Tuesday, September 2, 2008

End of Summer Vacation

We've been on vacation for five days...that's why I've been so quiet. Gregg, David and I decided to go back to one of our favorite places: Vancouver Island. Gregg and I have been travelling to Sooke and Victoria for our anniversary for years. We brought the children up here when they were small, and brought my parents with us to Tofino in 2005. Last year, right after Katie's Celebration of Life, David, Gregg and I took off again for Tofino, and we decided to re-visit the place this year.

We started in Victoria, B.C., with a night in the Coast Hotel, which is right on the harbor. Gregg and I had discovered a great French restaurant (Matisse) in May, and we wanted to share it with David, who has been studying French, so that was our destination for the first night's dinner. He enjoyed the food, and it was fun for us to introduce him to the European concept of slowly considering what was available for each course, taking time discussing and comparing the variety of items and their preparation, and savoring the flavors of everything we ate. Gregg and I particularly enjoyed the homemade chocolate truffles and tawny port for dessert, with clear instructions (from the owner of the restaurant) to take a bite of truffle and then sip the port through the chocolate. A real pleasure for the palate!

The next day, after eating breakfast overlooking the harbor, we took a walk, and then got into the car and headed north, traveling through Nanaimo, and across the island to Pacific Rim Park. After a five-hour drive, we stopped just south of the town of Tofino, at Middle Beach.

Tofino is a very small town, even during the high tourist season. From what I have seen, its chief attractions are fishing, surfing and the tourism that accompanies those pursuits. There are a handful of restaurants and a lot of places to stay, many of them bed-and-breakfast suites attached to private homes. There are some motels and condos, and a few lodges. We chose to stay in a lodge that we like very much, called Middle Beach Lodge. When I have massage therapy here at home, the place I visit in my mind is Middle Beach.

We rented a tiny cabin that we all agreed would be a great house to live in permanently. We'd have to get rid of most everything we own to fit in there; perhaps, if we were being realistic, we would double its size; in any case, it was perfect for a vacation. We were cozy and warm, whether it was drizzling, windy or sunny, and it was all three, at some point while we were there. There was a wee bedroom, a living area with a woodstove, couch, a table for 2 (or 4), a miniature kitchen in a corner, which included a tile counter of about a foot and a half, a sink and a half-refrigerator. There was a generous-sized bath with tub and shower next to the bedroom downstairs.

Up above this living area was a loft with a single bed, a window and a couple of lights.

Our days were spent walking the beaches, of which there are many miles...the pristine ocean sand was so smooth and clean that we went barefoot. David went wading.
We watched surfers and kite-fliers. I found a 2-dollar Canadian coin on the beach, and thought immediately of Katie (and Ann & Taylor Vossekuil, the mother and daughter who taught me their joy in "pennies from Heaven").

At Middle Beach Lodge, breakfast is served in the main lodge, buffet-style. The coffee, tea and fresh fruit are available all day long. Dinners are family-style, with a variety of delicious and healthy salads, and the entrees varying from day to day...one entree for dinner, no choices. We had locally-caught halibut the first night, and Dungeness crab the second. If we had stayed another day, we would have had fresh salmon for dinner. There were always 2 choices of dessert.

After a couple of days in Tofino, we traveled southeast to Parksville, to what is often referred to as "the Inside Passage" (the Strait of Georgia). We had booked a room on one of the biggest sandy beaches on the east side of Vancouver Island. It is famous for elaborate sandcastle-building in the summer. Parksville is a bit touristy for our taste, but it was fun to walk the beach at low tide, through the tide pools, seeing the joy of small children playing in the sun. There were teens skim-boarding, kites flying, families walking and cycling, etc.

Taking trips is fun with my guys; they are excellent companions. It makes me wish that Gregg could retire right now, so that we could spend all of our days together. It makes me realize how soon David is going to leave for college (in two years). It makes me miss my girl, as everything seems to do...DAD, YOU MIGHT WANT TO STOP READING HERE...
I notice that I am able to enjoy the experiences and the moments of happiness in my life, but that sadness creeps in many times during the day. All it takes, for example, is a trip to the ladies' rest room to make me sad. There are two memory-hazards in every rest room: the handicapped stall, and the towel dispenser. The handicapped stall is a hazard because we used to need it, when Katie was in a wheelchair or just feeling sick; it was a given that I would go with her and help her when she was ill and weak. I always scope out the bathroom, and notice if there is a larger stall, as if we still need it...and that stops me in my tracks; I have to catch my breath. The towel dispenser brings a painful memory, because Katie loved the motion-sensor-activated ones, for some reason, and I always notice them, and think of her EVERY TIME I see one. It makes me miss her. It's not a happy memory; it's hurtful for the simple reason that she isn't here.

I notice that I have moods of feeling crabby, critical, fearful and cynical that I never used to have. I hope it is temporary. I was thinking about that this morning, as we were walking out along the Ogden Point breakwater in Victoria. The photo above is of the warning that is posted on the gate leading to the breakwater; you have to pass this sign in order to walk out onto it. That sign could just as well be a warning of my internal weather, my grief-driven turbulence.
The four of us walked out onto this breakwater for the first time, back in 2004, all the way to the lighthouse at the end. (This is a photo of us at the lighthouse.) The kids loved it, especially David, who made me crazy with concern as he ran back and forth along the top of it. The breakwater is about 10 feet wide, and 20+ feet above the water, depending upon what the tide is doing; it has huge granite blocks, arranged in rows, or steps, all along the sides of it. When he was younger, I worried that David would slip, fall off and be hurt on the those lower blocks. I think it's called a "fear fantasy:" the thing that you are so afraid of that you can picture it, like a waking nightmare. The odd thing is that the things that I feared so much when the kids were little never came to pass, but the one huge thing that I didn't think would touch us (cancer), did happen.

As Gregg, David and I were watching the boats cruise out of Victoria's harbor from our vantage point the end of the breakwater this morning, they decided to walk back on one of the lower levels, and they persuaded me to join them. I realized then how afraid I am, these days. I never was afraid of heights, or had vertigo, as a child. I loved to fly in airplanes, climb trees and ride Ferris wheels. Those days are gone now; I have some odd inner-ear problem that makes me queasy on amusement park rides (not very amusing anymore). Yesterday, I worried that one of us would get hurt on the breakwater. I worry a lot now, about things that never used to be of concern to me.

After Katie died, I remember thinking, What can happen now that I will ever be afraid of? "The worst" has already happened; I'm not afraid of dying. I thought I would never fear anything again, but here I am, besieged by fears, and they are illogical and sort of small, when you think about what we have been through. I wonder if this will pass; I deeply hope that it will. It seems that my natural faith that all is well, that "all things work together for good to them who love God," that good will eventually triumph over evil, has taken a tremendous blow. I don't have the confidence that things will work out well, that I used to have. I have seen too much evil happen to the innocent to feel confident anymore. It seems that there are "danger" signs everywhere, and these in Victoria are symbolic of the ones that appear in my brain. This is something that I am wrestling with a lot of the time, right now.

How do we integrate the horrors that occur in this world into our view of our life as it is now, and of things to come? How can I relate the relative ease and comfort of my homemaker's life to the suffering that Katie endured (that we all endured with her)? How do I allow my trauma memories to come up in a way that causes no harm to me, or to others, while enjoying the glorious view of creation that is right outside of my windows? Where do I put my anger for all that I have lost, while at the same time, I still feel grateful for all that I have left? How to integrate Katie's broken and lost dreams with David's college opportunities, and Gregg's and my retirement, all looming on the road ahead, and looking like some sort of "rosy" future? A future without Katie in it is not going to be entirely "rosy."

As a woman who endured sexual abuse from a church-elder family "friend" when I was a child, I have issues with boundaries and trust. The past two years have inflamed many of those issues to the point of quiet confusion. I feel very young sometimes, lacking in direction and wisdom. One thing seems obvious: I need to wait as gently as I can until the way is clearer. No one will benefit if I go racing around without clarity or direction, and no one will benefit from being exposed to my crankiness. So I continue to spend a lot of time quietly, here at home. It is not lonely; it is necessary for healing.

Thank God for David, who is doing exactly what he needs to be doing nowadays: being a teen-age young man, driving with his learner's permit, playing on the tennis team, starting AP classes in preparation for college, arguing with Gregg and me. He is doing what he must do, without over-thinking it; he is living day to day, which is really all that any of us can do. His passion for living is a good reminder of our blessings and the work in front of me. It is a privilege, a challenge and a joy to be his mother.
The frosting on the cake of our "end of summer vacation" was the fact that there was a Classic Boat Festival taking place in Victoria, when we returned for our final night's stay. Gregg LOVES wooden boats, especially old fishing or working vessels that have been restored for pleasure cruising. We spent some very happy time admiring the beauty and craftsmanship that these boats possess and exhibit. Susie, I thought of you many, many times as I noticed the captains and crew of these gorgeous boats, but I can't select one for you; you'll have to come and see for yourself! The Wooden Boat Festival in Port Townsend is next weekend...


amanda said...

It sounds as if you guys had a fabulous time. I will now always think of your Katy when I see the automated towel dispensers.

Kay said...

Welcome home! Seems you had a wonderful getaway...although mingled with difficult thoughts. I am glad you were able to see some beauty in the things going on around you though. I remember spending time just being by myself early on. People would ask me out to lunch etc, but I just wasn't ready to do things yet. This time at home is valuable to you as it was to me. Glad you're back! : )

Suzanne said...

Karen, you have such a good way of writing, you take me where ever you have been. thank you for that. I have never been to that part of the world and it sounds fantastic to me as you have described it all.
The pictures are wonderful, you have a beautiful family.
I will also think of your angel when I see the towel dispensers.
I think you are allowed as much quite time as you need, and you should take it. I think the loss of a child must be the hardest thing to live with as a parent. your mourning will take a long time. You will eventually feel like your old self one day, this I am sure. But you don't need to hurry that.....take it day by day.

Jennifer Stumpf said...

glad you are back, karen. i missed you! thank you for posting all the lovely pictures. i think you do a good job, no matter what you think, of living in the moment. regarding your crankiness, have you tried acupuncture? i have found it relieves many symptoms that i never would have thought an improvement could come over me with such a method. i always leave with a sense of well-being that is kind of inexplicable. oh, fyi, i picked up kris carr's new cancer babe book at barnes and noble tonight. it's wonderful!

heather b said...

I look at those pictures you took and am again amazed at your ability to put exactly into print; now including pictures, exactly what I am sure so many people endure when they have lived through the unspeakable horror of cancer that has stolen a loved one. Once again, your writings have brought me back to a place that is refreshingly honest with God. Seeing your honesty and humanity and the beauty of it....amazes me and makes me just keep on praying for you. For your journey in this grief. That the journey may bring more smooth, beautiful paths where you feel like you are "getting back" to yourself; and for those dark, sad, rocky, rough twists in the road that you may feel God carrying you and others hoping for you and lifting you up.

Journeying with you from across the continent.....

~ h

Sheri said...

Your journey is a mere hair behind my own it seems sometimes. All I can say is that I hear you, I feel you, I have walked where you are walking and I continue to. I hope my honesty about my experiences has helped in some small way for you to feel less surprised by your own.

Loving you.

Sheri said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HappyWifeHappyLife said...

Beautiful vacation. Beautiful pictures.

YOU are beautiful. YOU are strong and resilient, even if you don't fully recognize or realize it.

Just live in the "now"....

Smileygirl said...

Thinking of you and wishing I could give you a safe hug...

I admire soooo much how you are in touch with every feeling you have and can write about it with such ease and freedom. THAT is a gift.

I'm praying now for peace and calmness in your heart.


The Engine of the Family said...

I love the picture of you and your honey at the end! Do you ever notice how some people just look right together? Like they are a match? You guys are a match!