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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

9/6 Nothing prepared me for the goodbyes

Today we sailed away from lovely Santa Barbara and the very last ties we had to our old life. Honestly, the goodbyes have been the hardest part of this huge life shift and much more difficult for me than I would have ever guessed. We filled our time there with our son and daughter-in-law who live in SB. We also made up for the promised Alaska visit with my mom, the visit that never happened because we simply weren’t settled enough to have any company the first few months we were off the dock. These were the last of a long list of good byes. .

Bill and I spent five years getting ready for this trip. I read every book I could find and talked to everyone who I could get to talk to me and still I was unprepared for the saying goodbye part. There are lots of books and classes and clubs to help you learn the skills you need for a long cruise. We learned how to sail and virtually rebuilt the boat. I learned how to provision and to cook a decent meal in a small galley. I practiced how to flesh out a meal with homemade cheese, yogurt, breads and tortillas. We learned and practiced our navigation, tore out the old engine and equipped the boat with all the needed emergency gear. But there is little available to prepare you for leaving the people you love by choice and with purpose. It was and is a strange and some how disturbing thing to be at once so excited about a journey and so torn with the good byes. Prepare all you want, leaving is hard

My mom and I had an interesting conversation as we walked back to the Santa Barbara Harbor with groceries before we headed to the islands. As we walked along with our paper towels and fruit and cereal we talked about good goodbyes, about being OK with goodbyes. She said that she felt that “now” we could be OK with maybe not seeing each other again, if life were to bring us that. She felt secure and satisfied with our goodbyes. I am not sure I believe that.

I am 49 years old and my Mom is 75. My big sister lives in Montana (a recent huge shift for her as well) and both my nieces live in Seattle. My father passed away when I was 9 and my big brother died of cancer when I was in my 20’s so my immediate family is small. In my mind I always think of us as being small but fierce. We made and make the conscious choice to remain close, intent on giving ourselves the gift of family and friendship. I am so lucky to have had a life that has been filled with grandparents, aunts and uncles, events and get-togethers, holiday meals, trips and phone calls. But how can you stock up on love?

I can’t pack it away in a locker no matter how well I use the space. Another goodbye just gives me an excuse for another kiss and a hug. Now, I don’t seem to be able to stop the uncalled thoughts, moments of wanting to share something with mom or my sister, Barbara or my AA sponsor. It might be a problem or a worry or just a moments longing to tell someone the great joke I just heard. How do you release the weight of some amazing sight that you just can’t wait to share?

Can you be “done” with a goodbye? When I said goodbye to Boo and handed him off to his new home with my niece it was 5am on the way to the airport and somehow the good bye didn’t feel “done.” It turned out it wasn’t. Circumstances unfolded and I got Boo back for a week and a half. In that time we both seemed to somehow manage to finish what hadn’t been done. When I had to let him go again I was more than OK with it and it felt right. Later when I was able to see him for a brief visit when we returned to Seattle on our way south he just simply wasn’t my dog any more. He was happy and settled in his new life. It was hard on my heart but absolutely right for him. But I don’t seem to be able to do that with people.

We have had so many goodbyes; family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, other cruisers, even the staff at our favorite coffee shop. With my family especially there have been a lot of good byes. The most goodbyes of all were definitely with my mom including the official going away party which she hosted and arranged.

Then there were several family dinners in the weeks leading up to our Alaska departure and a goodbye meeting with my big sister. She came to visit from Montana so we met at my moms, a talk that was mostly between my sis and me. We needed to go over the business side of my leaving. She came prepared with her list and got to ask all the questions she had about my preparedness and all the what if’s.

What if something happened to Bill? Was I able to handle things in a foreign country? Can I get our boat to the next port? Did I have my own credit cards and cash? We went over all the emergency information: contacts, EPIRB numbers, Ham call signs, emails, documentation numbers and boat specs -all the particulars in case of an emergency. All the information we hope will never have to be used (but which already came in handy when Mom got worried and called the USCG while we were in Alaska.)

That goodbye also had to include a discussion about lots of family stuff. My big sis wanted to be sure that we were all on the same page on the hardest matters in life. As a family we have already had to face and work though too many end of life questions. We have had numerous family discussions about choices and chances and the end of a life. Sis needed to know what I felt about the possible choices for my mom. Did I want and need to have them keep her if they could - if it meant I could fly back from God knows where to say good bye? Or should they follow the already discussed plan A of no heroic measures in the face of a certain future? Then with tears for us both she got the chance to remind me that she loves me no matter where I end up in the world and that she is always there for me. That goodbye had a lot of the tears that come with the goodbyes of just not knowing when you will actually see each other again. It’s not a forever goodbye but it’s an uncertain goodbye made heavy with all the unknown questions and their impossible answers.

The morning we left for Alaska there was a goodbye breakfast. Me, Bill, Mom and my great friend Barbara around a little table with lots of hugs, pictures and quick hurried conversations -I was so filled with energy and excitement. It made the moments flash by in a rush. Time to go! After breakfast there was the actual goodbye at the dock –unplanned and crowded with neighbors and friends. So many showed that morning that the tears stunned me into grabbing for “things” to do and pushed me into a flurry of untying lines and moment filling busywork.

In August we stopped back in Seattle after our trip north for still more goodbyes. A brief stay that was filled with visits with Barbara (who managed to break her back while I was gone) quickly arranged family meals, a pet and a hug with Boo, a dock party and lots more tears and hugs all wrapped up in a long list of must do boat projects.

After the short pause in Seattle Mom and Sis drove all the way out to Neah Bay for what amounted to a very short visit. They drove with our crew Josh and Ryan for 6 plus hours loaded into moms van and little trailer all filled with dogs and groceries, sea bags and last minute purchases. They didn’t arrive in Neah Bay until after 7pm so all I got with them was a hurried unloading and dinner. We did squeeze in an hour of girl talk back at the trailer while Bill got our crew settled for the night. In the morning early, they met me at the dock as we let go the lines. Again, pictures, hugs and tears and a quiet prayer with mom.

Now, as Santa Barbara becomes a memory there is nothing ahead except the promise of visits to come. Is it possible to be done? Mom, Terri, Katie and Jess, Boo, Barbara, Uncle’s and Aunts, AA friends, the coworkers left still going at the 9 to 5 and special neighbors all fill my mind. There wasn’t a single bad good bye. But I guess until we begin to fill our lives with new friends and new places there will be a hole. There is little doubt we will make wonderful new friend with the cruisers we will meet along the way. Someday I will mourn the end of my time with them too. They will fill my life but they will not take the place of the ones I am missing today.

That talk, coming home from the grocery with mom she said that she felt like “this” goodbye was enough, that if something happened and we never get a chance to see each other again we will have had this. Just in case…..if we never see each other again this last good bye. For me, I have decided that no mater how many times I say good bye it will never be enough. Someday, someone will look back and see “the one” that was the last time we said I love you. But with no magic crystal ball it is impossible to be finished. They could all visit in every country and we would hug and kiss and talk till we are hoarse but there will never be enough time. And right now every goodbye for me brings the longing for more time….all the time in the world.

Cruising is wonderful! I am certain and sure about our decision to be here but it doesn’t’ make the goodbyes any easier or feel any more complete. But I do know I am loved…….forever and wherever and I remind myself to trust in that love and to trust in the healing of time that comes with every new transition in my life.

Love, kat


  1. Kat, you did a fantastic job putting your feelings to words about good byes. With all my family back east, I know what you mean by "every goodbye for me brings the longing for more time..." You could not of writen that phrase any better. You are an excellent writer Kat, keep writing from the heart. I am still praying for both of you. Tom B.

  2. Kat, I am in tears. This was all worded just beautifully and I now wish that I could have one more hug, one more meaningful talk and one more chance to say good-bye. But I suppose I know in my heart that I will undoubtedly see you again and have known that since the good-byes started. I love you Aunt Kat.