Traveling with death

“I hope I see you again,” she said.

We stopped last night to say farewell to a couple who are high on our list of favourite people. When we said our goodbyes, Jill spoke the six words that struck me like an arrow. I can’t get that simple phrase out of my mind.

Farewells are different when age is added to distance. Last time we were in Australia, in 2008-2009, we felt confident everyone would still be there when we returned. Now Robin and his twin brother, David, have celebrated their 70th birthday. I’m 65. The next years are our last chapter. No one knows when the book will close.

In Adelaide we basked in the friendly circle of David’s and Jeannette’s long-time friends. The circle is gradually shrinking. We learned of the deaths of spouses, of hospitalizations and injuries as everyone enters the stage David calls, “ills, spills and pills”.

This visit to Australia, with me now officially a “senior” and Robin entering his eighth decade, is affecting us differently from our last stay. Three grandchildren are growing so quickly they will be at very different stages when we are with them again. The oldest is four so we don’t know how many of their milestones we will witness.

Robin and David have inherited the family’s predisposition for deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Since neither can fly long distances, the twins have no safe, quick way to reach each other should something happen. We are already making plans for the next family reunion, but this farewell feels especially poignant.

Robin has an Australian soul. Much as he loves Canada, he lives with a split heart. So the return to Kelowna will be both joyous and sad.

We know we are fortunate to feel happy and connected in both countries, but we can’t easily navigate the distance because of Robin’s DVT. That makes the goodbyes harder. That and the reality that we are closer to the end of our lives than the beginning.

Death is everyone’s travel companion from the moment of conception. As long as we are young and healthy, we pretty much ignore it. These days, when I’m still healthy but no longer young, I think of death as a quiet, friendly bureaucrat, walking beside each of us, ticking our names off the list when our time has come.

It doesn’t hasten death to be on friendly terms with it. But it does add a poignant note to farewells.

Robin in Port Elliot

Robin walks the beach at Port Elliot - how many more of these walks will we have?

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12 comments for “Traveling with death

  1. Rose
    April 4, 2012 at 7:37 pm

    Hi Cathryn & Robin,

    “Goodbyes” are so darn painful and I know it will be a very difficult moment for you both. Perhaps “see you later” eases the pain??? It works for me!!! Anyway, have a safe journey and looking forward to having you back in the Beautiful Okanagan. Love Rose

  2. Sterling Haynes
    April 4, 2012 at 7:59 pm

    Good essay, Cathryn. It will be good to see you again. I try and live each day and to see all my friends regularly. I am getting very old and sometimes the now is not obtainable. Two days I had lunch on Kamloops with my friend and former partner, Polly. Polly is a sweet woman who never complains despite being confined in a wheel chair. Her M/S only allows her the use of her right thumb and
    index finger. She is always positive and is happy. I wonder if I will see her again?

  3. April 4, 2012 at 9:13 pm

    That piece moved me to tears, Cathryn. Damn it woman, you write well.

    I wish you strength for the rest of the visit.

  4. Michelle Jarman
    April 4, 2012 at 9:18 pm

    It’s not an “IF” but a “WHEN” – you two will likely outlive us all 🙂 To good health! xoxo

  5. Barb
    April 4, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    Great thoughts Cathyrn. Life is always stretching us in different directions, isn’t it? We are also feeling the pull right now. We always feel the pull back to Canada (friends, family, and very aged parents), and now have just moved to Qatar so are also feeling the pull to friends back in Kuwait. However, as you say, we are the fortunate ones to be able to straddle the distances.
    Insha’allah (god willing 😉

  6. tess
    April 5, 2012 at 8:51 am

    from the other side of the world, loving hugs…. and yes, death as a companion we now know has a name …

  7. April 5, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Thanks, Rose. It’s seeing you and gang of beloved friends in Okanagan that keeps the smile on our faces.

  8. April 5, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    You are an inspiration to me, Sterling, holding a light on the path we’re all traveling.

  9. April 5, 2012 at 2:41 pm

    Your words mean a lot to me, Ann, as I’m a fan of your writing.

  10. April 5, 2012 at 2:42 pm

    The thought of being with you two beautiful mums and the little Sunday we adore will keep us going for a long time.

  11. April 5, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Canada, Kuwait, now Qatar – your adventures seem so exotic to me. I’m delighted we can stay connected in spite of the distance.

  12. April 5, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Thanks for the loving hugs and for the sense of wonder you bring to every day of your life.

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