'The time that we all had in the hospital was nothing short of epic' - Brendan Grace's widow Eileen
JUST five weeks after his death, Brendan Grace's devastated wife Eileen told yesterday how she's struggling to come to terms with the loss of the man she adored.
In an exclusive interview with the Sunday World, Eileen said: "I feel like I'm sick every day I wake up. It's as if I should be going to hospital. I don't feel like myself. I know it's early days yet but, my God, the loss is huge."
After he died, Eileen found a personal card Brendan had left for her. "He wrote me a beautiful card and I found it in his bag. He was very romantic, right up to the very end, let me tell you. He was a pure gentleman.
"It didn't have to be Valentine's for me to get cards. I got cards out of the blue. Brendan had a heart bigger than anybody I've ever met, not just for me and our four kids, but for anybody that came his way. He would have done anything to help anybody along the way, and put himself out to do it."
The devoted couple had been married for 47 years. "Brendan was such a loving and caring husband and father and friend. I mean, he was my best friend for all those years," she said. "Life will never be the same for me again. It will be a new way of living for me."
Recalling the moment that Ireland's best-loved comic learned he had cancer, Eileen said: "He put his hands up to his head and said, 'How in the name of God did I get this?' I saw a bit of fear in him for a while."
Later, Brendan was told by an oncologist at the Galway Clinic that his illness was terminal and couldn't be treated. Eileen and their daughter, Amanda, stayed with him until late that night.
"When we went in the next morning he was in the foetal position, he didn't talk to us and he stayed in bed all day. We went outside and Amanda said to me, 'Mam, I think that's Dad grieving today. That's his grief right there.'
"So he did take one day out, and he grieved and he didn't want to talk or do anything. The next morning he was sitting up bright as a button. He was ready for the day and said 'bring it on, this party is going to start'. And he just accepted it.
"He said, "I don't know what way it's going to take me down, but I know I'm in good hands here. We started to talk freely then from that moment on.
"The time that we all had in the hospital was nothing short of epic. We partied, he ate everything he wanted. We had a last supper one of the nights. We took over the restaurant upstairs in the Galway Clinic and we did it up with balloons and the whole works. There were 12 or 14 of us and we sat around a table eating food from a local Chinese.
"Brendan sat like the king at the top of the table and we had a lovely meal that night. He had everything he wanted right up to the end."
Was he able to enjoy it? "Oh, are you joking me, he'd say to me, 'this is lovely, this is great.' He enjoyed it. He gained weight in the hospital. As the oncologist said, he's the only cancer patient he ever dealt with that gained weight.
"We were all feeding him all the [food] longings he had. Whoever stayed over with him would have the list the next morning.
"It was epic, you just couldn't write the script for it.
"It was beautiful, it was graceful. Everyone should get that [end of life] and unfortunately they don't."
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Brendan also had a hand in organising his own funeral.
"When we were arranging the funeral with him, because he was very aware of everything that was going on, we were talking about songs and our daughter Mel said, 'What about My Way,' thinking of the Frank Sinatra connection.
"He looked at us for a few minutes and I could see him singing it in his head, and then he said, 'No, that won't be at my funeral.' We asked why not and he said that there's a verse in it that says, 'Regrets, I've had a few.' Then he said, 'There's no regrets in my life, so nobody will be singing that at my funeral.' Isn't that gas? That's how clear his mind was.
"Brendan told us he wanted Dublin In The Rare Auld Times sung at his funeral. He said, 'Youse won't have to bother singing it, the people will sing it."
Eileen told how Brendan maintained his sense of humour and fun to the end.
She said: "The last seven or eight days in the hospital were the hardest because we knew what was facing us, and so did he. But our young grandchildren, James, Patrick and Aidan, would come in with their ukuleles and we'd have sing-songs. He idolised those little fellas and they were with him the whole time.
"The Wednesday that Brendan took a bit of a turn, the kids were going off to a camp that day in Corofin. He saw them going out upset and he called them back.
"He said, 'Come in here the three of you', and the three of them got up on the bed. 'Now,' he says, 'I've one thing to say to yez, and always remember this.' They were listening intently, wondering what good wisdom he's going to pass on.
"And he sez to them, 'Always remember, you can't fart and belch at the same time.' The whole room went into convulsions, and the three little fellas who had been roaring crying were now in stitches. He wanted to see them going out of that room laughing."
Although his home was in Killaloe, Co. Clare, it was Brendan's final wish to have his funeral in Dublin's Liberties where he grew up.
"He did ask me one morning, 'Where do you think I should have my funeral Mass.' We talked about Killaloe, but he said 'I think I have to go back to the Liberties. I'm going back to St Nicholas of Myra [church], that's where I made my Holy Communion. He never forgot The Liberties."
Paying tribute to the staff of the Galway Clinic, Eileen said: "They were the most amazing people, and they guided us and walked us through the whole thing. I have since received a letter from one of the nurses saying that what she experienced has touched her and changed her forever.
"She said not only did Brendan live a beautiful life but he also taught us all to look forward to a beautiful death."
- Read More: 'A true Dub who made everybody laugh' - thousands of Brendan Grace fans fill streets for funeral
Eileen told how the tributes that poured in from the Irish nation in the aftermath of Brendan's death was a huge source of comfort for the family.
She said: "Our children always knew what he meant to the people of Ireland, but to see the grief and to feel the compassion and the love, it was what they needed at that time, it gave us all great solace.
"The day of the funeral wasn't a sad day for us. We celebrated and we were all so proud of him. We were just in awe of the send off that he got, that he deserved.
"We were actually all happy that day. The sadness only came later when we came home and reality then set in. We miss his physical presence and the voice and the phone, which he was never off. Brendan used to plague me on the phone. I couldn't go down to the local supermarket without him calling me at least four times.
"Brendan was a very special person and I knew that from day one. And what a beautiful life he had."