The Vancouver Island coastline was recently battered by some fierce winter storms, no doubt changing shorelines and tumbling and uncovering new sea glass treasures. But maybe more about that later. This blog is not about a physical storm. It’s about the personal storm I encountered last month. One that rocked my boat and pushed me to my limits.
After a busy summer, predominantly focused on making and selling art, I took a quick break in early October to welcome visiting family. It was nice to come up for a quick breath of air before submerging myself into the Christmas market mania. To keep up with demand, art-making for the Christmas markets was this year set to auto-pilot. I think the quality was still there, but new ideas would have to wait until the new year.
The focus was really on house hunting. We had lived in a basement suite in Victoria for the last 3 years. I had observed my art supplies slowly taking over our living space like a fast-growing weed. The time was right to shop for a place of our own, and if possible a studio space for my artistic endeavours. If we were to find a house, a move-in date of early 2020 would surely be best, a quiet time away from the Christmas market madness.
That’s in a perfect world. But things never go quite go as planned, do they? The universe had determined it was time to test my stamina and resilience once again. In the middle of the Christmas Fair season, we found ourselves in an offer-counteroffer game with a seller. The ping pong game caused a few sleepless nights. But we succeeded in the end in finding a house on a beautiful acreage. Hurray! Except for the possession date of December 3rd, right smack in the middle of my busy market season. No problem, we would just have to make it work.
Next, the mortgage qualification came into play. Try convincing a bank that sea glass artistry is a reliable source of income. The result? More paperwork, more sleepless nights. But surprisingly, even the financing got approved. The stress only took one year off my life, which I figure, the new home will pay back slowly down the road as I drive a lawnmower tractor in circles and wave to the neighbours with one beer in my hand. But that’s next spring. To put some extra pressure on us, we decided to move on Sunday December 8, one day after being a vendor at the busy Dickens Christmas Fair. It was a taxing prospect, asking for burn out, but with the help from friends, it still seemed doable.
In the meantime, some troubling news came from my family in Holland. My dad was deteriorating rapidly, but no alarm bells were ringing. I had seen him in June in person and weekly on video calls. I planned to visit him and my mom again in Spring. Then as he slid downhill faster and faster, I made a mental note to go see him in Holland sooner. In January, or even at Christmas. Any time after the move and Christmas market season. “Please, hang in there dad. I’m a bit swamped here right now. I will come to see you soon”, I said to myself.
During the first week of December, I pretty much packed boxes with one hand while the other hand made art. My ears were glued to the phone receiving updates on my father, who had just been welcomed into a care facility as taking care of him at home became too difficult. But a storm was brewing. Even though my mind fought against it, I felt intuitively something was about to happen. My mind tried to comfort me: “It will work out. You can handle this. Dad will be ok for a while”.
December 7 arrives, The Dickens Fair. I’m always somewhat fatigued with ever-present long term health issues. But now, after already attending numerous Christmas markets and a marathon week of packing and art production, I’m barely functional and limping along. It’s ten to ten. The market is about to start, I’m all set up. Then my brother calls: “Dad has stopped eating and drinking. The doctor says it’s a matter of days”. You should probably come.” I stand behind my market booth, my legs feel weak, I wobble and need to sit down. A cold sweat breaks out. Am I passing out? No, I’m still here. Do I just drop everything a walk away? Do I finish the market?
Thank goodness my friend Heather arrives to help. I search for flights while we intermittently assist customers in what feels like a forged festive fashion. Do the customers notice something is amiss? Do I fly the following morning and leave Gina with the move? Do I fly a day later and hope my dad hangs in there? I sit there undecided, checking heart and head and then finally make a decision. We finish the market in the late afternoon and throw all market supplies in the van. At home, I pack whatever clothes I can still find into a carry-on bag and stuff more moving boxes till midnight.
Gina is renting a cube van early in the morning. I sit at the airport, feeling spaced out. Is this the first time I’m sitting this week? It feels unnatural yet I’m forced to sit for 15 hours in a row. Victoria, Vancouver, Toronto, Amsterdam. I feel like sharing some of my anxiety with a friendly traveler but everyone is in their own world. I watch a movie where astronaut Brat Pitt is having to let go off his father while floating in space. Fitting it seems; themed air travel. Yet no tears roll. I’m still anxious to arrive in time to see dad.
Early in the morning, I arrive in Amsterdam. Our family friend Sander drives me straight to my dad. The room is filled with family. My dad lies on his side. He is still breathing hard and unresponsive. His beautiful blue eyes are wide open staring into the distance, as if he set one foot already into a new dimension. I hug him, kiss him and whisper many things in his ear. Even though he’s not responding, I’m sensing he knows I’m there by his side. I’m so glad I stepped on that plane immediately.
I’ve never been through the process of someone close passing away. The room is filled with tears and also with an unusual amount of love and care. We get our chance to say goodbye and come to peace with the inevitable. That night, after a final fight, my dad passes away.
After my dad’s passing, another unexpected couple of days follow. The funeral arrangements completely take over our lives. From early morning till late at night we are busy. People drop in, the phone rings non-stop. I am back to frantically organizing things like the weeks before. My body, while protesting heavily, seems to have gotten used to it. Except for some reflection on my dad’s life and character and putting into words, there is no time for processing or emotional healing this week. It will have to come later. Much later.
The funeral takes place. I speak my last words in front of a full church. I share who my dad was and what he means to me. Afterward, I shake many people’s hands. Everyone is kind. And everyone seems to agree. Despite his quirks, my dad had an infectious enthusiasm and unmistakable smile that people loved.
In the meantime, Gina has received help from friends and moved all our belongings to our new house in Mill Bay, BC, some 35 minutes from Victoria. She is sad she couldn’t be there for the funeral. The house is a labyrinth of furniture and boxes. Gina has found a memory foam pad to sleep on with our anxious dog and has created a mini living room with a tv and a couch. That will have to do for now. Too heavy to lift by herself, most items are waiting patiently until I return.
It is mid-January 2020 now. I have been in our new house for almost a month, Gina a bit longer. Have I slowed down? Have I processed the last month? No, not really. We’re figuring out how things work and trying to give everything a place. We live on acreage now. There’s a septic system, a heat pump, a creek running through the yard. Hammered by rain and snow we have been forced to learn quickly. We’ve made several runs to the landfill to get rid of left clutter. There are rooms to paint and repairs to be made. How about some relaxing and a bit of processing? Nope, not yet.
Today, despite dealing with an unusual amount of accumulated snow, the sun came out more distinctly. I made a cup of coffee and sat down. By writing this I figure, I am just starting to dedicate some time to me. In the aftermath of this fierce snowstorm, the timing is right to uncover some buried emotions and heal up a bit. Perhaps not surprisingly, I feel far removed from picking up the bins of sea glass to make new art. It will no doubt happen in the weeks to come. But first I just want to sit for a while, look at the photo of my dad and wonder how I navigated that perfect storm.