It was a somber start to the day: rain pouring down from low grey clouds. Somber, too, because we were heading to Vancouver to attend an “inurnment” – placing the ashes of a dear friend Eileen beside the ashes of her husband John, who had died several years earlier. Now they were gone, both of them, our friends for more than 40 years. Eileen had died in April, and because of the pandemic, we weren’t able to go and say good-bye beforehand. Because of the pandemic, as well, this ceremony couldn’t be held until now, 4 months later. The weather matched the sad feelings we had as we made the journey on slick roads to board the ferry.
Living on the island is wonderful, but ferries make things more difficult, especially in these days of pandemic, when numbers allowed on board are limited. We were fortunate to be able to board within an hour of arriving at the terminal. But passengers were advised to remain in their cars for the duration of the 90 minute trip, and to wear masks if they needed to visit the restrooms. Usually, the atmosphere on a ferry, especially in the summer, is festive – people are often on holidays and love watching the scenery glide by. But not now. The sense of adventure didn’t reach us, either, parked down in the hold. We doom-scrolled through our cell phones, assaulted by bad news stories. We ate our packed sandwiches in silence.
It was still raining when we reached Vancouver and made our way to the hotel in a high-rise area but close to the seawall. A peek out the window grimly revealed the sights and sounds of construction all around us. A Covid-aware poster told us what we couldn’t have here: no coffee maker, no pool, no hot tub, no restaurant, no bar. We unpacked. The ceremony would take place the following morning, so we had 20 hours to fill in a small room in a rain-soaked city. Books, Sudoku, Cribbage, TV... they would have to keep us amused. We lay down for a rest.
And then: the sun came out.
Vancouver in the rain: somber and dreary. But Vancouver in the sunshine invites you out to play. We pulled on our jackets and walking shoes and set out to see what we could see, and to find an interesting outdoor place for dinner. We got rained on periodically, but we persevered. We watched people – parents pushing strollers, cyclists, joggers, a nurse supporting an older gentleman on his daily walk, kids chatting on benches; we watched little water taxis zipping around on the bay, we explored our way around the neighbourhood.
We settled on a Persian restaurant with an outdoor patio and had an excellent meal.
The ceremony itself, the next day, was also wonderful. All of it was held outdoors, including a high tea around a courtyard fountain. We donned our masks and said good-bye, yes, but we also celebrated, told stories, shared our emotions.
And then I remembered back to a day when I was staying with Eileen, who was dying. I was her companion/meal-maker and friend for 10 days when she needed a little extra support. She said to me one morning, “Enough about dying. Today I want to live. Let’s go to Granville Island.” And we did, she on her scooter, and I on foot, taking the Sky Train and water taxis, zooming around that funky neighbourhood of shops and restaurants, enjoying ourselves thoroughly.
Perhaps Eileen’s words have a message for us in these days of pandemic, racism, climate change, and political divisiveness. These are indeed somber times, and we do need to take that seriously. But we also have the precious gifts of life, love, friendship, community and more. To honour her grit, her determination, and her courage, I need to remember that today, every day, is for living. Even rainy days.
Each cloudy moment had a touch of silver, reminding us of the adventure that life is.
PS: The return journey on the ferry was one of those silvery moments that will remain etched in my memory. We were the second last car that got on the ferry, and were parked outside at the back of the ship. The sun was shining, the breeze was warm, and the scenery gliding by spectacular. We took the folding lawn chairs out of our trunk and set them up to fully take advantage of the opportunity we’d been given to have a 2 hour “mini-cruise” experience. In the absence of wine, we snacked on potato chips. Now that’s living!