This guest post comes from my friend, Nathalie. Her story really hits home as my Uncle Kevin passed away two weeks ago due to cancer and I wasn’t there to pay my final respects. Enjoy — many of you can probably relate.
It’s weird how you can be in a place for months and not notice the small details, until the day you leave, like me leaving Maui today.
On the drive to the airport, I notice everything. Every ray of sunshine through the canopy of trees, the individual dried blades of grass swaying in the wind driving through Kaupo, the black cows, the Maui rock tucked away in the curves leading up to Ulupalakua Ranch, the long cane grass taking over the road heading towards Kula. The crickets, the birds, the chill in the evening air announcing our arrival in Kula, the kids playing in the park, oblivious to how cruel life can get and then the smell of eucalyptus slaps me in the face. The sun going down behind the angry looking storm clouds. The ocean below, the exhaust from the car in front, the sugar cane bending under the force of the strong wind, going down the Haleakala Highway, propeller planes landing with a wobble up ahead.
It feels like my arm is being ripped off my body when I say goodbye to my husband. I don’t want to leave but the text message said “you need to come home now.”
In the airport I see and hear everything as I type this, each foot step, each scream directed at an unruly child, The Thomas the Train rolly bag going by once, twice, three times. The man walking from arrivals, carrying a bunch of bamboo mats (aren’t those just a few bucks a piece down the street?). It’s like trying to hold on to something that’s fleeting; I want to remember everything so I can recreate it in my mind. I can’t help but wonder if this is how it feels like when you‘re dying. If your senses become hyper-sensitive.
I’m looking around and wondering how many other people in the airport aren’t traveling for leisure or business, heading back or coming to a tragedy.
I feel lost, I have to remind myself why I’m sitting alone at the airport flying off of Maui, my safe place, my paradise. I’m so pumped full of adrenaline, gravol and ativan, if it wasn’t for the constant announcements I might just fall asleep out here on the bench.
Mosquitoes are bitting at my ankles like angry chihuahuas, leaving itchy welts. More rolly bags, more kids, more screaming. I hope they’re not on my flight; I just want to watch movies and fall asleep. Forget what’s waiting for me back home, if only for a little while.
The text came around 3 pm. When I read it, I completely lost all reasoning. I ran to my computer to see what time I could fly out, 11:30 pm, I booked the flight and printed out the boarding pass. I told my husband he needed to drive me to the airport. I’d need to pack some things, have a shower, text someone to pick me up when I arrive. We’d need to leave very soon — it was a two hour drive on a treacherous road and I didn’t want him driving back in the dark.
I grab a bag and start throwing a few things in. I have no idea how long I’ll be away, a week maybe two, 3 pairs of underwear, shorts, a skirt, two t-shirts, toothbrush and paste, meds, my laptop and a bag of prunes.
The flight, from Maui to Vancouver and then on to Ottawa was long but uneventful. I arrive around 6pm the following day. One of my sisters waiting to drive me to the hospital.
When I walk into the room, she’s frail but smiling and I can tell she’s close to giving up. My sister, the “Martha Stewart” of the family. They gave her two years and she was about to start her fourth when she contracted an infection.
When she found out, three years ago, she started living her life as though she was nearing the end of her vacation, packing in as much as possible. She went to Italy, France, Portugal, Costa Rica. Any time she felt well enough she flew off somewhere and when she was too sick to travel, she’d plan her getaways.
I gave her a hug. She asked me how long I was staying and I told her, until she was released from the hospital and back home. I hoped she’d be able to fight off the infection but while she was trying her damnedest, the cancer was taking over.
Five days after I arrived she decided to stop all treatment and to head home. The doctor gave her two days. We took her home and cared for her, making her comfortable. We got her a kitten that quickly fell asleep at her side. She sat at the table with us, had a rum and coke and listened to our stories, there were a lot of laughs and love in the house.
And when she was ready, she fell sleep.
It’s been two and a half months and I still have to remind myself each day that she’s really gone.
Nathalie Harris and her husband blog at A Cook Not Mad.