On Saturday morning I woke to the news that Sheryl Sandberg’s husband Dave Goldberg had passed away unexpectedly while on vacation. Now, to most of the world, this is a sad news tidbit people learned about over their morning coffee and forgot long before the day had grown warm, but to our corner of the country, where he was well known and loved, the news threw everyone for a loop.
Successful, healthy men aren’t supposed to die at 47.
To me, the news was particularly poignant, as is all news about dead parents these days. It doesn’t take much to bring tears to my eyes or make me relapse into my grief funk.
I rallied as best as I could. Took the little and a friend to a skate boarding lesson and rallied as best as I could.
And then, while meandering around downtown, I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in a while and discovered that she was battling bone cancer.
I felt panicky for the rest of the day. Short of breath. Shaky. Terrified. Life felt just too fragile to bear.
Most of the time, we live in happy denial of all the things that can tear our friends and family away from us. We don’t know about most of the illnesses that can claim or radically alter lives. We conveniently forget about how dangerous it is to even walk down the street or up the stairs.
And then, sometimes, you get hit in the face with one reminder or three. And BAM, the mere thought of how fragile life is, of how easy it is to lose someone, brings you to your knees and steals the breath from your lungs.
I’d love to say that this temporary epiphany made me more loving to my family, made me want to hug everyone close, but really, all it did was make me want to hide under the covers and lose myself in a book. Even when fictional characters die, they’re never really gone. Just flip a few pages back, and presto, they’re back.
I’m sure that in the not so distant future my denial will be securely back in place and I’ll be, once again, able to get on with my life without gasping for breath every time I glimpse what life would be like if it were missing more of my people.
In the meantime I feel about as fragile as life really is.
This morning, as I lay in bed listening to the sounds of the kids having breakfast, it occurred to me that, even though I logged over 65 hours at my computer last week and wrote about a million words, I hadn’t written a single one for myself.
I haven’t even wanted to pick up a notebook to journal.
Well, wanted is a big word. Let’s be honest here, if I gave myself the time, I’d probably want to, but I’m so damn scared to let myself think even for a moment, that I’ve buried myself in work to the point of falling into bed, brain dead, every night, without a spare thought or feeling.
It’s just so much easier to write ad copy about heavy duty motor oil or the latest innovations in cyber security than it is to try to wrap my brain around a world where my dad isn’t safely tucked into his life in Toronto, battling for the opportunity to eventually come visit, to travel, to reclaim his life.
He’s never going to come visit.
He’s never going to meet my dog.
He never even saw my house.
He barely knew my kids.
And all because we were waiting for him to get better so he could finally do all that.
It is so much easier to just pretend that March never happened than to face the fact that he’s just… gone.
So I write. I brainstorm. I conceptualize. I edit. I rewrite. I brainstorm some more. I write endless copy for emails no one will read. I think up banner ads that will never see the light of day. I craft perfect Facebook posts that Facebook will never serve to our fans. I think up witty tweets a handful of people will notice as they stream by.
I don’t work on my novel.
I don’t journal.
And most importantly I try really hard not to think.
But the thoughts slip in anyway at truly unexpected moments.
On Malibu Beach in Los Angeles, where the sight of a lifeguard station threw me back onto our old flowery couch where my dad and I used to watch endless Baywatch reruns together.
When a small motorcycle passes me on the road and I remember him trying to teach me to drive his and I drove it up the garage wall, leaving tire marks the next tenants must have wondered about for years.
When I hesitate before cleaning my new cast iron pan and hear his voice reminding me that I really do need to season it properly.
When I watch Dottie’s puppies squirm around try to think of names for them. He was so damn good at naming dogs.
Then I fight back tears. I take deep breaths. I try to slow down my heart rate. I stop the rising panic. I force the thoughts away.
We sat there, in the room next to the one in which, two years ago, he took his first breaths with the replacement lungs that were supposed to give him a new lease on life and watched him take his last breaths. All of us holding our own, leaving him all of the oxygen in the room if he wanted it.
I’ve known my father was dying since he was diagnosed with emphysema when I was 20, almost 20 years ago, and yet, as I counted the seconds between his last breaths, I truly felt deep in my bones, that I wasn’t ready to let go, not ready to say goodbye.
He was always happiest on a boat.
If it’s this hard when you have that much time to get used to the idea, how is it possible to survive when death is a surprise?
Emphysema is a bitch of a disease. It slowly robs you of your breath, making it harder and harder to live. For a man like my father it was a tragedy.
He loved food. He loved wine. He loved sailing and traveling. He was always the best dressed, the most dapper wherever we went. Sometimes I swear he was born in the wrong time. He would have dominated the 20’s.
At a friend’s wedding.
As he slowly lost the ability to breathe without support, the sphere in which he lived grew smaller and smaller. In the end, before his transplant in 2012, his life was mostly limited to his apartment, where he lived quite happily, if rather breathlessly, with his wife, his basset hound, their two cats, and his computer.
You’d think that, pretty much always knowing exactly where he was and what he was doing, would have meant that I’d take full advantage of the time he had left.
But I didn’t.
Because I’m an idiot. An idiot with baggage. Baggage I wasn’t able to let go of in time.
Beach hugs are the best.
I posted to Facebook that I was rushing to get to Toronto before it was too late and messages of love started to pour in from around the globe. Friends from my childhood reaching out to share a story about my dad, a favorite memory, a small anecdote, or just a note to say how much they’d admired him and liked him.
And I wept. Because their tributes were beautiful and because so many of my memories of my dad are tempered by the anger I felt for him for years. Anger I held on to for much too long. Anger I nursed and coddled.
He was a fantastic, brilliant, charming man, but he wasn’t an easy man to love, not when you were his daughter.
Gotta wear fancy hats when you garden.
I made my peace with my dad, with his shortcomings as a father, shortly after his transplant, on a day when we learned he had contracted a hospital infection and might be losing his colon and his life.
I made my peace that day, but even though he lived, I didn’t embrace the fact that he was still here.
There is so much I wish I would have done differently. And yet I know that there was no way I could have really done anything differently.
In what we affectionately called his Santa period.
Life is hard. And it’s complicated. And it’s so rarely as neat and clean as a tv script.
On TV I would have made my peace and we would have skipped (metaphorically) into the future, arm in arm, happy and easy with each other.
In reality, I made my peace, but never put down my baggage.
I believed my whole life that my dad held me to a higher standard. That he expected more of me than I could ever deliver. I always felt that I was letting him down, just a bit, just enough. And I resented him so badly for making me feel like I could never quite measure up to what he had expected from me.
But on my end I also held him to a higher standard. And he never quite measured up to what I naively expected of him.
He always appreciated a good funny.
We never fully allowed ourselves to see each other, the way we really were, flaws and all. We were just too much alike, mirror images of each other, reflecting it all too clearly, to let down our guard and just be.
He was an amazing, complex individual. He was smart, and clever. He was passionate about a million things and knowledgeable about a million more.
When not on a boat, he was pretty happy in a kitchen, with a glass of wine.
And I wish, more than anything, that I could sit down to a great meal with him, pour us both a glass of wine, and set down my baggage so I could really and truly appreciate him for the person he was.
He was a man who loved a good story, who relished playing the part he’d written for himself in that story. I spent too many years trying to pull him out of the story and into my reality when I really should have just joined in in his.
It seems fitting that hours after dropping off the kids at school for their first day that I should sit at my desk (missing them a bit, I have to admit) and write up the second part of our vacation.
The morning after our day with the Mouse and the Magic we lazed about before packing up to head for the cruise ship terminal an hour away.
As I’ve mentioned before, going on a cruise was a very last minute decision on my part. It was that or heading to a rental on a lake. Even as we headed to Long Beach I still wasn’t 100% sure that I’d made the right choice. I did worry a bit that the kids might be sea sick and that we’d bitterly regret being on the open seas.
Lucky for me, my kids have stomachs of steel like their mama!
We started having fun even before we got on board. Excitement was high!
We got on board on the early side, giving us plenty of time to explore the ship and grab some lunch poolside. It didn’t take long for the kids to grasp just how much fun was awaiting them.
Like… water slides?
We had booked an inside state room, just big enough for the four of us and our stuff, but Carnival graciously upgraded us to a balcony suite which we took no time at all to get used to*. (It wasn’t hard… at all.)
Not as fun as bunk beds, but quite cozy nonetheless.
As soon as the kids were settled in for the night, I stepped out onto the balcony to put my new camera through its paces. I dearly loved my Nikon D40… but it was no match for the dark. The D3200 allowed me to play, play, and then play some more. Low light? Who cares!
Bright light? Doesn’t stop the camera either. Also, waking up to this every morning? I could live with that!
We woke up the next morning at our first port of call – Catalina Island, which I’d never been to, but had heard much about. We took our sweet time having breakfast on board and discussing our day on the island. As we talked, Little L grew more and more agitated. I brushed it off, until I realized that she was anxious about taking the small boats that were ferrying people from the big ship to shore.
My gut reaction was to tell her to suck it up and to force her to come with us. And then I realized I didn’t have to. Instead, I asked her if she wanted to spend the day at Camp Carnival.
She was quick to agree and instantly her grumps vanished. M, on the other hand, was skeptical, worrying about the family component of our family vacation vanishing into thin air. I prevailed. The thought of not having to jolly a cranky 7-year-old along all day sounded perfectly amazing.
See? Smiles all around!
Catalina Island was utterly adorable. I could have spent a whole vacation right there, walking around the beachy downtown, having coffee in quaint coffee shops, taking in all the sights.
After a bit of walking around, M and C decided they really wanted to go kayaking. I got them settled in their little boat and, with a bit of a skip in my step, headed out for an hour long walk with my camera.
Who says family vacation means you all have to be together ALL the time?
Before we knew it, it was time to get back on board. I joined all the other people busy snapping shots of our boat.
Our second night on board was just as fun as the first, with some added treats. Mmm chocolate and strawberries…
And new friends!
On our second morning I woke up as we were slowly making our way into Ensenada. I snuck out onto the balcony, making sure not to rouse my slumbering family, and put my camera to work again.
I wanted to love Ensenada. I really did. But it was a little… sad… unfinished… grimy.
We headed off the boat in the hopes of finding a cute beach town to visit and instead found ourselves in what could have been, in a more prosperous place, an industrial area. Instead of walking around as we’d planned to do, we hopped on a tour buss headed to the big local attraction, La Boufadora, a big ol’ blowhole, where all the tourists gather to watch water shoot up into the sky before heading to the open air market to haggle over keepsakes.
I’m glad we went. I’m glad the kids got to see a bit of Mexico – though I’ll definitely be taking them back to see more of it as I think it would be a shame to have Ensenada be their only take on the whole country. But I’m also glad we had a whole day at sea after so that we could end our trip on a more positive note.
The kids ran off as early as possible to hang out with their friends at camp, leaving M and I to relax and laze the day away. Lucky us, we were also treated to a really cool behind the scenes tour of the ship. We saw all the kitchens and some of the staff areas.
Whenever I cruise I’m always mesmerized by the thought of the lives of the staff happening under the feet of all the vacationers. Seeing them in action only increased my awe.
All in all, it was a fantabulous vacation. We all came home, happy, rested, and excitedly planning next summer’s trip.
Want to know why you should consider a Carnival Cruise for your next family trip? Stay tuned. I have a top 10 reasons why coming up soon.
*Please note: This trip was planned for and purchased by us, I was not compensated for this trip. The Carnival team went above and beyond to make us feel welcome and treated us like royalty the whole time we were on board because I had, prior to our departure, informed the PR team that we’d be sailing the Carnival Inspiration. That said, it has to be noted that the customer service team on the ship, as well as all the staff we encountered, are incredibly dedicated to their jobs and truly bend over backwards to make everyone on board have a fantastic time, whether or not they’re social media VIPs.