I’m sitting on a park bench in the south of France on the outskirts of the city of Monaco. The motivation to explore this new city is eluding me. I’m more attracted to the slow enjoyment of a café au lait on a small street corner, and to this shaded, quiet spot on a back street, half-way up a flight of steep steps rising from one twisted and narrow street to another above me.
My drive to explore has been temporarily dampened. I suspect this is not permanent, but rather a side effect of the terrible loss I’ve endured this year.
In mid-December 2016, while happily floating across the Indian Ocean from east to west – from Burma to Zanzibar – I got the news from home that you never, ever want to hear; “There’s something wrong with Dad.”
I flew home right away, rising above the Maldives’ endless shades of blues and greens, into the grey twilight of the unknown and onwards to my family’s home in the frigid, stark white of a New Hampshire winter. It was here, and after two tortuous biopsies, that we found out my father had Stage IV brain cancer.
Let those words soak in for a moment. Think of the devastation and the sorrow and the heartbreak they carry. Think of the uncertainty, the fear, and the unknown consequences that they rain down onto a family.
And it did rain. It was a monsoon of stress and worry wrapped up in the management of time, and radiation treatments, and chemotherapy drugs, and patient care, and doctor’s visits, and eventually long-term nursing homes. And all this for a 72-year old man, the anchor of our family, who was riding 50 miles on his bicycle without batting an eye, who went to the gym without fail every morning at 5:30 am, and who hiked with the dog every weekend.
There was no apparent explanation for this torrent of raining misery, and no reason for the deluge, but it robbed me of my father in a slow, tortuous way that left us with nothing more than a shell of a man, half paralyzed in a hospital bed, unable to form sentences or follow his thoughts, unable to reflect on his life and his loves, and fixated on his last enjoyment in this world – food – namely ice cream and smoothies delivered by his doting adult children.
The experience of caring for my dad and watching him leave us, side-by-side with my family and close friends, has changed me forever. It’s brought me closer to my siblings and extended family, and it’s dragged me to the edge of my own capabilities.
Before this happened, I thought my strengths and abilities were near limitless. I take away from this experience the knowledge that strength is an illusion and ‘grace under fire’ is the ultimate resilience. It is courageous and human to ask for help, and bold and admirable to accept it when offered. I know intimately now that even the most fortified of walls will crumble.
And so now you know, dear reader, why I have been negligent in writing and have abandoned my travel posts and photos for some time. It’s taken me these four long months since my Dad slipped away in April, with a final whispered exhale, to find the space in my rain-soaked heart to write about his passing.
I owe him so much. He is the main reason I find joy in discovery and travel. From an early age he led me to understand that our lives are acted out on a stage that stretches beyond what we can see, to the far corners of the globe. Always growing up he told me, “Expand your horizons my girl.”
He is the main reason I depend without hesitation on my inner moral compass, and find confidence in my gut feelings, and resilience to changes in my life. In large part it’s because he always trusted me, always knew I’d find my way, and never hesitated to give me every assurance that things play out the way they are meant to.
It is frankly strange to travel without him now.
Who do I share my stories with when I come home? Who will sit with me and watch the videos of wildlife encounters and far-flung cultural performances? Who will laugh with me about the sagas that played out on board the microcosm of the ship and the colorful characters involved? Who will be that unfailing, reliable landmark in my life?
Of course, it will always be my dad.
The conversations just take place in my heart now.
And I will continue to make him proud, and bring him stories, and he will know that my horizons are broad and only getting wider.