The hardest part of cruising

The view from the deck

I don’t want to be here right now.

We’re living in Totem on the hardstand, on stilts in a Thai shipyard. There is a lot of noise, and a lot of dirt, and a lot of chaos. Chunks of Totem’s interior are torn up. We climb a wobbly ladder with a rise that must be double a normal step to get on board. We have no refrigeration. It is hot, under tropical sun during the day and in the breeze-less yard at night. We share communal bathrooms in the yard and try desperately to avoid needing them at night.

But our present circumstance has nothing to do with my discontent. I don’t want to be here right now because I lost someone I love, and today her memorial service was held back at home on Bainbridge Island.

We met as two moms, first crossing paths at preschool flanked by a pair of similarly aged daughters, later bonding at knitting guild meetings (best followed by a trip to the pub!). In the chaotic year of boat renovations and radical downsizing during the year before we left, Joan was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer, and our friendship shifted and deepened on the unstable path of an uncertain journey.

I wish I could be back there to honor her, and share that grief with others who loved her. And as much as my sadness today is for the passing this resolute optimist, it also mourns the hundreds of times I couldn’t help her. I couldn’t help in all the little ways that friends make life easier for each other, as she fought one battle after another with her traitorous body.

This, for me, is the hardest part of cruising. Our funds don’t include the kind of cushion that can absorb traveling home. Leaving on our adventure meant making peace with this very significant trade-off. We miss big events like this, and the weddings and graduations. We cannot be present for the many other milestones in the lives of our friends and family.

Last year, my parents flew me home to help them filter and pack up thirty years of memories from a house, and thanks to them I had the gift of many hugs from people I love- including getting to spend time with Joan. Knitting, making bad jokes, tucked under a blanket, sharing our hopes, I know she was so happy for me to follow my dreams. That just doesn’t make it easier at this moment.

She indelibly marked my life. How lucky we are, pure and simply just LUCKY, all critical stars of our world aligned to make our family’s journey possible. Because for all our plans and dreams and intentions, this life is incredibly fragile, and Joan has made me grateful for every day we get. And it’s this I tried to remember as I sat in the anchorage with with news on my lap of her passing, the sting of salt water on my cheeks. That she was happy for me, and didn’t resent the absence I lament.

Totem GA reel02

It’s always appreciated when you click through to read this on the Sailfeed website.


14 Responses

  1. I’m so sorry for your loss. I lost a dear friend to breast cancer about 15 years ago and I didn’t get to say goodbye. Not because I was out of the country, but because she pulled away from everyone. None of us knew she was imminently dying. I should have known something was up when she came to visit me 6 months prior. She looked amazing and healthy at the time, but when I look back, I believe she knew what was coming and wanted me to remember her as healthy and vibrant.

    I’m glad you got to see her on your last trip home.

  2. Behan, Joan is probably with you in spirit right now, holding your hand. s/v YOLO’s hearts go out to you. May you find peace. Also, not sure if you are familiar with Pema Chodron? She has helped me through a lot of life’s toughest moments. If/when you have internet, try looking her up. She is a female Tibetan monk who speaks about grief. She says it’s important to absorb it and accept it. Blessings.
    s/v YOLO

  3. I am so sorry for your loss, Behan. I sat down a few weeks ago, while we were in Slovenia, to write a good-bye email to a dear friend and teacher that we just learned was dying. After over a year wandering the globe with our kids, I can understand your frustration and sadness in not being able to help and ease suffering in ways that were once so easy living in one place for a long time. I can imagine so vividly your friendship with Joan and the pub and knitting at Churchmouse as I have many of those nostalgic moments myself. I do know one thing for sure. The best thing you ever did to honor your friendship with her while she was on this earth and beyond is to live the life you dreamed. I am certain that passion and committment is what drew her to you and made you hold such a dear place in her heart. After I read your post, I walked to town and lit a candle for Joan this evening at a beautiful church on the Versilia Coast of Italy that was paved in marble. The sky was a perfect shade of Tuscan pink when I came out of the church. Our thoughts are with you today and always as we follow your journey.

  4. Big hugs. I know how much joy reading of your travels has brought me – and we haven’t even met. I’m sure your friend got joy from that too. Xoxoxoox

  5. so sorry for your loss. 🙁 I lost my sister to breast cancer May 2012. My mom’s breast cancer has metastized to her liver. I just went home for a visit as we close enough to get cheap airfare. I pray I will be able to travel home when her time comes. But for now I rejoice in everyday that I get to enjoy this lifestyle. A few minutes ago i saw a baby spotted eagle swim by the boat. Little moments of that kind of happiness never touched me in my former land life the way they do now. Virtual hugs xoxo

  6. Behan,

    My heart is with you, your family and Joan’s family. As someone who lost my best friend to breast cancer in 2010, I can tell you that you are honoring Joan by sharing the story of your friendship, sharing the story of her fight and living your life to its fullest.

    Lots of love!


  7. I wish I had the right words to say but here goes. Reading that has brought to mind the last three years of my mothers life as she fought with brain cancer, and her subsequent passing last year from it. Our yachting life and the distance and sheer cost of visiting meant I wasn’t able to spend as much time with her as I would have liked to, and in the end although I tried I was unable to get there to hold her hand one last time. I missed her by just 15 hours which haunts me to this day. However, like your Joan, I know she understood our dream and never wanted me to give it up although other family members expected me to. You know in your heart what is right and rest assured, like all of us with loved ones no longer with us that she is going to be sailing right beside you, and she wouldn’t regret a thing. My thought are with you at this time.

  8. said a prayer for her family and yours. I too lost my dear friend to cancer about seven years ago now. The sadness doesn’t leave but gets a little easier to bare over time. Just remember the good times and know that if you were meant to be there with her then you would have been. She is with you now in spirit, the quiet times you bring out your knitting, the sundowners that you just know she would have enjoyed and the smiles of your daughter that helped to bring her into your life. she will never leave you because she is a part of who you are.

  9. So very sorry for your loss. I buried my best friend this summer just days after we left for cruising. She had a very rare form of cervical cancer. My heart breaks for you just as it still breaks for my friend. Like Joan, she loved the fact we were getting to follow our dreams, but that doesn’t lessen the heartache or fill the empty place they leave. I’m blessed to have her as you are blessed to have Joan. Peace to you.

  10. I appreciate so much the heartfelt notes you’ve all taken time to share. It’s easy to slide into sadness and regrets, even when I know that she wouldn’t want it to be that way. Your empathy and reminders that we are doing exactly what we are meant to be doing are so helpful. xx

  11. I know it’s been hard for you. Be strong and cherish the memories you have with her. Never ever think you never did anything for her because your friendship and the memories you shared gave her life more meaning.

  12. When my mother died of breast cancer, the priest at her wake said that people never die as long as they are remembered. Each time we speak of the departed, each time we remember something they said or did, or good times we had with them, they live. Keep Joan in your heart, and remember the good times you had with her. Speak of her to your family, and she will live on.

    Feeling that Mom is with me when I write this or when I think of her or speak of her has helped ease the grief. I hope to see her again when I leave this life, and boy will we have a lot of hugs and laughter when that happens.

    Peace to you and your family.

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