Ordinarily, a trip to the San Juans is nothing but pleasurable. In the decade-plus that we’ve owned our cabin on Orcas Island, I’ve always known that whatever stresses might be weighing on me, I’d leave them at the ferry dock as we sailed away from the mainland.
This time, the coming back home was different. A week ago, Lori and I got up early and headed back to the ferry landing with the sobering knowledge that my father had died the day before on March 28.
Just six days earlier, he’d turned 91. The March 22nd phone call to wish him a happy birthday turned out to be the last time I spoke to him.
Today I’m flying down to Phoenix, then driving with my daughter to southwestern New Mexico for tomorrow’s funeral service and burial at a military cemetery.
There’s so much I’ve thought about, but not yet put in writing, as I think about my dad. I know I will share those thoughts in the coming days. But first, I owe it to myself to acknowledge the entirety of our five-night stay on Orcas. After all, the purpose of this blog is to serve as a digital diary. And we all know that life represents the stitching together of memories and milestones, both bitter and sweet.
We arrived late Friday afternoon. Though we usually have the cabin to ourselves, this time Lori and I knew we’d be sharing it for a couple of days with our youngest son, his wife and their daughter.
Jordan and Jamie and our granddaughter Emalyn arrived earlier in the week, a welcome Spring Break reward for our son, who’s been working his tail off in pursuit of a bachelor’s degree in biology. Jamie, too, deserved a respite from the 24/7 responsibilities of a stay-at-home mom.
We enjoyed two home-cooked meals with the kids, and I joined them on a hike in Moran State Park on Saturday while Lori stayed behind to wait for a handyman to complete a plumbing job in the kitchen.
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Sunday morning came all too early, as the kids headed back home. We had the place to ourselves for the next three nights, and mostly just hung out at the cabin, enjoying the exquisite peace and quiet. Even the birds stayed away, though we put fresh seed in two new feeders.
We treated ourselves to dinner Sunday night at Doe Bay Café, always a relaxing experience. We read books and magazines, listened to favorite CDs, and took walks in the surrounding woods with our lovable Charlotte.
Our friend Juliana joined us for dinner at our place on Monday night, though we missed her husband Carl, who was tied up with a long work day.
On Tuesday, we drove into Eastsound (population 2,000) to buy a few things for the cabin, had a snack at a coffeehouse, and headed back to the cabin at a leisurely pace, appreciating the natural beauty of the clamshell-shaped island.
That same morning had begun with a phone call from New Mexico. My stepmother Ora said Dad had suffered a heart attack at home and had been taken to the local hospital. Just hours later, a family friend called again to say the end had come. Mercifully, I thought. I wouldn’t ever want Dad or any loved one to hang on needlessly, in pain or if there is no hope of recovery.
Wednesday morning came and as we sailed across the waters back to the mainland, it dawned on me that now Lori and I are the oldest generation in our family. First, it was Lori’s dad. Then her mom. Then my mom. And now Dad.
I look forward to tomorrow’s service, not just to support my stepmother, reunite with my two sisters and assorted relatives but also to celebrate my father.