We were at our family cabin on Government Lake near Hornepayne, Ontario. We affectionately called it “the camp”. My parents had moved to Hornepayne in the 1950’s at a time when the only access into the tiny hamlet was by rail. My Dad was a trainman for CN Rail, and he ended up working for the railroad for almost 40 years.
The camp is on an island, and if you read my story about my Grandmother having been on the Titanic, this is the body of water that she refused to cross.
Everything on the Island was transported over either by boat or raft. This included a 3-bedroom cabin, complete with washroom, electric lights, hot & cold running water, propane cooking stove & fridge and a wood-fired stove.
This is my Dad we’re talking about here, so naturally there was also a microwave, VCR and big-screen TV. He brilliantly constructed his own power generation system using a bank of forklift batteries, an inverter, a windmill and solar panels.
There are a few other buildings including a wood-fired sauna with shower, and two workshop/storage sheds. Oh yes, and the now famous (if you read my other post) dune buggy, and the next generation dune buggy, was on the Island too.
When I heard my Dad cry out that morning I went to him in the kitchen. He was scrambling to make orange juice from frozen concentrate. My mother suffered from diabetes amongst other things and Dad told me she seemed to be having an insulin reaction. Too much insulin caused her blood sugar to drop sharply and mom would pass out. Left unchecked, she could slip into a coma and die. Orange juice was one of the quickest ways at the time to elevate her blood sugar.
My Mom was on her bed. I went to her.
The previous evening after dinner, we had all gone out on the raft to go fishing. Mom didn’t join us because she said she was feeling tired. We didn’t think much of it at the time.
The raft was a magnificent floating dock with a small outboard motor, steering wheel and a few benches. The raft was a workhorse and as noted above it had ferried pretty much everything over to the Island. The raft was also well utilized for fishing, swimming and sun baking.
Mom was lying on her back and seemed to be gasping for breath. I’d seen her have an insulin reaction before but this looked different to me. Dad came in with the glass of orange juice and I think he quickly realized that something more sinister was going on. Mom sat up, didn’t open her eyes, gasped and fell back on the bed.
Then she was quiet.
My mom was a bright light despite her laundry list of maladies in addition to her childhood-onset diabetes. She had rheumatoid arthritis, had lost a breast to cancer, cataracts, knee replacement and digestion issues to name a few. Even though she had been sick most of her adult life, she emanated positivity and humor. She and I would talk for hours about everything and anything, but mostly about what was happening in my young life. In my early 30’s, I had already experienced the ups and downs of being an entrepreneur. Even though Mom didn’t understand business, she was my greatest fan and asked excellent probing questions. I miss her even now, 25 years later.
We wrapped Mom in a sleeping bag and carried her to the raft. Dad motored the raft towards the fly-in fishing operation across the lake. Crossing the water normally took less than 15 minutes but that morning the ride felt like forever. In my minds eye, I can still see her hair moving gently in the wind. But she was otherwise silent and still.
She was gone.
As we docked the raft at the fly-in base, we yelled for help. A few people came running. Someone called for an ambulance. On vacation that day was an American couple. She was an emergency room nurse and he a State Trooper. They offered to try to help Mom. They attended to her but shortly afterward told us that any heroic efforts at that point would not help.
So she really was gone.
Days later, the Coroner determined that Mom had had a major heart attack and there wasn’t anything anyone could have done. The Coroner said Mom probably wouldn’t have survived even if she was in hospital at the time of her heart failure.
Heart failure. The heart beats faithfully, until it doesn’t. Thump thump. Thump thump.
Here are some nuggets that my Mom taught me:
Open heart. Beautiful heart. Loving heart. I miss you Mom; you were an inspiration to me but I know you are working your heartfelt magic somewhere, someplace, with that twinkle in your eyes.
Therefore now I intend to live fully and vibrantly during, and between, each heartbeat.
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