Saturday was an almost perfect day. I woke gently, next to a warm, cuddly body before I took off with a dear old friend and a lovely new friend for a hike up Mount Gardner on Bowen Island. Sunshine, physical activity, laughs along the trail, amazing views, and shirtless studs at the top of the mountain; it was all too wonderful!
After the hike we wandered down to the ocean for the first swim of the year; so refreshing and soothing, it was just what our tired muscles needed. Back in the car, we listened to old tunes in a state of bliss, conversing only to express how great the day was. Before boarding the ferry, we rewarded ourselves with cold beer on a patio overlooking the cove.
Soon, it was time to head back from our mini vacation. The ferry started back towards horseshoe bay and I gazed out at the ocean and the mountains beyond. As I was enjoying the invigorating wind on my skin, an older man next to me turned and said: “Isn’t it great to be alive?” The question stirred me, “Yes, it is” I spoke, as tears welled in my eyes.
Six months ago I was sure that I wouldn’t make it. Dealing with cancer for three years had taken its toll and my expectations of a recovery had dwindled. My only hope at that time was to be able to hike again. Hiking is the one activity that nourishes me on all levels. I longed for the mountains in those years when I was too sick to get outside and play in my familiar way.
Saturday was my fourth hike of the week. I felt so alive, and so grateful to be alive. I spent the week taking in the sights and smells of nature, walking to mountain tops, and resting in the forest, all in good company; it was more than I had asked for. “Isn’t it great to be alive?” I told my friends of my conversation with the old man as we settled back into the car. I continued on about how I did not want to forget the struggles I’ve been through, that I did not want to take this precious life for granted.
We got back into the city; the evening was still young, and we were not ready to retire for the day. We swapped our hiking gear for sundresses and drove down to English Bay to watch the sunset with a thousand strangers. It wasn’t long before the days activities caught up with us, so after savoring some fresh tacos, we called it a night. I hit my pillow and drifted off into a solid sleep, my body appreciating rest after a busy and fulfilling week.
As I laid groggy in my bed the next morning, I looked at the clock, almost 9 am. Why hadn’t my dad called yet? He calls every Sunday morning, and sure enough, just after I finished my thought, the phone rang. “I was wondering when you were going to call,” I said to him. “I’ve already tried calling you,” he told me. As I looked at my phone, I saw that there were four missed calls from him which I obviously did not hear in my deep sleep. Something was wrong; this was not our regular Sunday chat. He didn’t waste any time, “Your sister died last night”….the words didn’t make sense.
My previous days high came crashing down to a dreadful low. Of all the things that could have gone wrong, this was not what I was expecting to hear. It was so sudden. I had a hard time believing it. I still don’t believe it; how can life go from feeling so complete one day, to having a huge void the next? This life bewilders me; as wonderful as it is to be alive, the journey is not easy.
My heart breaks each time I think of how my sweet sister was ripped out my life. I have spent hours over the last two days going through photos and losing myself in memories of our time together. My heart sinks as I realize that’s it; there will be no more moments with my sister. I find myself moving back and forth between the stages of grieving. I realize now that they are not sequential; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, they are all mixed up as my emotions tumble around in chaos. I don’t expect to reach acceptance anytime soon. This is the easy part; I’m still isolated in my regular life. Returning home to my family tomorrow is when it will sink in; we will mourn her passing and celebrate the special place she had in our lives.
Although I am stricken with grief, I am ever more grateful for the family and friends that I still have in my life. Of all the gifts my sister has given us in her too-short life, perhaps bringing us all closer together in appreciation for one another is the greatest gift of all. It’s just unfortunate that it takes such a tragic loss to make us realize what we have. The best way to honor my sister is to let those close to me know how much I care about them. Tracy had the warmest, most loving heart. If I could be only a quarter as beautiful as she, I’d be satisfied.
“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
Photo: Michelle Leela Grace