Saturday, April 6, 2013

Real Life

When TJ and I were planning this trip, we approached it with a dose of realism. We knew that three months away from home meant three months where anything could happen, to us or our loved ones, and we would be far away.

We did our best to anticipate those events. On the chance that something happened to us while we were traveling, we finalized our wills and advance directives and told our families where to find them. We made sure our dogs would be taken care of. We updated the deed for our house so that it is officially joint property. It should have been a depressing process, but I actually found it comforting to know that my family would have less to worry about if something terrible happened. We talked to our parents about what to do if something unthinkable happened to them while we were gone. Then we visited as many family members and friends as we could. It was so much fun to have an excuse to see everyone!

The thing about tragedy, though, is that it tends to hit where you least expect it.

About two weeks after we left, my Uncle Ken suddenly collapsed on his way to work. He was rushed to the hospital for treatment and tests, and he was ultimately diagnosed with Stage 4 colon cancer.

From Hayley McIntire's collection

The next few weeks were a series of highs and lows for me. On one hand, I was having the time of my life! We were sailing the Whitsundays! We were exploring the Australian rainforest! We were kayaking in the national park! We were wandering the streets of Bangkok! Every time we had internet, though, I checked my email with nervous anticipation. Would Uncle Ken hold on long enough for me to see him again?

Photo Credit: SayCheez Photobooth

In the last week, I have had to come to terms with the fact that the answer is No. Uncle Ken passed away the day before Easter, surrounded by our loving and supportive family. I wasn't there. His life will be celebrated today by large numbers of family and friends. I won't be there.

Photo credit: from Andrea's wedding

So I've been trying to find my own way of saying goodbye. On Wednesday, our host took us to visit her local temple. We brought large baskets of rice and curry to help feed the monks that live at the temple. The idea is that you receive blessings in return for bringing food, so we took a seat after helping to set up the food table and listened to the monks chant. It was a great chance to sit quietly for a little while and feel God's peace.

As we wandered around the temple grounds afterward, I finally let myself think about Ken. He was a man who plays a prominent role in some of my earliest and fondest memories. I remember splashing into the surf behind his house on a zipline. I remember eating buckets of "sand" in his kitchen and watching movies in his motor home. He took me on countless boat rides, both from his house in Florida and later at Lake Lanier. He helped me entertain friends that I brought to the lake, including convincing Ania to hold on to the back of his tractor while he drove her all over the property. When medical questions surpassed "mom knowledge," Dr. Ken was just a phone call away. More recently, I watched him delight in a grandson who will surely cherish photographs of him, if not memories.

Photo credit: Carol Westbrooks

You helped make my childhood the magical experience it was, Uncle Ken, and you were everything an uncle should be. Rest in peace. You are loved very much by very many.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so sorry about your Uncle Ken, Courtney. But I'm glad you were able to pay tribute to him from afar. Praying for you and your family.