As I write this, I am sitting on the back porch of my childhood home in Hutchinson, Kansas. I am supposed to be on Polaris with my husband and kids, cruising South Puget Sound.
But I got a text from my mom a little more than a month ago that she had been feeling short of breath and unable to even take a quick walk around the neighborhood. She was going to the doctor to see what was causing it.
Then I got a text from my sister about a week-and-a-half ago. Despite going to the doctor and getting two stents to open up a narrowing artery, mom’s condition was getting worse. She was so out of breath and exhausted she couldn’t even drive herself to the doctor or walk to the end of her driveway to grab her mail.
It quickly became clear that mom needed help. And of my siblings (I am one of three kids) I was in the best position to head home. My husband and I hit pause on our cruising plans and I booked a seat on the next socially-distanced and well-masked-up flight back to Kansas.
So instead of rocking on an anchor in some sublime cove in Puget Sound, I’m chilling in the home A/C in south-central Kansas. I’ve temporarily traded dinghy trips to shore with car drives to the grocery store. I miss looking for orcas in the Sound, but I did stumble upon some raccoons in my mom’s neighborhood.
Changing course, turning around, scrambling to fix a problem—being adaptable—are all necessary skills for life. They also are necessary skills for sailboat cruising.
Good thing I started learning those skills about 15 years ago.
When life gives you lemons, pour some whiskey
In 2005, my father was diagnosed with ALS, a terminal neurological disease that causes loss of muscle control. Over the course of 18 months, my father, best known for his ability to fix just about anything, lost the ability to eat, speak, walk, type and breathe. He died in September 2006.
Then, two months later after his death, my mother was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Instead of mourning the loss of her husband of nearly 30 years, she had to buckle down for a fight for her own life.
She won that fight, but unfortunately that is just the beginning of her story. Since 2006 my mom has:
- Had cancer two more times
- Has had surgery to correct problems with her cardiovascular system three times
- Has had a double mastectomy and reconstruction (and due to complications, she had to undergo reconstruction three times)
- Nearly died twice.
I’m leaving out a lot of detail because it would take over this entire post. Let’s just say there’s been a lot—A LOT—but mom is still kicking and her heart is still ticking—now with the help of a pacemaker she got last week.
During all of this I also had two kids, moved three times, changed careers and went through a divorce.
The life skills sailing requires
In a way, all this stress, loss, grief and change led me to sailboat cruising.
Before my life unraveled into something I never planned for, I don’t think I would have had the interest or courage to opt out of a more conventional life for a fouled up one that includes splitting my time between Portland and Seattle, moving onto a sailboat part of the time and leaving my safe, corporate job so I could have the freedom to sail for weeks at time without squeezing in 8 hours of daily conference calls.
But my father’s death taught me to stop putting off what you want to do today for tomorrow. That’s why I’m not waiting until I’m older and the kids are out of the house to start cruising and exploring.
And my mom’s perseverance through her struggles has taught me to be grateful for what I have. That’s why I don’t focus on the fact that we can’t be full-time world cruisers right now. We’ve managed to figure out a way to live at least part-time on our boat! And cruise the magnificent Pacific Northwest!
My divorce taught me how important it is to invest in my most precious relationships. And to live the life I want instead of the one others expect me to live. That’s what I’ve loved so much about moving onto our sailboat. I’ve been able to spend more time with my family and together learn how to live a calmer, more intentional and sustainable life focused on connecting with each other and the natural world.
And moving multiple times, changing careers, living on a tight budget taught me that I can learn how to do just about anything if I really want to. That includes sailing a boat, fixing a hole in the boat’s transom, learning how to read charts, stowing and organizing three month’s worth of food and figuring out how to dock a 39-foot pilothouse sailboat into the super tight slips at the Elliot Bay Marina.
Mom’s condition is improving since getting a pacemaker and I’m really encouraged by her gradual return to the more energetic person she is.
I’ll be back on Polaris and with my family soon, and when I do, I know I’ll be even more prepared for the cruising to come.