This blog is in honor of Father’s Day and our Dad, who made sure both his daughters had every opportunity to be strong, engaged, independent, happy, and loved.
Gay and our entire family love the serene, reflective moments created by the movement and feeling of water. Throughout our life as a family, we spent much of our limited free time on lakes, oceans, and by the beloved pool at our farmhouse. And for Gay, no matter what type of body of water we were engaged with, it was always a “pool”. The Atlantic Ocean was a “pool” and Lake Michigan was a “pool” because they were associated with how it felt to be in and around the water - pure joy, and happiness. I imagine for Gay water also gave her a sense of freedom and adventure.
The earliest years I remember being around water were our visits to the upper lower peninsula or upper peninsula to visit family at Easter or other holidays. We also spent some summers and holidays with our Uncle Dick, Aunt Karen, and cousins Kim and Rick Kaminska when they lived in Muskegon, Michigan. At one point, the Kaminska family lived on the water, and my uncle bought a boat. That summer vacation all we heard from Gay was “Dick”, “boat”, repeatedly, trust me, repeatedly. I think it’s a phrase our entire family will never forget. Gay wanted to be in that boat and out on the water, especially if it meant time with the people she loved the most.
And that was what our pool at the farmhouse meant to us, relaxation and time with our dearest friends and family. When we weren’t at a horse show all weekend, and weather permitting, we spent time in our pool. There was a deep sense of contentment and happiness that came from swimming with Gay splashing around in her floating tube with her strong arms and frail legs floating behind her. Water therapy was so good for Gay, allowing her to stretch out her body and get out of her wheelchair. During her time at the intermediate school in Monroe and part of her time in Manistique Michigan, Gay had access to pools and physical therapy as part of that experience. And at home, it allowed her to be right in the mix of a pool party, sunbathing on the deck, and barbecuing chicken, kabobs, or other grilled delights in the summer months.
And then we discovered the Atlantic Ocean! We didn’t get to travel to Florida often because it was challenging to travel with Gay in a world not well designed for her type of mobility. However, the two trips we took to visit the Kaminska family were filled with amazing adventures. The first was a trip to Disney World when I was in 8th grade and Gay was in high school. We had so much fun experiencing the magic and delights of Disney and Gay went on roller coasters and water rides. Keeping her little body inside the seats was no easy task! But she loved every minute. Now that I am older and more aware, I think of how much patience and effort that required of my parents and admire their determination to give us both that experience. And I must mention that Disney was supportive of our family, giving us the opportunity to get on rides without waiting in line (which Gay would not have tolerated well, she was NOT a patient person) and provided other accommodations and accessible options throughout the experience.
In addition to the Disney trip, we also went to visit the Kaminska family in Boca Raton, Florida when I was a sophomore in college and stayed on the beach for that trip.
The minute Gay saw the Atlantic Ocean she yelled loudly “POOL!”. My Mom, Gay and I shared a room and none of us slept much that week, especially since Gay did not sleep well in strange places where there was any noise or light seeping into the room. However, that did not deter us from spending time out on the beach and the water. This memory of Gay bouncing on the waves in the ocean in her floating tube while my mom and I navigated the ocean waves with her, is etched in my mind. There was a pool at the hotel, which we also spent time in, and had many adventures that spring break.
And of course, there was Lake Michigan, and time spent out on my dad and mom’s small boat navigating the big POOL or sitting on the deck watching the waves come onto shore, and eagles dive into the water picking up huge fish for their dinner. There were beautiful fireworks over Lake Michigan that Gay begged to see every year, even though over the years, the loud booms really started to bother her. Still…she would get excited about the “BOOM, BOOMS” every fourth of July. My parents would also get ice cream and go sit by the water to watch the waves. But more importantly visiting my parents at HOMA, meant the opportunity to sit for hours on the big deck watching the birds and the water. And Gay loved having her staff take her for walks along the boardwalk near her apartment so she could see and experience the water. I remember some peaceful walks that Gay and I took together along that boardwalk delighting in the dunes, the sunshine, and the waves.
And as I experienced the Atlantic Ocean from other viewpoints (Patuxent Naval Base, Assateague Island, Ocean City, the Solomon Islands, Cambridge Maryland, Virginia Beach), I often thought of Gay and wished that she was able to join me on those adventures, knowing how much she would enjoy them. In the last few years of her life, we both had to move away from the larger bodies of water we had come to know and love, to be closer together as a family. However, we found our way to the water, “POOL”, because of course there are small and large lakes all over the heart of Michigan. We also discovered the Dexter Wellness center has a lovely therapeutic pool with warm water and an awesome lift that would allow me to lower Gay into a floating tube with the help of Steve or my friend Liz. Gay and I both enjoyed those moments of floating in the water, splashing each other, getting away from everyday life and reliving fond memories of our childhood together.
When we learned that Gay’s brain tumor was aggressive and terminal in July of 2020, we tried to think of something we could do to give Gay a “make a wish” moment while we moved to palliative care and making her comfortable as possible. Of course, COVID 19, made things additionally challenging during that time but then we found Captain Scotty, who operated a boat tour on the Chain of Lakes. Our first trip was foiled by a thunderstorm, but we finally managed to get out on a 2-hour boat ride of the lakes with Gay and she cried with joy and delight being on the water again. Throughout that same summer, Gay seemed to love and resonate with a church hymn, You Have Come Down to the Lakeshore, which paints a picture of joining Jesus on different seas as we pass from this world. Gay had an ethereal moment in the big house in Dexter where she told my parents about a “man” in “blue” as she was getting closer to seeing the shorelines of heaven.
On Gay’s last day of being coherent and present with us, a Sunday, she was not feeling well and my parents came over to the big house in Dexter to spend some time with us. My dad took Gay for a WALKA and to McDonald’s stopping by the boat launch to sit and watch the water one last time. During the following four hard days of Gay slowly slipping from our presence, my mom and dad would encourage her that it was okay to get on her boat and join the man in blue on different shores. On October 1st, 2020 that’s exactly what she did.