My near death experience
I have been asked to write about this here, since friend died this week and my fellow online friends are in shock and looking for comfort. There was a time 8 years ago when I thought I had discovered the simple truth of life. In the time that has elapsed since that experience, I have found myself sweating the small stuff again. Maybe re-writing about it will bring some much needed focus.
I was sailing in a small bermuda rigged sailboat in Shuswap Lake, BC with my aunt Maria and it was getting windy. None of the life jackets fit me so I wasn't wearing one as I struggled to pull the mainsail down. The spinacker wasn't reeling in properly either, and I couldn't get the motor started. With each tack across the wind, we were drifting further up the narrows and farther away from the dock, but we weren't in imminent danger. I was just feeling stupid because I had my sailor's ticket and I was bungling this.
A speedboat pulls up to us with 2 men and my uncle Ron inside. I am introduced to Gord and my uncle climbed in and tells us to go ashore, he'll sail it in alone. I refuse, challenging him to do better than I did. Gord decides to join us, a beer is passed to each of us and my uncle begins to dazzle us with his sailing prowess. He had us on a close haul, running fast, parallel to the shoreline, on a 45 degree keel. There the four of us were on the high side, my uncle Ron at the tiller, Gord, who had never been in a sailboat was handling the sheets, my aunt Maria beside him and I was closest to the hatch and mast. The starboard edge dipped into the water and our feet got wet. We were all surprised but the men quickly corrected. Then it happened again, only this time the boat continued from upright to port and our weight tossed us out without warning.
I was the last to surface because I had to kick myself free of a jumble of ropes. I asked everyone if they were OK. Only my aunt answered. The men tried to grab one of the ropes as the boat had uprighted itself and with the sheets still cleated, was moving away from us. They were dragged about 30 feet away from us and I called out to them to let the goddamned thing go. I was never so angry at an inanimate object as I was at that boat! Now there we all were, quietly treading water, out of each other's sight because of the foot-high choppy waves, no one saying a word.
I told Maria and Ron where each other was in relation to the other. Gord swam up to me and I could tell he was having trouble breathing. I instinctively kept my distance from him, then quickly made the decision to swim for the dock. I had an eight year old daughter that needed me, and I was going to do my best to reach her. It looked so far away now that I was in the water and not safe in a boat. Looking at a map later, we estimate we were in the middle of Anstey Arm, about 1/4 mile from shore.
I started doing the side stroke, because it is my best position and less strenuous, but I was afraid to see my aunt and uncle's heads in the water - or worse, not see them. I felt close to panic, so I forced myself to stay locked into a breast stroke, softly invoking God's name with each stroke.
Funny what thoughts go through your head at a time like this. I was too shocked to formally pray, but I never felt closer to my Creator. Because Ron would not turn to look at me or respond when I asked if he was ok, I began to imagine that he was already dead. I knew Maria was a strong water treader, but the waves were batting our heads about pretty good. I wondered how I was going to tell their daughter that they were dead. I was angry that their deaths were due to stupidity, easily preventable, but stupid boating accidents happen all the time. People never seem to learn because they never think it's going to happen to them. I laughed out loud at the irony of life, and that I was in this predicament! Imagine laughing at a time like this!
I hadn't swam far, but then I saw Quinn, my daughter walking alone on the shoreline. Every one had left the beach for the evening meal, and she had come back down to the beach on her own. She looked so small, but I knew from her clothing that it was Quinn. It is another mystery of that day to me, how the sight of her unreachable figure did not upset me. Shock can be a blessing, it left me focused on the work of swimming. Then a few minutes later, more figures appeared. By this time I noticed Gord had recovered his composure and was swimming beside me about 20 feet away. I realized if I could get close enough to land maybe they would hear me cry "help". No, still too far away. I kept trying as we continued to swim. I began to tire, and it started to feel like I might not make it. I could feel the waves pounding rhythmically against my left ear. Maybe imploring God's name over and over was not enough. I realized it was time to prepare my soul to meet Him. I don't remember the exact words my conscious mind formulated except the last bit, out of the Lord's prayer, "Thy will be done". I clenched my fists towards heaven and meant every word. I finally accepted that my fate was in my Higher Power's hands and not my own.
This next part will not be believed by some, but I don't care how whacky this sounds. I am not embarassed to tell it, regardless of what anyone thinks. I know it to be true. I felt a strong, very warm wave come up behind me and bodysurf me forward, at least 20 feet. It felt like a warm, loving hand, cupping my body. I actually saw the foamy wake break around my sides as I was propelled forward, probably just close enough for my voice to carry over the remaining water! My only reaction at the time was thanks, but I can't think about this now! This was too much for me to process, so awesome to contemplate. I'll think about this moment later. I continued to call, still no reaction from the tiny people on the shore. I kept filling my lungs with as much air as they could hold and continued to scream HEEEEEELP towards the dock for as long as I could. How could they know we were in trouble? The boat was out of sight and we were invisible to the naked eye. Later, Rona, the lady who heard us, said at first she thought she heard birds, then children's voices fooling around from some unseen vantage point. Finally in frustration, I moved my head from left to right as I screamed, not just aiming at the empty dock, but all across the shoreline of Queest village.
All of a sudden, I see people running about and a boat on its way. I will never forget the look on Robin, my rescuer's face. It was all contorted. I can only imagine what I must've looked like to him! Gord jumped in the boat unassisted with as much agility as a high jumper. He hadn't bargained for this when he asked for his first sailboat ride! I insisted they leave me there and try to find Ron first. Finally after time-wasting protestations, they agreed, threw me a lifejacket and took off looking for Maria and Ron. It seemed like a lifetime while I waited for that boat to return, but I was now safe. I had time to focus back on earthly needs (piddle in the water) and pray that I would not have to come back to the cabin alone!
When the boat came back for me, there was Ron, standing and grinning away with relief while Maria was slumped like a dead fish in the bottom of the boat. I went to her and tried to shelter her from the cold. She looked half gone, her skin was grey, her pupils were miniscule. The boat pulled up to the sandy beach, Quinn ran up and I broke down. Unearthly noises came out of me. Later the women onshore told me the sight was heartbreaking to them, they had felt so sorry for Quinn, she wanted a hug from me, but my arms couldn't move to console her, I was like stone. Everyone could see Maria was suffering from hypothermia and shock. My sister handed me a blanket and a tumbler full of scotch. I kept telling the story over and over to all the cabin owners who had heard the news and were swarming the beach.
Ron went straight to bed after the neighbors left. Regardless of the fact that we were all stupid not to wear PFDs, the poor guy blames himself to this day for what happened and is clearly uncomfortable when people bring the subject up. I stayed up half the night with Maria, she was still coughing and vomiting water. The boat was sold shortly after, at Maria's insistance. I still get flashbacks and the odd panic attack to this day, though not as often.
The next week in church, as the priest was reading the gospel (St. Paul to the Ephesians), I got a message from God. He conveyed the following, "See, this is what I want you to know" I remembered the miraculous wave and the feeling of warmth and unconditional love returned, overwhelming me. I dropped like a rock to the pew and lost it right there. I came away from that whole experience with a beautiful gift, the knowledge that all we take with us when we leave this world is pure L O V E. Love is all that matters. It is so simple! So why does life seem so complicated at times?
Here's the best analogy I can come up with of what my near death experience taught me: It is as if my own life's journey was represented by a single grain of sand. I began at the top of the houglass, among many grains, representing the many issues and aspects of life that I have to navigate, the sarcastically so-called "wisdom of the world". Everything gets so jumbled and unfiltered, so many distractions. Then on that fateful day just weeks ahead of my dreaded 40th birthday, I passed through from the top to the bottom of the glass, and everything suddenly became clear and in focus. Now, the huge trick for the second half of my life is to try not to let all those grains at the bottom of the glass cloud my vision again. I must try to focus on the message that life on earth is a gift, simple, finite and good, and all I will take out of this world is love.
The daily struggle of living a life with purpose continues... Enjoy your reward, Sid. Your leg of the race is over, the baton of love has been passed and we are left better off for having both felt and witnessed your love. We will miss you.