26. "I really leant on him that week but because I was so caught up in my family that it wasn't until we got back to the UK that I really needed his strength," she says.
"The aftermath is the worst, and Ian went above and beyond to help me through it when I was away from my family. It's at times like this you really need a good partner and he was just that."
What kind of sister was Audrey?
"My first memory of Audrey was bringing me into a baby boutique and buying me designer outfits," Carol answers. "She brought me on my first holiday alone abroad, I will never forget that, I remember it like it was yesterday." Carol was 14. They went to Alcudia in Spain. Audrey also bought Carol her first pair of Levi's jeans and jacket. "She gave everything she had and was extremely selfless, and caring."
Audrey, she adds, has the most loveable son Mark "who has a baby girl Chloe with his partner Sarah. It was Audrey's dream to have a grandchild and I'm so glad she got to know her before she died. Mark is adorable and Audrey spent her entire life making sure she gave him everything he wanted.
"She lived for Mark alone, and everybody knew it! It's a tough time for him but we will support him and help him through."
Carol continues that she dreams about Audrey all the time and that she and Ian have pictures of her everywhere in their respective homes in Chester and London.
"It is great to see Audrey with a smile and being happy," Carol says of the pictures.
"She is forever in my heart. She is my guiding light."
Does she believe in God? Does she feel she will see Audrey again in Heaven?
"I do believe in God," says Carol, who went to St Angela's College in Patrick's Hill in Cork.
"I am a very strong believer. It is hard to remain a strong Catholic sometimes but I always pray and I know we are going to a better place. My sister is in a better place now and I have faith that we all will reunite."
Sunday Indo Living