Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Long Road Home

So life took an interesting turn last week. The last while had been going really great in Dubrovnik. I was shifting gears into work mode and the season was moving ahead great. Did my first tours of the season. First dinners, first Sangria nights. Things were looking good. Then I got word from back home that my Aunt Claudette had been admitted into the hospital due to gallbladder cancer that was really tightening it's grasp. Things weren't looking good and time was really ticking. Family always comes first for me so I immediately booked a ticket home and two days later I was on a whirlwind flight back to Vancouver.

I nearly pulled an all nighter as I slept for an hour before catching my bus at 3 am on thursday morning. A quick flight to Frankfurt and a few hours to kill before my flight departed. I was flying with Lufthansa and we boarded our Airbus 340-600 for the nine and a half hour flight to Vancouver. Realizing I had bought my tickets really last minute, I knew the potential for my seating arrangement to be shitty was a real possibility. I tried requesting a window seat... they were all taken. A center seat for nine hours was do-able. For some reason I ended up next to the bulkhead... which was home to four babies. Great. Babies on an intercontinental flight. Ok they all looked pleasant enough. All except the one next to me. I sat next to the baby from hell. For the next 9.5 hours... this kid cried for 8 of those hours. I understand that children sometimes get ear problems on flights but this was excessive. The child would constantly cry and while.. all because the parents weren't constantly comforting the kid. This kid had some serious whining problems... and as I tried to sleep would get hit by kicks and flailing arms which conveniently jarred me awake. If there was a child ejection seat button, I would have pushed it. The only respite I had was when the kid slept for an hour... or when I glared straight into the kids eyes projecting nothing but hate. I guess it scared the kid enough to stop crying... for about ten minutes.

Fortunately Alex, my seat mate was a younger guy who was on his way to Vancouver for the next four months. I was able to tell him about the city. How to find a place to live and explained to him the little differences in canadian culture vs german. It was nice to have a chat and distract myself from the wailing kid.

When I arrive back in Vancouver, it felt as though I had never left. Although it was finally sunny in Vancouver. I got off the plane, cleared customs and called my dad to pick me up. It's about a five minute drive from the airport to the hospital. During that drive I got word that my uncle, the husband of my aunt was being checked into emergency because of an unknown fever and extreme shivering. Ohhh great. Both my aunt and uncle are now in the hospital... just as she is getting critical. I arrived at the hospital and found the room my aunt was staying in. I said hello and little did realize how much effort it took her to open her eyes. She looked at me and tried her best to focus... but I could tell it was really difficult for her. I talked to her and told her about my flight, about Dubrovnik and how it was good to be by her side. I consoled my other family members and chatted about how life was. When I return to my aunts bedside, I saw she was back to having her eyes closed. Little did I know the effort she must have made to look at me. That was the last time I would see her with here eyes open.

From then on, it would be 24 hour bedside family vigil. My dad and my uncle would take midnight to 6 am, my mother 6 am to noon. I would fill in from 10 am until I was tired. People dropped food off to the palliative ward to keep us nourished. We talked, we laughed, we cried. And my aunt kept breathing.

In the meantime I wandered down to visit my uncle. He was hooked up ao a steady stream of antibiotics while the doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with him. Two relatives in the hospital at the same time is stressful, let alone when they're from the same family... and one is critical, the other mysteriously ill. I slowly got to know my uncle much better than ever before. We talked about living on the coast, fishing salmon in the Fraser River, my grandfathers life, my uncles life and travels and slowly grew to connect with him like never before. We were all going through a tough time and that was the plain and simple truth. It was time to come together.

It was monday. We were all exhausted, and it was time to start planning for the next week or the bedside vigil. It had been five days since I had returned and it had been a marathon of family, fighting time zones, living in a hospital and dealing with my own personal loss. I was fading. So there I was napping away around 3 pm, when my uncle decided to walk in. He Walked in and sat down next to my aunt. I got up and decided to give my uncle some space and wandered into the common area to stretch and get some fresh air on the balcony. It wasn't two minutes later that my uncle walked in, and told us, that she had passed away quietly.

It's one of those things you don't really want to have happen. It's inevitable though. Death that is. To be totally honest I'm not really scared of death, but at the same time, I don't want to be the only one there when somebody passes away. I'd much rather if be with more loved ones to fall back on for support should I need it. I had been somewhat worrying about my aunt passing while on my watch that way. Beautifully, she ended up passing while with my uncle.. the one she loved. It was magical to say the least. We had been there for nearly a week 24/7 at her bedside and my uncle walks in, talks to her gently, tells her everything is okay and then she passes on. As much of a sad situation it was, it couldn't have worked out better. I walked into the room to take one last look at my aunt. I contemplated her passing... and remembered her spirit. It's something I won't be able to forget. The following days were spent with my uncle, keeping watch over the house, welcoming any guests who stopped by. It was a tough. It was hard to get back into daily life again with somebody missing. It was even harder watching my uncle try and patch together his life without his partner. But slowly things have come together. Funeral plans were made, family gatherings were had, lots of memories, laughter and tears were had.

My cousin Mariko decided to host a games night at her house on one of my last days in the country. My family converged for a night as we drank coffee, ate the best rhubarb pie and played board games with each other. Aunts, uncles, cousins, boyfriends and girlfriends (and fiancees!) all came together. It made me realize that we don't do this nearly enough. We don't create nearly enough new memories together like that. We need to spend more time together, share stories, hang out, play with the kids and feel like a family again. I realized my aunt Claudettes legacy is us. We're the ones who carry on the name, the family and the commitment. It takes effort yes, but family comes first at the end of the day. At least it does for me.

It seems to be some kind of tradition that I finish my blog posts at the airport before my flights. Waiting around with nothing to do but reflect on the situations of the past. Take a minute to realize what I'm leaving behind. A strange tradition. I feel a little bit like Ryan Bingham in "Up In The Air". Always coming, always going. Take a minute and remember my Aunt Claudette with me. Check out the video below to one of my favourite songs, played to beautiful time lapse of Los Angeles. Take a moment and pause.

LA Light from Colin Rich on Vimeo.

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