My dad’s gift of a Maritime vacation became a holiday of healing

My dad's gift of a Maritime vacation became a holiday of healing

This First Person column is the experience of Lisa Kasky, a Beausejour, Man., writer and travel lover. For more information about CBC’s First Person stories, please see the FAQs.

My parents, who lived and raised their family on a small Manitoba farm for 50 years, often visited the West Coast, because Mom was born and raised there.

But their dream, especially my mom’s, was to visit the East Coast.

As the years went on, however, the dream faded. Dad’s legs were slowly failing him; it was hard for him to walk without pain in his back ever since his lower vertebra was broken. It kept him close to his chair or walker.

Meanwhile, Mom had dementia, and it was gradually getting worse.

Then, out of the blue, in November 2019, Dad surprised us with a trip for his four daughters and wife to go and visit the Maritimes. We planned for the summer of 2020, and grew excited as the year progressed.

By March, we were about to book tickets to fly to Fredericton.

And then COVID-19 hit.

Dad poured himself into the planning of our trip.

The Maritimes were soon placed in their own little bubble, and we would have to patiently wait for life to get somewhat normal again.

That normalcy finally arrived in April 2021. By August, the Maritime provinces were out of their bubble.

Dad poured himself into the planning of our trip. Plane tickets were purchased for a July 31 departure for me, my mom, and my sisters, Leona and Anita.

A car was rented. Airbnbs were booked. Every visit to the farm was spent talking about our pending adventures.

Four women with blond hair sit side by side on a purple bench, looking into the camera.
Kasky, right, with her sisters Leona Groot and Anita Campbell and her mother, Roberta Winnemuller, ready to board a plane from Manitoba to the East Coast. Kasky’s father died just 24 days before the trip. (Submitted by Lisa Kasky)

“You’ll have a lobster feast on me,” Dad would say, winking at me, knowing my tolerance for seafood was just that — tolerance.

“And every night you can phone me and tell me how you did and how your mom is doing,” he’d say, knowing that mom still had good days, but the bad days were slowly outnumbering them.

‘Every morning, I wrote to him’

Suddenly and heartbreakingly, Dad passed away on July 7 — just 24 days before our big adventure was to start.

Then came the whirlwind of activity: funeral, finding a place for mom, getting our second COVID vaccinations, packing for our trip. All of it was a distraction from feeling the pain and loss of Dad, and questions to a God who would take him at this time.

Finally, the day came to leave. First stop: Fredericton, to stay with my nephew Taylor. When we arrived, we celebrated.

The next day, I needed to tell Dad everything. But I couldn’t phone him like he’d asked.

So every morning, I wrote to him.

Dad, we hadn’t seen Taylor for two years. I think mom hugged him for 15 minutes when we got off the plane.

Dad, we walked on the bottom of the ocean! The deep, rich soil flows from the rivers all the way to Burntcoat Head. Leona and I walked the cliffs and the sea bottom, watching as the tides slowly came in, while Anita and Mom watched us from above.

It felt like Dad was able to join us after all.

Dad, it was raining today. It did not dampen our spirits! Speaking of spirits, we visited a fine little apple cider establishment called Annapolis Cider Company, in Wolfville. (Nova Scotia crepes and chocolate were also on the menu.)

Dad, before heading to Mahone Bay, we had an amazing lunch at Bent Ridge Winery, where they paired crisp wines with flavorful pastas and cheeses. (We felt, for a moment, we had traveled to Italy.)

In the afternoon, we drove to Lunenburg, where fishermen’s houses are lined up on the steep hill to the waters, so colorful and bright you would be able to see them for miles.

Dad, we shopped and ate everything “seafaring” today: Amos Pewter handmade ornaments, beautiful clay mugs and rustic lighthouses. Then to eat — scallops, freshly caught cod and yes — lobster. I had lobster at Peggy’s Cove (for you). I couldn’t finish it, so I switched meals with Anita. (Sorry — I’m a cattle country girl at heart!).

Dad, we drove to PEI today. I felt you in the air, in the deeply rich red soils I stuck my hand into at Cavendish Beach. You were near me as I walked in the Haunted Wood of Anne of Green Gables.

‘His Maritime gift became more than an adventure’

And so it went. I wrote to Dad over and over again. And with every adventure and passage I wrote, my heart healed. Every word pouring from my soul went to Dad. When I had such a hard time eating my lobster, I could wear I heard him laughing.

Our hearts were not quite whole yet. But certainly healing. He made sure that we were strong enough to carry on without him.

But we also knew he was just a laugh away. A warm rain to ease our pain. A walking partner through the woods. Never alone.

Maybe God knew exactly what he was doing when he took Dad, because he felt like Dad was able to join us after all.

His Maritime gift became more than an adventure. It was a stepping stone to a smiling heart.

"Thanks, Dad" with a heart drawn into the sand.
Kasky’s special message to her father, written in the sand: ‘Thanks Dad.’ (Submitted by Lisa Kasky)

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