Those of us who have chosen the cruising life and who travel thousands of miles around the globe live with the very real possibility that death, sickness or other tragedies may strike our loved ones at home and we may not be able to be there for them. Yes, we take up this lifestyle knowing this but so rarely do cruisers discuss it. Maybe it’s because we feel as if we are in some part letting our loved ones down by not being there. Maybe it’s because we, as human beings, instinctively try to protect ourselves from pain and discussing our potential failures is too difficult. Maybe it’s because these discussions are best had with family or close friends with whom we feel safe sharing our insecurities and out here these people are few and far between. Mostly we are just acquaintances who may share a beer or a meal as we meet in ports around the globe. Whatever the reason I feel it’s an important topic that should be explored and discussed more openly within the cruiser community.
My mother is fast approaching her 80th birthday and when I moved aboard Dazzler a year and a half ago it was a bit upsetting to her that I would be living so far away. Before moving I literally lived minutes away and we spent many days and evenings together shopping, lunching and going out to dinner. If she had an issue with her remote control or her computer I would stop by on my way home from work. And even though I lived just minutes from her we often had sleepovers. I would bring my dog, Lyla, and we would spend an evening watching home movies or just sitting around talking about life. As you can imagine, the thought of me leaving was leaving a hole in her heart as well as mine.
Of course, she wants only the best for me and she could see that I am deliriously happy and in love with Dan. She also knows that adventure is a part of my soul and this is a chance to do what I wanted to do my entire life, travel and explore. All that said, given that she is getting on in years it was still extremely difficult for her to let me go. But, as every good mother does, she wished me well on my journey, made me promise to visit often and keep in touch so she knows we are safe. Then she quietly shed her tears behind closed doors after I left. What she probably doesn’t know is that I shed many a tear in more than one airport restroom that day. Leaving my family behind was something I was prepared to do mentally but emotionally it was still very difficult.
There’s something else my mom did for me that I will never forget. It was a completely selfless act that gave me the freedom to live my life my way. She gave me “permission” to be absent in the event something happens to her. What do I mean? Well, I stayed with her for several weeks before I moved and we often had “what if” discussions. You know, what if she were to get very ill? What if I were to get sick while thousands of miles away? What if the boat sinks? What if she were to die while I am away? Yes, the Hasty women like so many other mothers & daughters can spend hours and hours discussing the most depressing subjects on earth. We do it, not because we like to cry, although some make think otherwise; we do it because we are very close and we want each other to know what’s in our hearts.
During those discussions that often occurred with an after dinner cocktail; my dear mother made it very clear that she knows how much I love her and how much she loves me. With that she told me that if something happens to her she does not want, nor does she expect me to race home. Of course, she also understands that depending upon where I am in the world, I will be there if at all possible. The fact is, however, she wanted me to know I had her blessing and that we would always be together in our hearts and that’s what matters most.
That simple, selfless gesture by my mother made all the difference in my leaving. It meant I could go and enjoy my new life with Dan completely without any guilt of leaving her behind. Of course my brother and sister-in-law are close by and my sister is just three hours away. Also we have two very good friends, Connie & Jay, who took my dog and kitty and who also are there for mom. This certainly helped me to feel more comfortable about my decision.
And it turns out it wasn’t just my mother who unselfishly gave me permission to go on this adventure. A few months before I was to depart my sister’s husband was diagnosed with leukemia and was going to need a bone marrow transplant. She was living out a nightmare of her own and obviously needed everyone in the family to be there for support but she made it clear to me that she wanted me to go. She told me that with Dan is where I am supposed to be and she would be fine.
Since I’ve been gone my mother has experienced numerous illnesses and mini disasters but she keeps me informed and I do my best, from thousands of miles away, to help and to keep her feeling positive. I keep in touch with my sister and she updates me on the progress of her hubby and I call as often as I can. Thank goodness for our IridiumGo that lets us email even when we are thousands of miles out to sea. It certainly helps to keep us together.
Even with all that, there is still the one thing that we’re never prepared to deal with out here in the vast watery dessert. At least I know I wasn’t. A few days ago I received word that my wonderful uncle was being moved into hospice care due to heart failure. He had just turned 80 a week before this. He is the last living uncle I have and we are very, very close so it was certainly a blow. Ironically I sent him a postcard and an eleven-page letter just about a week before I received this news. I still don’t know if he got it.
This morning around 0230 while I was on watch I felt a strange sensation. I was looking into the clear, starlit sky and just felt that something wasn’t right. Then it hit me. I was certain my uncle had passed. Of course we are at sea now and my only means of communication with the outside world is our IridiumGo so until I received an email I would not know for sure.
My watch ended at 0400 and I went back to sleep for a few hours. I woke up around 0800 and something told me I needed to check the email right away. When I saw that we had 7 incoming messages I knew my instincts were right. I held my breath as I waited for them to download. As soon as I was able to access my inbox I saw the first email from my brother with the subject: UJ. I didn’t need to read it but of course I had to read it to be sure. It was sent at 0519 and was a simple, direct email so typical of my brother. Brevity is his middle name after all.
It simply read: “Jack just called and UJ died in this sleep early this morning, very peacefully, according to Jack. Just wanted to let you know.”
I broke down sobbing as I opened the other emails from my mother and my sister, each one trying in their own way to break the news. My sister reminding me that he is home with God now and that she is sure our father and uncle are sailing together today. My mother saying she is shedding many tears and has a heavy heart today. Don’t we all!
With each email my heart broke more and I found myself sobbing uncontrollably. UJ was not just an uncle; he was one of my best friends. He was the guy all of his nieces and nephews went to when we had a problem we couldn’t discuss with our parents. It didn’t matter if it was a wrecked car or what, UJ would do his best to help. And now, he’s gone just like that. The man we lovingly referred to, as the “Loose Cannon” for all of his crazy antics will no longer be here to make us laugh, to give his advice or just to share a beer with us. My life will never be the same! Our lives will never be the same!
Dan was in the cockpit and heard my cries. He came below to ask what was wrong but I’m certain he knew. We’d been discussing UJ for days now. He just came over and put his hands on my back and told me how sorry he is that he’s gone. He knew I needed time to process the news so he got a glass of lemonade and went back up to the cockpit leaving me to my grief.
After a half hour or so I managed to dry my tears and make my way outside. It’s a beautiful, sunny day and the sea is fairly benign with large, long rollers drifting past us as Dazzler gently rises and falls. I sit down and Dan, knowing I need a diversion, begins talking about the trip, our timing, and the weather, anything at all to keep me from crying again. Like most men he hates to see a woman cry. He even managed to make me laugh a few times. He’s really good at that.
I’ve had a few hours now to process this and while I truly thought I was prepared to receive this type of news at sea or on some remote island thousands and thousands of miles from home I realized it doesn’t matter where you are, you are never prepared to hear this type of news. What is bothering me though is the part where I can’t be there with my family or with Uncle Jerry’s family to cry, to laugh, and to celebrate the man we all loved so dearly. I can’t be there to support my cousins the way they did for all of us when my father passed five years ago. Instead of feeling closer to my family, I feel like an outsider who has let them down by not being there.
It’s in that family time during and after tragedies that you begin to heal. Without it, where do you start? How do I get over the feeling of guilt? How can I make them understand that I would be there if I could but it’s just not possible? How do I share with them the love and sorrow I’m carrying in my heart today? Most importantly, how do I go about helping them to heal? Yes, I realize this is going to be very hard to deal with especially way out here at sea and I’m certain there will be many more tears before I make my peace with it all. In the meantime I will sit here in the cockpit watching the sea and the waves as they go up and down as if to breathe life into my soul again. I will reflect upon all of the wonderful times I was so fortunate to share with my dear uncle and I will send my love through the universe to my family back home while keeping them all in my prayers.
Until next time…
P.S. Tell your family you love them daily, many times a day. You never know when it will be the last time you get the opportunity!