There are so many fantastic things about traveling; the adventure, the mystery, the stories. It’s like experiencing the world through the eyes of a child, everything is new and exciting. However, once in awhile the thing that you pray is not going to happen while you’re gone, happens.
I knew my cousin Laura was not well, she had been in and out of the hospital for a year. That didn’t make it any easier when I got a text from my Mom saying that Laura had passed away. I’m not sure how many kilometres it is from Canada to Tanzania but at that moment it felt like I was a million miles away from my family. I wanted so badly to hug them and to be able to help them in any way I could.
For a few days I felt really alone. I didn’t share the sad news with anyone here for fear that it would bring up past feelings of losing loved ones – after all that is why the kids are here, most of them are orphans. One night I was sitting quietly writing in my journal surrounded by the kids running and laughing and playing. I paused for a few moments to watch them and was suddenly so inspired. Here were these children who have lost their parents or have been rejected by their families because their mother remarried (“step children” do not exist here), yet these children were happy. The kids served as role models for me over the next few days as I let me thoughts and sadness sift around in my head. They were the definition of perseverance. After such tragedy they had picked themselves up and carried on with their lives. It was at that point I knew I was finally ready to write the message that would be delivered by my Bro-bo at Laura’s Celebration of Life. A part of me wanted to be there in person to read it myself but my Aunt Bonnie sent me a loving text reassuring me that Laura would have wanted me to travel and live life to the fullest. The following are the stories and thoughts I wrote for my Cousin Laura:
Cousins are a unique sort of a relative. They are roughly the same age as you growing up and you are expected to play with them like they are a brother or sister whenever your parents happen to decide it’s time to visit. This was natural for Laura, George, Samuel, and I. We were all around the same age and I remember many times playing together with whatever random toys we could find in the basement of Grandma and Grandpa’s apartment. But my fondest times spent with my cousin Laura were at the Sandbanks, the Provincial Park where we went camping every summer. It was here we would have all sorts of adventures and get into the occasional bit of mischief. We set up hammocks in trees that almost overhung the river and named our spot Bananaville. I’m not sure why, there were no bananas there, but it was our spot to hang out, swing lazily in our hammocks, and compare our new favourite songs (a lot of No Doubt and Spice Girls songs seem to be coming to mind). One summer we returned to the Sandbanks and to our excitement found that the Icecream shop out on the road had installed a Mini-Putt! Samuel, Laura, and I wanted to go SO badly and plotted for hours in Bananaville trying to come up with a way to persuade our parents to take us. We eventually decided that a trio song and dance would be our best bet. So while our parents were sitting around the picnic table we piled into the camper, waited for a lull in the conversation, then opened the door and one at a time poked our heads out around the corner. One at a time we sang, “Hello, Hello, Hello!” – 3 stooges style. Then we broke into our song and dance. I seem to recall the lyrics mainly being, “Won’t you take us mini putt, mini putt, mini putt?” in different variations. Our song worked and the next day we rode our bikes out to the Icecream store to finally play a game of mini putt!
We weren’t always fun, innocent kids playing at the Sandbanks though. One summer we were sitting on the small beach attached to our campsite. For days these older kids had canoed by the beach and called to us in fake Australian accent, “G’ Day Mate!” For some reason this irked us, something had to be done about these people. How dare they paddle by and greet us like that every day!? So one afternoon we decided that we would launch an attack. We scouted out forts in the bush and planned our ambush. The only resource around was sand, so we decided to make a giant pile of hard sandballs. Once the sandballs were made we lay in wait. When we saw our adversaries paddling up the river towards us, Samuel and Laura scrambled to their posts. I lay on the beach. As the boys canoed by they called to me in that annoying mock accent, “G’ Day Mate!” That was all Samuel and Laura needed to launch a full blown sandball attack on these innocent people. I honestly cannot remember what happened next. Perhaps the canoeists yelled at us and paddled away or maybe it was the commotion from the sandballs flying through the air that made our parents come down to the beach. What I do remember is getting a stern lecture from our parents. That was the last time we made Sandballs.
Upon hearing the news of Laura’s passing I was really sad even though I knew she was so sick. Here, at the school and orphanage in Tanzania, I went outside and sat on the stone structure near the fireplace. One of the smallest children came up to me and stood beside me. He doesn’t speak any English, only Swahili. I think he could sense my sadness because he went and picked me a flower and brought it back to me. I said, “AsanteSana” which means “Thank you very much”. He went and picked another one and another one and brought them back to me until I had a beautiful bouquet of exotic flowers. And then he just sat with me, without saying a word. Itchy the dog came along too and put his head in my lap. No words were spoken but it was peaceful. I eventually got up and left the flowers on the stone structure. I came out the next day to the stone structure; the flowers had wilted and died. It made me think that no matter how beautiful and full of life something is, it will never last forever.
This is how I feel about my cousin. Laura was a feisty, optimistic fighter. She was always looking ahead to the future, never afraid to share her plans and dreams of getting a job in the travel or baking industry. She wanted to move to Florida to work at Disneyworld where the weather was nice and she could pursue a career she would love. Laura was always looking on the bright side of things using words like, “When I get better…”. There was no doubt in Laura’s mind that her health would improve, the alternative was simply not an option. I had a long visit with Laura at her house about a month before she passed. We simply sat and talked for hours. She was chatty, telling me everything that popped into her head; the Maritime background was really coming out in her that day! I sat and listened, happy that someone who was so sick could have so many good things to say about the world.
Laura, we will miss your eternal optimism, your feisty stubborn streak, and that contagious giggle-laugh that you had. We will miss you in our world but know that you are now in a better world. A world without any sickness or pain, a world where beautiful flowers will never wilt.
My condolences go out to my Aunt and Uncle. They fought so hard with Laura over the past year. I simply cannot imagine the pain they are feeling. They had family to support them every step of the way and I hope they know our support will be unwavering in the future.
So the next steps for The High Class Hobo? Cherish every day, channel Laura’s optimism, and look forward to the rib crushing hugs I will give my family and friends when I return home.