Wednesday, March 18, 2020

COVID19, Family, Reflections and getting Canadians home

COVID 19 started hitting the news sometime in the beginning of January and like the virus the news of the havoc that this virus has been causing across the world has continued. 

Before any of this I would have constant nightmares about the end of the world. Some involved natural disasters such as hurricanes or tornadoes. Other dreams would involve situations very much like this one were a virus or plague runs through our world and ... well things get bad in my nightmares. One constant theme has always been that there has been a separation from family - either I am by myself or part of my family is in a different location and we struggle to find one another again. I have been off work since the beginning of June dealing with depression, anxiety and PTSD. I never truly understood how much anxiety played a role in my life until I stopped being at work and stopped pretty much everything else and then I truly started to understand the thoughts and feelings I was having was a constant state of anxiety.

I have been working with some amazing counsellors and referred to some excellent programs as we work to get a balance for my treatment plan and correct medication. A few months ago grocery shopping was completely and totally overwhelming to me, but we had worked on strategies to cope.  Then a few weeks ago something struck me and it took me 4 hours to do my grocery shopping on a Monday night. It was the sight of empty shelves - and the longer I went through the store more and more was missing. I know that this has been a common sight lately; however, this was at the start of March.  I grabbed a few extra of a couple of things and headed home. I remember walking into my living room saying to my husband that I think I am over reacting and this can't be real. I spent the week making lists and doing some preparing of items for our home. I sent my Dad a link to an article about panic buying in China and Italy on February 26, 2020.  

My parents have been in Europe since New Years visiting family and having some relaxing time in Portugal. They were planning on coming back March 31, 2020. This is a trip they have taken before, but they haven't been back to Portugal in a number of years so they were definitely looking forward to it. 

On March 4, 2020 I messaged my Dad about the toilet paper crisis letting him know it was starting here in Canada. On March 6, 2020 I sent him a link showing the growth and spread of the virus in Europe. On March 8, 2020 I asked my parents if they had heard about what was happening in Italy, and on March 9, 2020 I sent him a link to register with the Canadian Government. On March 11, 2020 I told my parents that when they come home they need to be self-isolating for at least two weeks. On March 12, 2020 I sent him news about the US suspending all travel from Europe and told him they should think about coming home early. He replied that he and other people had looked into it but it would cost upwards of $1,000 a person to change the flights. I could tell my parents were getting frustrated with me and I thought maybe it was just my anxiety acting up. On March 14, 2020 Francois-Philippe Champagne tweeted:

That is the night that everything changed. They had gotten an email from Air Canada saying their flights were changed from March 31, 2020 to March 30, 2020. I spoke with them at 8:30 pm CST and they said maybe we should move up their flights to go home at the same time as friends who were staying with them in Portugal. They were having problems accessing the Air Canada website from Portugal as were some others. I had tried logging on to the Air Canada website to make changes and couldn't so I called into Air Canada for them. 

I sat that night on hold with Air Canada for 2 hours before talking to an amazing agent who managed to get them booked to come home on March 26, 2020 on the same flights as their friends. When I spoke with the Agent we had looked at earlier dates but I wasn't sure and I was again doubting my anxiety. I spoke with my parents on March 15, 2020 around 3:30 am CST and everything looked good for their flights and they were happy (the downside of going through my current situation is I have difficulty getting to sleep and staying to sleep - the upside for the past week meant that I have been able to have more constant contact with my parents). 

I went to sleep only to be woken up at 9:12 AM CST by a frantic FaceTime call from my parents said that they needed to get home as soon as possible and to try changing their flights.  I picked up the phone and again waited on hold for 2 hours with Air Canada. I managed to speak with Simon who was an amazing rep who updated me through out the process. One of her problems was that she had to wait to speak to a specialty department about prices and the hold time for that area was 1 hour. 4 hours after the call started my parents and their friends were booked on a flight home to Canada leaving Lisbon flying through Music then Toronto and home. During that call we were offered flights that flew through the US and I didn't want have to deal with that so we flew them through Germany. 

My parents had less than two days to pack up everything in the Apartment where they were staying, a process that usually takes about a week, get on a bus and make the three hour ride to Lisbon before staying the night at the Tryp Lisboa Aeroporto hotel. 

March 16 and 17th consisted of worried FaceTime calls updating with how things were progressing in Portugal, how everyone was doing and how the other Canadians at the complex were handling things. 

When they arrived at the hotel on the March 17th they met fellow Canadian travellers who were still struggling to get home. Some couples had purchased 3 or 4 different sets of tickets only to show up and find out the flight had been cancelled or they were denied Boarding because the flight had a stopover in the US and they were not US citizens. It has been a very long night and very concerning considering our Prime Minister Issued a statement today 

“I think it’s just realistic to know that there are some of them that will not be coming home in the coming weeks, but we will make measures available through Global Affairs Canada,” Trudeau
This is a very concerning statement to anyone with a loved one or family member that is overseas. Especially when many people are having to get on flights to fly to other major cities to get a flight to Canada and some have would up stuck in the lay over country when flights suddenly get cancelled. I have a significant understanding that this is an unprecedented time in our Country and World. However, to think that the government would abandon citizens at this time is disconcerting. I reached out to the Tryp Hotel and sent information I could and they hotel agreed to print out the information and pass it on to passengers.  I heard from some of those passengers that the email was an automatic bounce back with no new information on how to help. Emails and phone calls to various numbers were not being returned and only greeted with automated messages and long hold times. 

The last message I have from my dad was at 12:15 CST March 18, 2020 saying they are at the gate waiting for the plane.  I have been watching the status of their flight from Lisbon to Munic and then waiting to see if the Munic flight to Toronto took off.

In this time I was contacted by a lovely couple from Halifax who are desperately trying to get home and were having no luck because of flights being cancelled. They originally had secured a flight to return home on March 19, 2020 (the very same flight my parents had left on today) but they could not check in. They sent me their information and I tried to figure out what was wrong only to find out that their flight was cancelled. I called Air Canada again and spent 2 hours on hold before reaching Prince. In their system everything was fine and they hadn't even found out yet that the flight had been cancelled, but he looked and confirmed. You could hear the stress in his voice - it was the last call of his shift and I cannot begin to imagine how difficult and long his and other shifts have been. We were able to secure the couple a flight home tomorrow through London and we are crossing our fingers for the next couple of hours that it does not get cancelled. 

I am happy I was able to help this couple - extremely grateful but very disheartened at the same time. Many other people have been left in the same situation. Our Government should be doing more - including making agreements with the US to let our citizens transit through the country if it is a stop over. We are still allowing US citizens to fly into Canada and then home but stranding our own people because we cannot or have not taken the same action. We cannot let families be separated like this.  For me it is now 7:28 AM CST and I haven't been to sleep in about 20 hours. I am going to sleep now with my phone on just in case another person has to reach out to me for help. I cannot do much to help them other than sit on hold and reach out to the airlines to help them but it is at least doing something while I wait for my parents to arrive home. 

If COVID19 teaches us nothing use - it will teach us to be grateful - grateful for our families, our loved ones and the time we have together. I hope continues to remind us the need to help each other and act selflessly. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Saying goodbye...

“To shine your brightest light is to be who you truly are.” ― Roy T. Bennett

I have always felt different and out of sorts in my life. As a child I swore for the longest time that I was adopted. I just felt out of place...I struggled and frankly still struggle to feel understood and accepted. I have also lived a lot of my life with regret and following someone else's rules. 

My mom's extended family lives overseas in Netherlands and Belgium. I had a strained relationship with my maternal grandmother, Oma, to say the least. So when I was 12 and we visited Belgium and Netherlands to meet my mom's extended family and visit with them it was an amazing time. Some of the family would come to visit Canada and it was always special when they came and I was excited to grow up so I could visit overseas again. But that didn't happen for nearly 14 years because I followed someone else's rules. 

In 2013 I had been planning and contemplating a trip around the world by myself. However, fate intervened and I met my husband. as luck would have it he was planning a trip home to England to see his parents and daughters. We decided to change our plans slightly and spend a month in Europe visiting his family and mine. My family in Belgium and Netherlands made arrangements for us to come and stay with them and look after us while we were there. In Netherlands it was Annie and Frank who jumped at the opportunity for us to stay with them for most of the trip. My mom said we were one of the first ones from the family who were going to stay with Annie and Frank so I was excited and nervous. I remember the day we arrived at their house after the drive from Belgium. Annie had cooked an amazing supper for us and the family that drove us from Belgium. After supper and the other family left we sat in their living room just talking - I don't even remember entirely what we were talking about but I do remember the feeling that for the first time in a very long time I felt understood and accepted. I felt loved. Annie was like a second mom from that moment on. 

When we made the decision to go back to England in 2017 we also took my daughter, the monkey. While planning the trip we had a large discussion about the plan and itinerary for the trip because there were so many things we wanted to do in such a short period of time. We ultimately made the decision that Monkey and I would travel to Netherlands and Belgium and the husband would stay at home to visit with his family. Again we were fortunate enough to be able to stay with Annie and Frank and it was like being home again. Louise and Richard feel like a brother and sister to me. Our time with them was some of the best parts of our trip as we just were at home with them. We visited the market, Annie would cook of course and we would eat and play games. If you have ever been on a long trip away from your home - especially one with lots of unexpected adventures - you know how wonderful it came be to come home to your own home and bed. That's what it was like arriving at Annie and Franks I was home again.

 Unfortunately, we got news last year that Annie was sick - she had cancer - pancreatic cancer. Annie fought long and hard over the last 18 months and at the start of the summer we were told it could be any day but she fought and enjoyed the summer with her family, children and grandchildren. Unfortunately we got a call last night from the family to let us know that she wasn't doing well and they were expecting her to pass at any time. We were able to video chat with Frank and say our goodbyes to Annie and as Frank said she was stubborn until the end. 
Annie - I love you more than words can say and I will carry the memories of our time together, that was too short, for the rest of my life. You will always be an inspiration in my life.

Frank, Louise, Jowie, Richard, Chloe and Sam - I love you all more than words could say and I would give anything to be there with you right now. My heart breaks for you. The sky is a little brighter now that she is among the stars.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Getting to the Lake - one sunflower seed at a time

East Blue Lake
So as I said the monkey and I headed out to Child's Lake in the Duck Mountain Provincial Park - and let me say if you are in Canada (or anywhere else for that matter) and are looking for some paradise you must Duck Mountain Provincial Park it is truly magical!

The drive out to the lake was interesting to say the least. I have been dreading the drive and almost cancelled the trip because of the seemingly daunting task of driving out to the Park (it's about a 5 to 6 hour drive depending on the number of stops you make along the way and the route you take). Normally I would say it would have taken closer to 8 hours to drive there because we would normally stop at some of the abandoned houses and farms and take pictures but with the husband missing out on the trip and my anxiety I just wanted to get the trip over with.

Now - I should clarify that the thought of long drives normally wouldn't bother me - I have been going on road trips since I was a little kid; however, I am normally a passenger and I'm either able to listen to music, watch a movie or... let's be real sleep during the drive. On longer drives (12+ hours I have done the driving) and I have driven to Victoria, BC just myself and monkey at 18 months old but this was different and I couldn't explain why. The people I travel for work with even make fun of the fact that I will sleep on the road even though it is only a 2 hour highway drive....

Anyways - in preparation for the drive I spent nearly three hours just looking at google maps and investigating all of the different routes and options for getting to Child's Lake considering which was the best entrance to the park, how much gravel road I had to travel on etc. so when we started the drive I didn't have a set plan in mind and figured I would see how it went. I got to Neepawa which is about a 2 hour drive and I was a complete bundle of nerves. I finally had to stop at a gas station, get out and try to calm myself a little. Monkey obviously knew that something was up so I told her that I was having anxiety on the drive - I didn't really talk to her about why I was anxious but being the wonderful kid she was she asked what I needed and suggested we "watch" a movie - meaning we play a movie on my phone she could watch and I could listen to. I thought it was a great idea. We stopped into the Co-op grabbed a drink and some sunflower seeds (and when someone suggests you should get the extra bag because it's only $0.75 more for two bags you really should listen). We spent the rest of the drive listening to Harry Potter Movies and talking about our previous trips, different Harry Potter movies and eating sunflower seeds. It was exactly the distraction from the thoughts in my head that I needed. 

A real turning point came when we got to Russell, Manitoba. I love this little town and we drove into it almost every day last year during our camping trip up to Assessippi. It was a calming type experience because I knew once we made it here we were almost up to Child's Lake and that I had come very close to ... not over coming my fear and anxiety but not letting it stop me in this instance. Monkey and I saw a sign at the gas station about Arthur, the local bull statue and the stuff version of him. We stopped in and got one because ... well we hate having our picture taken especially on a camping trip, especially where the plan likely does not involve washing our hair for a period of time - the perfect solution? Stuff animal stand ins! So Arthur joined the family and was included in some of our pictures.  We got to the lake about an hour later and once we had unloaded and I took a minute to look at the view - I knew that all of the anxiety and freaking out in the weeks leading up to the trip and during the drive were worth it. Little did I know how transformative of a week the trip would be for me starting just the next day on the Copernicus Hill Hiking Trail and Look Out.

For now - here was the view from the deck, and the Hammock set up along the tree line: