I wrote this more-personal-than-usual post on June 24, 2014, but didn’t post it then. Today, on the first anniversary of my mother’s passing, it seemed like the right time. Travelling was one of Mom’s favourite things, so I think she would like to be remembered among a group of fellow travel lovers.
My mother loved water.
When I was a kid, most of our family vacations revolved in some way around water: beaches, lakes, rivers, even pools. If there was a body of water larger than a saucepan nearby, my mother was sure to be beside it, comfortable in a deck chair, with a paperback in one hand and a cigarette in the other. (It was the ’70s. All the adults smoked.) More often than not, the paperback and the cigarette would soon find their way to a nearby table while Mom simply gazed out at the waves or the glitter of sunlight. She found something soothing about water.
I suppose I do, too. Because a few weeks ago—eight days after my strong, much-loved mother passed away—I found myself beside the Ottawa River.
I was at the Fairmont Chateau Montebello hotel, halfway between Ottawa and Montreal, on a research trip. I’d seriously debated dropping out of the trip, since I wasn’t really in the frame of mind to go.
But the alternative was sitting in my home office, rereading everyone’s kind posts about Mom on my Facebook page and recalling the harrowing events of the previous two weeks.
So I went. Distraction is a wonderful sedative.
And it worked, up to a point. I spent the first day obsessively chronicling everything I saw, did and tasted, as I’ve done on such trips for the last two decades or so. It filled my mind. It gave me something to do.
But then I had that rarest of things on one of these trips: two hours of free time.
Normally, I would have eagerly seized that time and run around the sprawling resort taking notes, snapping photos, reading plaques or immersing myself in some activity. But, this time, I didn’t have the heart or the energy. With no real plan, I wandered toward the river and found an empty park bench.
It was about six in the evening. Ducks were splashing in the water, and red-winged blackbirds were filling the air with urgent calls as they swooped in and out of the reeds along the shore. The wake of a small motorboat lapped against the riverbank. Sun warmed my face and a breeze ruffled my hair. It was the perfect late spring evening. Mom would have loved it.
I sat and thought of past vacations, past waterfronts, things simply past. I remembered—or, perhaps, I’m just remembering now—walking beside a windswept beach with Mom on Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula. Sitting on a balcony with her, hypnotized by the Caribbean surf, in Barbados. Climbing Dunn’s River Falls with her in Jamaica. Unwinding on the docks of various Ontario cottages with her, thrilling to the cries of unseen loons as the pine trees winked out one by one in the dusk and the mosquitoes eventually drove us inside. Listening to the splash of water from my bedroom window at our now-sold family home, as Mom swam lengths under the stars in a long-gone backyard pool, after her busy evening shift as a nursing supervisor.
As I get older, so much seems to be gone. People. Homes. Even the hospital where Mom worked. Water flows and changes, and yet, it remains. And sometimes, instead of just rushing about and filling our brains, we just need to be near a body of water and stop. My mother understood that. And now, better than I did before, so do I. Thanks, Mom.