Our trip to Captiva, November 2021.
Denial Island hit different this year. Last year we packed up and fled to denial island days after hearing that Beau had most likely relapsed and that we would be spending 28-days inpatient starting December 6th. There is nothing like the threat of a monthlong inpatient hospital stay to cause you to flee. And flee we did, spending 18 days, extending the trip 3 times, on a little island off Florida’s west coast.
The trip felt like borrowed time. Like a hail mary of denial to what was ahead of us.
This year: same island, less denial.
Although in some ways it felt like a different island completely. Well, let me clarify, it was actually a different island completely. This year we stayed on Captiva, instead of Sanibel, but they are right next to one another and a layman wouldn’t know the difference- crystal water, warm sun, beautiful beaches. Just what every Coloradan needs in late November. Both islands are accessed via the causeway from Fort Meyers and if you weren’t paying close attention you may not realize that the bridge at Blind Pass was actually moving you from one island on to another.
It’s funny how the body remembers. As we drove over the causeway, I began to feel it somewhere deep inside. Ahh, yes, denial island. I had expected to feel tender sweetness, but my body went back to other memories. My stomach was tense. I replayed the moment we had arrived last year and watched the kids run to the beach and how I couldn’t help but think, “I wonder if someday we will come here with only two living children.”
Or the memory of running in to a family we knew from the boys previous school (so random) and having to pull the mom aside and explain, “Beau’s relapsed…” and watching as her eyes filled with tears in the Lighthouse Cafe parking lot. “No..” she gasped.
I was surprised how quickly the memories came back.
We stopped at the local shops to stock up on groceries, said “hi” to the parrots at Jerry’s, and stopped at two separate liquor stores to get hands on my absolute favorite local citrus ale (Islamorada Brewing Company).
We drove to our house and with each familiar sight I recalled the pain of visiting last year. Last year we “enjoyed” a beach island vacation while racking our brains, non-stop, about the impending relapse treatment and survival statistics of relapsed acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Our kids played in the sand as I walked around taking very intentional pictures because I was wondering if these would be our last family vacation photos.
Every moment with the warm sun shining on us was a reminder that nothing is promised. The kids would beg to stay inside and watch Sponge Bob (a novelty of vacation cable) and Josh and I would approve so that we could sit mindlessly staring into the ocean wondering how this could possible be. Relapse? How?
This year we found ourselves on the island for other reasons. We weren’t fleeing relapse, hoping to soak up some tender memories before treatment, well not exactly. I mean, we know better than anyone that everything can change on a dime, so I guess we are playing off borrowed time on any vacation. But mostly, this year we were just eager to relax. To let out a simple exhale after a year that had been holding our breath.
I was surprised how tightly my body held the memories of the year before. Rose tinted memories of the island were interrupted by a punch to the gut when I saw the pharmacy where we had to refill Beau’s chemo. The conversation I had on the beach with his oncologist game planning what chemo we should take in the interim.
Back to this year, we finally arrived at our rental and dumped our belonging. We went to see the ocean. Once I saw Her, I knew it would be ok. This week wouldn’t be simple, but it would be good. I decided right then to let my body feel what it needed to feel. The waves rolled in with both beautiful and scary memories. I could let both move through me. Over the course of the week my body settled in, letting the memories of the prior year be combined with new memories.
One lovely part of the visit was that my dad was able to come over from his home on the other side of the state. It was a true gift to have him hang out with us for a couple days. He taught Selah all about the “Green Flash” and tried to teach her, “High Five! Down low, too slow!” His fishing gear, and expertise, very much entertained the boys (Beau, Jude, and Josh). I loved getting to spend time with him, in his element. And I loved getting to see him spend time with our kids. Watching your parents, grandparent, can be such a beautiful thing. We are so thankful that he was able to make the trip.
Overall we left the island this time feeling a bit more whole, ready for whatever comes next.