A personal post: The healing power of water

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.

Mom in the late 1940s or early 1950s, possibly taken near Manitoulin Island, Ontario.

Mom in the late 1940s or early 1950s, possibly taken near Manitoulin Island, Ontario.

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.

Mom and I in Florida, circa 1972.

Mom and I in Florida, circa 1972.

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.

My bench by the Ottawa River.

My bench by the Ottawa River.

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.

Mom and Dad in Nova Scotia, 1985.

Mom and Dad in Nova Scotia, 1985.

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.


18 Responses to A personal post: The healing power of water

  1. Peter Johansen June 1, 2015 at 4:33 pm #

    Thank you, Laura, for this very poignant, very insightful post.

  2. Jane Finn June 1, 2015 at 11:31 pm #

    My heart skipped a beat or two when I read your post tonight. You captured Mom’s essence so succinctly and the lessons learned from one of the simplest but most essential elements of life – water. Like Mom I’ve always found peace gazing out on any body of water. I believe I sat on the bench at the Chateau Montebello in your photo. Spirit finds us, if we take the time to allow it in.

    • Laura Byrne Paquet June 1, 2015 at 11:36 pm #

      Thanks so much, Jane. I’m really glad you liked it; it was a hard one to write. And that’s so cool that we both ended up on the same bench. It is beautiful there; I could have sat there for hours. I know Mom would have loved it. We all sure turned out to be water lovers, too, didn’t we? 🙂

  3. Carol Caulderwood June 1, 2015 at 11:51 pm #

    Well said. I can see mom nodding her head in agreement….and dad saying “you are so right Bun!”

    • Laura Byrne Paquet June 1, 2015 at 11:55 pm #

      Thanks, Carol. I’m so happy you enjoyed it. And your comment about Dad made me smile. 🙂

  4. Meagan Pearce June 2, 2015 at 11:20 am #

    Aunt Laura,

    Your words and pictures truly capture Grandma (and Grandpa). Next time we are at the cottage, we will all sit by the water (looking for the cardinal) and remember all the amazing times we had.

    • Laura Byrne Paquet June 2, 2015 at 11:52 am #

      I’m so glad you liked it, Meagan! Thanks. We will definitely commune with the water and the cardinals at the cottage. 🙂

  5. Judy Kirkwood June 4, 2015 at 10:17 am #

    absolutely lovely

  6. Diane Covington-Carter June 4, 2015 at 10:32 am #

    Beautiful and poignant. Bravo!

  7. Mickey Goodman June 4, 2015 at 1:44 pm #

    Lovely article, Laura. My mom also loved to travel and she and Dad took their last road trip when she was 88. The both lived another five years and loved looking at a million scrapbooks she kept of every trip.

    • Laura Byrne Paquet June 4, 2015 at 3:36 pm #

      Thanks, Mickey. My mom and dad couldn’t travel for the last few years, but the whole extended family took a two-week trip to Ireland when my parents were in their early 70s, and we were all so glad we did. They loved looking through photo albums from that trip and others, years later.

  8. Irene S. Levine June 8, 2015 at 3:57 pm #

    What an absolutely beautiful post—both the words and photos. So nice that you have these travel memories to treasure.

  9. Moira White June 30, 2015 at 3:29 pm #

    What a wonderful post, Laura! It brought tears to my eyes. My Mum, who died in June 2008, was also a nurse and also loved water. No water was too cold or too wavy to swim in. My siblings and I all learned to walk and swim at about the same time. Our holidays always involved travelling to water somewhere — a cottage, a beach, a conservation area. I think of my parents often when I look out over water. Water is such a soother.

    • Laura Byrne Paquet June 30, 2015 at 4:38 pm #

      Thanks, Moira–I’m so glad you enjoyed it. And now we know we both had water-loving moms. 🙂

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