Friday, September 02, 2011

Prince Edward Island re-re-visited

I didn't expect to make 2 trips to PEI this summer, but that's what happened. While July was mostly a quiet month with Jonathan and Allison at day camps and lots of leisurely days to hang out and enjoy the heat, the second half of the summer was very hectic.

On Friday, July 29, my Aunt Jean in PEI passed away at 71 years of age. She had gone into hospital on Easter weekend for surgery for a mass in her colon. Her recovery was very slow; she spent several weeks in hospital. When she finally got out and moved to my cousin (her older daughter) Barb's house to recuperate, things seemed to be looking up. But she was soon back in hospital with severe pain and what turned out to be more extensive cancer, and it soon became clear that it was a palliative situation. She had 10 days of radiation treatment in the hospital in Charlottetown and then returned to the hospital in Summerside (where she'd had her original surgery); she never returned home.

Aunt Jean, after whom I was named, was my dad's sister and the baby of the family. She was a wonderful person: so outgoing, enthusiastic, and loving. She was funny without trying to be: Rich and I still laugh about playing crokinole with her and her constantly jumping in and shooting out of turn; and about her turning to her husband, my uncle John, and, in all seriousness, saying, "John, what's the name of that stuff we're taking for our memory?" When we were kids we loved visiting her house and having her family visit us, and after Rich & I had kids we would never see her on our PEI trips without her handing me a bag with something in it for them: balls, puzzles, stuffed animals, books.

It was so sad and unbelievable to hear that she had died. Last July Uncle John died after a long illness and it was very sad for her to lose him -- but now she was making plans to sell their house in Charlottetown and move closer to her daughters Barb and Lorna and her four grandkids. She had so much to look forward to and it is so sad that none of that is going to happen. The morning I heard she had died we had a huge rainstorm here and as I wandered around the house listening to the rain pounding on the roof and watching it pour down the street, I felt such a sense of loss. But it didn't really hit me until I went to the funeral home website that night and saw her picture and all the information about her upcoming funeral and I realized, "It's over; I'll never see my Aunt Jean again." Then the tears came.

This was Friday, July 29, and Rich & I were already planning to leave for our vacation in PEI on Sunday, August 7. We spent most of the weekend trying to figure out if it was possible for me to go to the funeral, whether we should try to leave early for our trip, etc. But the funeral was on Monday August 1 and we just couldn't manage to leave as a family that quickly. In my head it seemed impossible and ridiculous to make two trips, but in my heart I just so wanted to be there if it was at all possible.

Finally Alan confirmed that he was going to drive there from London on Sunday with his daughter Sadie (Genevieve couldn't come because she'd hurt her back), so I decided to go with him and then fly back to Montreal Tuesday and take the train home. That meant a very hectic Saturday because we had a family gathering planned at our house and didn't want to cancel any of that. We had a great day with the Prinsen gang and everyone was so helpful and supportive, even helping me book my plane and train tickets online, which I'd never done before. After getting myself as organized as possible and getting things in order for Rich to manage the kids, meals, etc., I crashed at midnight, and then got up at 6 to be ready for when Alan came to pick me up. It was a long day of driving on Sunday (we left Kingston 8 a.m. and reached Mom & Dad's at 12:30 a.m. on Monday), but we arrived safely.

I felt so blessed to be able to be there for my aunt's funeral and to see her daughters, their husbands and kids, and many other relatives. The funeral service was beautiful; however, for those who had attended my uncle John's funeral almost exactly a year ago (which I had not), there was a strange and sad sense of deja vu, since the two funerals took place in the same location, the same two ministers officiated, the burial was at the same cemetery, and the reception was in the same church. Several people said, "Who would have thought a year ago that we would be at Jean's funeral?" I guess it's good that we don't have the power of seeing too far into the future.

I was privileged to read Scripture at the funeral, though this provided a bit of somewhat humorous mystery. Apparently my aunt Jean had written down Proverbs 19 as a Scripture to be read -- but it didn't seem to be a really appropriate reading for her funeral. It was a mix of various sayings about "a man's folly," "false witnesses," poor men being shunned by their friends, corrupt witnesses, sluggards, etc. -- there really wasn't much that you could take out and apply to a funeral or much that I could imagine my aunt finding comfort from. But in the end it didn't really matter. After discussing it with the ministers and with Jean's daughter Barb, we settled instead on having me read the "virtuous woman" passage from Prov. 31. Obviously Aunt Jean never would have picked it for herself, but it seemed totally appropriate because she was such an industrious, vigorous, admirable person. When I read the words "Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gates," I felt they applied perfectly to my aunt and I felt honoured to be able to read them at the service.

All in all it was such a blessing to be there and I was and am so thankful that it worked out. It seemed strange to leave the next day already, but because we were planning to leave for PEI in just 5 more days, it was not so difficult to say goodbye. I took a 1 p.m. flight from Charlottetown to Halifax and settled down to wait for my 3:30 flight to Montreal. The latter flight was quite bumpy (and I'm not the most relaxed flyer at the best of times); the captain said the turbulence was due to some electrical storms. Only later did I find out that there was a huge lightning storm in Halifax later that evening; many planes were stranded on the runway and hundreds of people left to wait out the storm in the airport overnight. Needless to say I was very glad to have gotten out of Halifax in time to avoid all that.

I landed at the airport in Montreal just after 4 local time and took a shuttle to the VIA station. Since I had over an hour to fill, I walked to the Best Western Motel nearby and had a relaxing, quiet supper in the restaurant there. My train left right on time and I reached Kingston a few minutes before 9 p.m. and took a taxi home. There was no one home but I knew Rich had taken the kids to Audrey's so that he could go play his soccer game, so I wasn't worried. But when I checked phone messages, all that changed: Rich had called from Hotel Dieu emergency dep't to say he'd injured his shoulder in the game and needed me to pick up the kids. So I had to call the taxi co. again and go out to Audrey's, take the kids home, go get our car later, etc.

Rich arrived home on foot at 10 p.m. with his arm in a sling; he'd been told he had a partial shoulder separation. So he was not able to drive and had to return to an ortho clinic in a week -- meaning we couldn't leave for PEI on the 7th as planned. So everything was up in the air for the next few days. But when he went to the clinic on Aug 9, the news was good: it wasn't a separation, just stretched ligaments. So he didn't have to have it manipulated back into place or anything; he just needed to be careful with it. But driving was OK, so we immediately started making plans to leave on Thurs the 11th -- just 4 days after our original planned departure date.

We left Kingston on the 11th, got to PEI on the 12th, and stayed there until this past Friday Aug 26. It was a good 2 weeks. The weather had been very poor on PEI for most of the summer; I'm not sure if we can take credit for its turn for the better when we arrived, but we had 2 great weeks of sun and warm temperatures. Only 2 rainy part-days the whole time. Jonathan loved hanging out at Grandma & Grandpa's, doing puzzles on the front porch, playing with the big buckets full of Lego, etc. We had a get-together with some extended family at my Aunt Jean and Uncle John's cottage, which was great, yet it was so strange to be there without them. Rich said it really sank in most for him then, not to have my aunt there laughing and talking and offering us food and drinks and hugs.

My cousins also asked me and Mom to come in to their parents' house to see if we'd like to have any of my aunt's clothes. I felt so sorry to see the girls doing this task of dismantling the house, going through their parents' things and trying to decide what to keep and get rid of, etc. I did take a sweater and some pajamas and a few books, and I feel very grateful to have them; I will always think of Aunt Jean when I wear or read them.

Besides these items, at the funeral both girls had mentioned that their mom had specifically left me something. So that day at the house they gave me this set of figurines which appear at the top of this post. My mom remembers when my aunt bought these and how taken she was with them. So it is really a joy to own these -- to know that she deliberately left them for me, and to have this link with my aunt whose name I share.

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