A Hui Hou Kakou
Thanks for all the kind comments about my last blog. I am touched that many of you were moved, and I appreciate your continued support.
My trip was not even halfway through after my whale watching and goodbye ceremony. The next morning I was picked up again by a shuttle bus, and headed to a beach for a snorkeling trip with Kai Kanani charters. Whenever Rich and I traveled to an ocean destination, we always snorkeled, and usually went scuba diving. I knew I wasn’t ready to solo scuba, but snorkeling? Piece of cake. Well, a day or so before I borrowed snorkeling equipment at the hotel and waded out into the ocean. Within minutes I found myself winded, and couldn’t quite settle my breathing. I could feel a little panic coming on, and clearly I did not want to have freak out all alone in the ocean. So I swam back to shore, and dejectedly returned my gear. As I trudged back to the safety of my pool chair, I worried: would I panic on the snorkeling trip? I knew intellectually I just had to regulate my breathing, and I practiced good old yoga breaths over and over, giving myself the only “support” I could.
So when I boarded that shuttle bus, my excitement was tempered. Luckily, I right away met two amazing women, Jodi and Kelsey. They were on a girls’ trip for a big birthday (I won’t tell which one, ladies!). We quickly realized that we had something in common: they lived in the Bay Area, not far from where I grew up. We chatted a bit, and hit it off, but I didn’t want to intrude. I wanted to hang with them, but I held back a bit so as not to seem pushy. We had to board the catamaran from shore, wading quickly through the surf to the boat. It was an exhilarating start, as the waves were a bit boisterous. But once we all scrambled up the ladder and settled in, the boat took off and we enjoyed a beautiful trip to Molokini crater, spying whales again as we went.
I sat next to Jodi and Kelsey, but again, I tried to give them space in case they didn’t need some sad sack old widowed woman harshing their mellow. They were having none of it. They included me in conversations, and, when it was tine to get in the water, they made it clear that I could swim with them.
I had confided that I was feeling a bit trepidatious about snorkeling. They confidently declared that I would be fine, but if I wasn’t, just to let them know. So, so kind.
As I climber down the ladder to the water, fixing my mask and fins, I had a matter of fact conversation with myself, and remembered my breathing rehearsals. I plunged in, and floated for a sec, before reflexively sticking out my right hand for Rich.
We aways held hands diving or snorkeling, making sure that neither missed a thing. But he wasn’t there this time. Regardless, I spoke to him, asking him to help me, and he did. I was instantly calmed, and whenever I felt tired or had a frisson of doubt, I just reached out that hand for him.
After Molokini, we headed over to snorkel with turtles, and then it was back to the beach (after a less than graceful departure from the catamaran and back through the swells. Quite a crowd watched as we disembarked, many with cameras at the ready. Somewhere out there is video footage of Jodi losing her suit in the process, lol). I parted ways with my new friends, but not before they invited me to join them and another friend at a luau the next night. Happily, I agreed.
But first it was back to the hotel to get glammed up for dinner. I took the delightful beach path yet again, this time to the Four Season’s where I had an amazing meal at Ferraro’s.
The next day I was lazy. I just felt like hanging in my hotel room, and I barely got out of bed, except to partake of the macarons and champagne left in my room on night one. To be fair I mixed the bubbles with my new fave juice, POG (passionfruit, oj and guava juices). Girl, this stuff takes your mimosa to a whole new level! I read a book, played on my computer, and just hung out for awhile, then finally got prettied up and headed back down my fave path to the luau at the Grand Wailea.
As much as I enjoyed all my alone time, it was awfully fun to share my table with some friendly faces! I’ve been to luaus before, and they are always fun.
The next day the ladies were hitting the same spa I had already enjoyed, and I had another very special adventure ahead of me.
As I have mentioned, I love doing research for trips. I want to know the best restaurants, can’t miss attractions, and special niche experiences not everyone knows about. My last full day in Maui was all about that.
I hopped in my car and drove north, where I met up with my guide. We were headed farther north, to Kapalua, for what was billed as a Spiritual Adventure. Along the way, we discussed my goals, and what led me to book this excursion. There is a stunning rocky outcropping at Kapalua known as the Dragons Teeth, and, at the top of the cliff, there is a labyrinth. This was a place to pause and process, and as one walked the labyrinth, to gain insight.
I had already let Rich go a little on this trip. Now, it was time to take a step forward for me.
I set my intention at the beginning of the path. On my way through the maze, I wanted to reflect on everything that had transpired since Rich first became ill. By the time I reached the center, I wanted to be ready to leave the ugly behind. I started crying almost instantly, and tears just fell as I wandered through. My guide kept her distance, just letting me be in myself. No other visitors approached until I was almost at the middle, and they all respected my grief. I paused in the center, hand to heart, and took a deep breath. I smiled, and cried, thinking of all I had lost and all the pain and fear and stress that had dominated the last 20 months or so. I exhaled, and stepped forward. As I traced my way back out, I tried to expel the bad of the past to make space for the good to come.
I silently left the labyrinth, and headed towards the jagged rocks ringing the bluff, and marveled at the power of the water to carve such stunning formations. Once again, the symbolism was not lost on me. I was tough, but the waves of grief and change were creating something new, and more beautiful. It will take a long time for me to figure out who the new me is, but I am working on it.
We left the bluff and headed to the beach. We rubbed our skin with a Kona coffee scrub and she guided me through some meditations. When we were ready, we plunged in to the sea for one last transformative moment — washing away yet another layer of the past year.
When we parted ways, I weirdly felt stronger, and more clear headed. The trip was fulfilling its purpose, and now I was ready for a little more fun before I had to go home the next day.
I headed up country in my little rental car, passing yet more stunning scenery on my way up to Ocean Organic Vodka Distillery. I don’t know what was better — the spirits we tasted, or the epic surroundings.
If I had had more time, I would have enjoyed lunch at this super cool venue, but I had a date with goats.
Just down the road was Surfing Goat Dairy, a working farm. I toured the place, met all sorts of fun and funky critters, and gave milking a try. I was not a natural (a suburban girl at heart, I’m afraid). Then it was tasting time (cheese, not the goats)!
Now it was time to head back to the hotel. For my last night in town, I was meeting my new friends again. We swapped stories of our every different days, and promised to keep in touch. They had a few more days, but I was headed home the next evening.
In the morning I packed, once again hit the fantastic breakfast buffet, then enjoyed some sun by the pool and walked along the beach, remembering all the things I had done and seen.
As I mentioned previously, this was more than a vacation. It was a renewal, and I did feel ready to take on my next phase, whatever that looked like.
On the ocean walk trail that I enjoyed every day, there had been scattered sacred spots. One such place had a sign that explained a Hawaiian funeral ritual. Of course this intrigued me, since my life had been so much about grief and loss lately. I liked the phrase they used during funereal rites — a phrase they still use in modern tongue: a hui hou kakou, which mean “until we meet again.”
A hui hou kakou, Maui.
A hui hou kakou, Rich.
Aloha Means Goodbye and Hello
Many years ago, I took my first solo trip.
Rich and I had broken up, and I was leaving Ohio to return back to California. I planned that trip with enthusiasm: I wanted to see the country, and refused to drive once the sun went down, as I didn’t want to miss anything. I wanted to see route 66, a corner in Winslow Arizona, Carhenge at the Cadillac Ranch, and Las Vegas. By the end of the trip, I declared “every year I will take a trip all by myself!”
Well, it took me 30 years, but I finally took another one.
In January I took what I called my “widow trip.” This was to be my first adventure without Rich, a journey of rest and relaxation, reflection and rejuvenation, renewal and resolution and refocus. I had been to Hawaii many times, but this was the first return trip to Maui since our honeymoon more than 28 years ago. I was determined to make the most of it. When you trave with others, you often skip things you want to do , as you balance each other’s choices. But as a solo traveler, I was determined to do what I wanted, when I wanted. And I did.
As I mentioned, Rich and I honeymooned on Maui. But I didn’t want to retrace our steps. While I planned to honor us, I also needed to make new memories. So my first choice was where to stay, and I chose the Wailea Beach Beach Resort. I had never spent time in this part of the island, so there were no memories there. My first full day I wandered along the beach walk (I did that daily, and would recommend it highly), and hung by the pool before an early dinner at the Lahaina Grill, reportedly the best restaurant in Maui. Dinner did not disappoint. In fact, I was a little leery before I arrived, as the website really didn’t lead with the best picture. But it was a beautiful restaurant, and the staff was as warm and welcoming as the food was delicious!
I mentioned an early dinner, and there was a reason for that (besides jet lag). At 230am the next morning, I boarded a shuttle to the top of Haleakala to watch the sunrise over the volcano.
The bus ride to the summit was pretty quiet, given the early hour, and uneventful because, well, it was dark. And at the top it was quite cold, so we were bundled up for our long wait. I think we were there a good 2 hours before there was a hint of sun, but it was okay because the night sky was stunning. This was an experience I had always asked others to try with me, but I was actually glad to be doing it alone. No need for chit chat: I could be alone with my thoughts. Granted, I was hardly alone on the volcano, as there were hundreds of folks up there…
… but I secured a spot on a rock with a clear view, and hunkered down.
Watching the horizon for glimmers of light was easy fodder for this symbolism-hungry former English major. It’s easy to see the story in this scene. The more I stared, the more I was sure I had seen some light, but then I wasn’t really sure if I had. Had I just been hoping for the sun? Or was it really coming? It reminded me so much of my current journey. I mean, I knew that of course the sun would come, and I would be warm and comforted by the colors and light. But sometimes, you doubt whether things will really get better. But as sure as the sun went down the night before, it rose that morning.
We headed back to the bus, tired and exhilarated. I know I was not the only one who whispered messages or prayers up on that volcano. In fact, the Hawaiians sang a song of prayer as the sun came up, You can hear an example of it here. It really was magical, and a reminder to the tourists that we were privileged to be there. The last bit of the journey that morning wasn’t spiritual, but it was fulfilling: breakfast! The folks at Valley Isle Excursions hooked us up: macadamia nut pancakes at the Maui Tropical Plantation!
I knew I’d be pretty wiped, so when I returned to the hotel I changed then headed back down the beach walk to the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont. I spent several blissful hours there, followed by a cocktail at the bar. After wandering back down the magical beach path, I had an early dinner at the poolside bar back at the Marriott, then crashed, content with a day filled with nourishment for my body and soul. But this was just the beginning of my magical trip.
My next day was also destined to be memorable, for very different reasons. I started with whale watching, which is something every Hawaiian visitor should have on their bucket list,. January is prime whale season, as the mamas and babies are all over. I had already been blessed with sightings. The night before, while wandering around at sunset, I gleefully cried out when I saw one breach ff shore (breaching is when they do that awesome full body leap and crash out of the water). I laughed at myself and sheepishly glanced around, only to find that everyone else was either freaking the same way, or wistfully wishing they had seen it. I thought that would be my highlight, and I felt fulfilled. When I boarded the charter the next morning, I was cautiously optimistic, but figured if I even saw one or two I’d be sated.
When I boarded the boat at Ultimate Whale Watch and Snorkel, I met Captain Emma and First Mate Lexie. These dynamic women were part of a trend for this trip: strong, powerful women helping me realize my own strength. They filled us in on the plan, and told us to be patient. We did not need to be. It took very little time for us to come upon whales — but Emma kept saying “that’s not our whale.” No one knew quite what she meant, until we met Shania.
Shania Twain was playing on the radio when we spotted her all white fluke, so rare that Emma and Lexie were excited. You now you are experiencing something special when the “experts” are giddy. Shania flirted a bit, then breached! We were so tickled! She would roll and wave her fins, then dive down, then, she breached again!
Emma told us, as she picked her jaw up off the floor, that the human equivalent of a whale breach, in terms of caloric expenditure, is like running a marathon. So for a whale to do it that many times in succession was really wild. But it got wilder. We wondered if she would go for double digits. She did. Twice. By the time we had to go back to shore, she had breached about 24 times! She was so predictable, that we had time to even plan for “whalefies,” pics with her breaching in the background!
At one point I cried a little, just from the sheer beauty of it all.
I also was thinking about Rich, and how much he would have loved this. When we docked, I made sure I was the last to leave the boat, so I could thank Emma and Lexie. I told them about my widow trip, and that I was doing new things on my own to prove to myself that I could, and that I would be okay. I also told them about Rich, and how he had been a marathon runner, and that I thought of him with every breach. I swear he sent us that whale. He sent me Sania to tell me over and over that he knew I could do it. That I would be ok, and that he would send me whatever help I needed. We all wept a little at that, as hokey as it sounded.
But I walked away feeling so incredibly full of heart, ready to take on the rest of the day.
I wandered around a bit before heading off to find a place for lunch. I had something big on my schedule for the end of the day, an I needed sustenance — and a cocktail. I found a spot at the bar at Monkeypod, a well-known local chain.
After another walk about, I pointed my Turo rental north (first time trying Turo — great experience!). My destination was the Hyatt Regncy in Ka’anapali, where Rich and I stayed on our honeymoon. This was going to be challenging, I knew.
Walking into the lobby it all flooded back — the exhaustion and giddiness upon arrival, taking in the soaring indoor/outdoor lobby, and my eyes wandered upwards, trying to remember which room had been ours. I remember that lobby was were Rich would sneak down every morning to check for faxes from work (remember those, pre-cell phone?), and every morning I pretended I didn’t know. I wandered the grounds to try and find some of the places we had taken pictures, and even reenacted a few. I watched the penguins, the swans, and all the other birds. The hubbub around the pool seemed like it was happening in another world. I was in a grief bubble, for sure, and I knew it was going to be harder still.
I wandered down to the beach, and flashed back on watching him slowly swimming back and forth off shore. He loved doing that. He so loved the ocean. And since I wanted him to be forever in the places that brought us both joy, I had brought some of his ashes.
I found a remarkably empty little beach, and sat down. When I was cleaning out his things back home, I found shell necklaces that we received on our honeymoon, and I put those on. I wrapped myself in the sarong I somehow still had from that trip, and I cried. I remembered everything wonderful about that trip — even his inevitable sunburn when he refused sunscreen. I laughed a little, and smiled. I waded out into the water, and let him go. I could immediately feel some peace, knowing that at east a part of him would forever be in that beautiful place.
I dried my eyes and made my way back to my car. Windows down, music blasting, the Hawaiian wind drying my tears. And then, offshore, a whale breached.
Thank you, Rich. I love you.
A New Chapter
The last time I wrote in this blog, I was married to the love of my life.
Now, I am a widow.
I still wear a ring, but he doesn’t.
My life is a new marriage of sorts. I must weave the before with the after. I sit at his desk, in what was previously his office, dividing my time between reconciling the past and preparing for the future. Simultaneously I must settle his affairs while making sure my own are ready for future days. I spend a little bit of time every day working through legal documents, finagling various types of insurance, and preparing for taxes. I am the chief cook and bottle washer now.
This blog will probably have a haphazard appearance (not that it was very ordered before, TBH), as I strive to cover a varied terrain.
I will write about the last vacation we took before we knew he was sick and talk about my own solo travels. As I write this, I have just arrived from a one week beach vacation where I mourned and healed. In fact, I have several trips coming up this year. Last year we had but one: our last Vegas adventure. I’ll have to write about that, too, I guess. I have a lot of leg stretching to catch up on this year.
I will blog about his celebration of life party, and about the hell of watching someone die by degrees. Of watching the man who used to hold you up become the one you must support. I went from being a friend and a lover to a nursemaid. It sucked, but I am not alone. In fact, I now have 90-some thousand new friends walking my widow journey with me. I decided before he died that I would need a way to keep myself accountable. So I created a TikTok grief journal, and every day I post something. Some days are decidedly more interesting than others. Some posts show me drowning in grief, while others show me making new strokes forward in the ocean of possibilities. I’d love to have you follow me, and help me stay the course!
We’ve all heard that the first year is the hardest, although now I’ve been told it is actually harder in year 2, when the new loss becomes the new normal. But I need to get through year one first, one post at a time.
Grieving is something that takes place on a sliding scale. For me, that process really started October 1, 2021, when we first heard the words “You have ALS.” I can still remember everything about that. I dropped him of at the entry to the University of Minnesota Neurology department, and watched him limp inside, leaning heavily on his late father’s walking stick. I parked the car, then found him. Our roles had already changed. In the waiting room we were both casually terrified, trying not to look outwardly concerned. I think he was more worried than I was, which makes sense. I think he already knew the diagnosis. I was living on edge in the dark, impatiently waiting for someone to tell us he did NOT have that hideous disease, .
Once in the exam room, the doctor had clearly read through the myriad reports from other doctors, and had analyzed the test results. Rich sat on the exam table, while the doctor checked his reflexes. It seemed to take him less than a minute to declare Rich’s death sentence, but I am sure it was longer than that. I was sitting in the spare chair they always have in an exam room. I know it was just maybe 5 feet away, but the doctor’s words sucked all the air out of the room and I felt as unsteady on my feet as Rich had been for months when I lurched up and crossed to the exam table. I put my hand n his shoulder, but that wasn’t enough. I needed more. I pressed up against him, and clutched his leg, trying not to hold too tightly or breathe too loudly. In the few steps it took me to cross that increasingly claustrophobic room, I had a million conversations with myself. I transitioned from panic and sorrow to determination and caring, because that was now my job. I needed to be what he needed, whatever that was, and my own needs had to be put aside.
Now it is time, once again, to tend to my needs.
Slowly, the world we built for two has become a universe of one.
I still make the king sized bed, but only have to wash the pillowcases on one side.
His clothes, now donated, are hopefully bringing someone else a smidge of the confidence he had, and I have started spreading out in the closet, reorganizing my things to suit my new lifestyle.
When Rich was first diagnosed, we had two cars in the garage. Then three, when our daughter came home home for one last summer with her dad. Then two, when we sold his car. Then three again when we bought the wheelchair van. Then two, when she went to school. Then one, when I sold the van. My car now also lives alone.
It seems every week I rearrange a drawer or a closet. I feel like I am marking my territory, by making things work in my new normal. It is also a way of visiting with him on a small scale, as I run across something of his, whether it is a business card or a pair of swim goggles or a tool he never put away in the right place. I fear, and hope, it will be a long time before the last item is discovered. Like an archeologist, I will be unearthing bits of his life for years to come.
And every day, I unearth a bit more of my life. My new life. My widowed life. My rebuilding life. My strong, sad, capable, terrified, hopeful life.
I can do this. With the continued support and help from all of you, I will do this.