I know that the adventure I set out on several years ago may seem incomprehensible to some, even to me at times but I learned anything it’s that grief is an extremely individualized journey.
I had no idea what was in store when it was discovered that my mother had cancer and was only expected to leave weeks or a month. Although she was 89 and would have been 90 November 1 of that year, my mother was incredibly healthy for her age and had been all her life. I used to joke she would out live me and I wasn’t really kidding, I thought she would.
One week to the day of her diagnosis she was gone. For her sake, we were happy. None of us wanted to see her suffer, but it was hard to process it all when it happened so fast. I arrived and she left, it was all so sudden and then I had to try and process a grief bigger than I could ever have anticipated. To say I was unprepared is an understatement of epic proportion.
Looking back I barely recognize who I was in those first six months. I couldn’t sleep, food made me sick and there was the grief I couldn’t shake, all of which left me somewhat zombie like, moving through the world but not really in it.
Every morning was a nightmare my natural energy, optimism and workaholic tendencies were a distant memory. I just couldn’t seem to get past the huge hole I felt inside from such a quick and unexpected loss. I couldn’t get to the place where I could let go of my physical mother and be comforted by the knowledge that my spiritual mother would always be there. And she was there, a lot of the time. I know some people will dismiss this, but I have no doubt at all.
I won’t bore you a family history or the reasons why I had such a strong, sometimes too tight, bond with my mother. As a child I was always terrified something would happen to her, she was all I had and I would be an orphan. Despite my age, that’s exactly how I felt when she was gone and I didn’t know how to get past her loss or how to heal the parts of me that only she could soothe. The only thing I was sure of was that existing with so many pieces of myself missing would simply continue the downward spiral.
So I took, for me, a huge leap and went on a trip alone. I don’t go anywhere alone, I hate to fly and have refused to take any flights over 5 hours, yet one day I found myself I sitting on a balcony in Hawaii writing the original version of this blog as the waves crashed below. It took me 6 hours and 45 minutes on a plane to get there, I was alone and was been driving around the island by myself. Most of you probably think that’s not a big deal, but for me it was a huge step and I felt proud of myself.
I was lucky enough to meet some incredible healers and my 7 day wellness experiment left me feeling light and almost whole. Healing touch, reiki and chakra balancing among other experiments had freed me from my resentment and darkness and filled the holes left behind but, while very helpful, that was only half of the problem.
Which brings me in a very roundabout way to why Hawaii, mother and pearls. We didn’t have a lot of money while I was growing up and the only vacations we took were to visit family. There were lots of trips my mother would have loved to take Ireland, a cruise and Hawaii. When I was about 10, the parish priest, who was quite the traveller, came back from a vacation to Hawaii and had a little do for the ladies with a slide show of his trip. My mother went and she was captivated by the lush beauty. She grew up in Nova Scotia and loved the ocean.
That night she said that someday we were going to go to Hawaii and whenever there was anything in the travel section of the paper about Hawaii she would read it to me and say some day. Regret was one of the wounds I’ve had to heal and the biggest regret is that I let life get in the way and never took my mother to any of the places she wanted to go. I always meant to and I was so angry with myself for not making it happen.
There was some money from my mother for all of us and I felt I don’t want it all to be gone without doing at least one thing that was about my mother. I know that more than anything she wanted only the best for her children. My being healthy and happy was all she ever wanted so I decided to use some of the money to face to face down some fears and try and get myself back.
Hawaii felt like the right choice. Every time I looked at something closer or cheaper, I heard that voice in my head, the one I’ve been hearing all my life. My mother wanted to go to Hawaii and I was going to take her if it was the last thing her spirit did. Still I waivered and had just decided that it was too crazy, I couldn’t do it when I received an email from Westjet about a 24 hour sale. Oddly Mexico and other closer places were in the $600 and up range without taxes, Maui, Oahu all pricey. They I clicked on Kona on the big island, round trip all taxes $412. I couldn’t go to Vancouver Island for that, yes mother I hear you. So I bought the ticket and then panicked. In the 11 days from ticket purchase to getting on the plane I was terrified, questioned my sanity and almost cancelled daily. But something wouldn’t let me give up, that voice said you’re going and I don’t want to hear another word.
In the continuing string of odd coincidences, I found good hotels having oddly generous specials and was able to book two very nice places for the cost of a motel in Vancouver. They even included breakfast or resort credits. Then I found a wellness center in Kona (the Lotus Center) that had every one of the treatments I was interested in trying.
I made it through the very long plane trip somehow and began my adventure in wellness which is another story. The other goal on this trip is this story. I wanted to find something special that would always remind me of my mother and of this journey of growth and wellness which she made possible. I didn’t know what that thing would be, just that I would feel it. My mother loved pearls and they are found in this area, so I thought perhaps that might be it. I looked in many, many stores and saw lots of beautiful things, but even those that were stunning (and much too expensive) were all not right.
Then, after a strange mishap when someone backed into the front of my rental SUV in a parking lot making it undrivable, I decided to take another walk down the main shopping street as the tow and new vehicle would take 4 hours. While passing a little place I had looked at before called The Hawaiian Pearl Company I saw something I’d missed, a wooded bucket on the counter filled with water and oysters. You could buy the oyster of your choice and the pearl inside would be yours. No guarantees of kind, quality or size. I know immediately what I was supposed to do, that voice was back and making itself heard.
Flash back to me, 13 years old, my mother and I taking the only non family vacation of my childhood. She had cashed a bond and took me to Disney World in Florida. We had a great time and, although I didn’t realize it as much as I should have at the time, she worried about having enough money for the trip. One day we took an excursion to Sea World and my mother especially enjoyed the presentation on how pearl’s are formed and found. The same company had a booth and for $10 you could pick an oyster. At that time cultured pearls were not a common thing and you were not guaranteed that anything would be inside. I wanted one of those oysters in that desperate way that only happens when you’re young. I didn’t care about any other souvenirs, I just wanted that oyster. To me it was the magic and the surprise of it all, the pearl was nice but incidental. To my mother it was $10 and maybe nothing inside, she just couldn’t bring herself to do it.
Much later I remember her telling me she was sorry she hadn’t let me have the oyster. I was surprised she remembered or said anything about it. So when I saw that bucket of oysters I knew she was saying this time she wanted me to have my magical surprise. It seemed to me the perfect way to remember her and the trip that I firmly believe we took together. She finally made it to Hawaii and she loved it. I can almost see her at dinner complaining the coffee is to hot or cold or doesn’t come quickly enough (a sure sign she’s enjoying herself). I swear I could hear her in the car, telling me to put the windows up, it’s blowing her hair and why have air conditioning if you’re not going to use it. She was there and I think she just might be a Hawaiian goddess of pearls.
That first pearl (yes I said first) was easy, I didn’t have to think about which shell to take, once again the voice was clear in my head “take that one, no not that one, the other one, that one” and so I did. The very nice girl in the shop said I could look at more shells before I decided, but mother had spoken. So we opened the shell and she gasped when she saw an absolutely flawless and quite large white pearl. Apparently they don’t usually come out of these oysters that big. That’s mom, she always liked to get the best value. I choose a Hawaiian themed setting for a charm to wear on a bracelet to always have this special memory of our trip with me. I think I started to truly heal the moment I saw that pearl.
While she was setting mom’s pearl, I told the girl why I was in Hawaii and why I decided on that particular oyster. She was so touched by the story she told me to take another shell as her gift. Once again mom picked and once again there was a gasp on it’s opening. She looked up at me and said, “you’re right your mom is here”. The smaller pearl was perfect and was a misty silver colour. I was told that it should have been impossible for that type of pearl to be in one of these, separately farmed oysters, and that the colour represented mother love. I understood it all then, she knew how I felt and she was telling me that the trip to Hawaii was for us to be together one last time, just in a different way. It was our trip and the pearls her gift, so that I would always be able to look at them and know she’s there and I will always have the love of my mother as close and as miraculous as those pearls.
Of course, being mom, she couldn’t do things half way, plus she really liked it when ladies wore matching jewellery. On my way down the coast I stopped in at the Kings Shops and visited Maui Pearl Divers when I saw the Pandora sign in the window. I had mom’s pearl put on a Pandora bead and bought that in Kona. Now I needed the bracelet and a few other charms to keep the pearl in place and safe. They had two available only in Hawaii charms, a silver pineapple and a sea turtle so I choose them to surround mom’s pearl. It seemed fitting that the entire piece reflected the trip.
The gentleman in the store admired mom’s pearl and was very surprised to hear it had come out of one of the “pick an oyster” barrels. So I told him the whole story, including the silver pearl. After ringing up my purchase, for some reason (mom are you controlling people’s minds?) the man also gifted me with an oyster. I think he was wondering if I really had pearl Karma or a jewellery guardian angel.
This time I actually wasn’t expecting much since I felt mom had already more than done her part to give me something special to remember her by and to let me take that last step from pain to a memory that will always be a part of me. But, the voice was there again and clearly wanted me to take the smallest, most misshapen oyster. I wasn’t going to question mom’s choice when it came to pearl’s so I grabbed that Charlie Brown Christmas tree of oysters. The insides were pushed back and a very pretty, medium sized pale pink pearl was revealed. They are not as common as white but also not rare like the silvery one, but it was very pretty. As he went to scrape out and dump the rest of the insides, the man stopped and got a very odd look on his face and said “no way” in a disbelieving tone. I looked back and saw him gently pushing the insides to reveal a second pearl, perfect and almost identical to the first. Now we are into the impossible and mom has yet another believer who is certain she’s very much a presence in Hawaii. Pearls do not come two to a shelf, at least they don’t unless a certain someone makes it so. Now I have a lovely pair of earnings to wear with my bracelet and I know that mom is very pleased with herself.
Feeling whole and knowing I will never really be alone, the next day I took the last step in both the vacation and saying goodbye to my ocean loving mother. I had brought one of the charms off her old bracelet with me. I went down the beach and, where the waves met the shore, l dig down into the sand and placed the charm gently inside and buried it securely. A part of her will be near her beloved ocean and be surrounded by the beauty of Hawaii forever.
I’ve heard sceptical people say that vacations are a waste because once you come back it’s over. I think, like everything in life, a vacation is what you make it. That trip to Hawaii, like my mother, will be a part of me forever.
It’s been four years and I still grieve at times, still have days I want nothing more than to have my mummy or to hear her voice. I don’t expect that will ever go away completely. But the horrible sadness of Sunday’s without the weekly phone call has gone, I can get through holidays and her birthday with just a little crying. For the most part though I can remember all the love and the memory of how it feels to know there’s at least one person in the world who truly loves you, without conditions or reservations. I will always have that and I will always have the Big Island. I only have to look at the photos or take out the pearls and I’m transported back to 7 days that felt like they were out of time, a magic bubble, I will always own.
Grief transforms over time if you find a way to take that a step out of the fog. I’m not saying you have to go to Hawaii but a trip somewhere that has meaning associated with the lost loved one, taken by yourself with the right frame of mind, is an experience that just might change your life. I know it changed mine. As in all things, intention is key, if your intention is to move forward and transform your grief to healing and pain to memories that bring a smile as well as a tear, then an action on your part is necessary to get the reaction you are looking for. Find your Hawaii (even if you don’t have to leave home to get there) and move forward, knowing you never really leave anyone you love behind.