Hello, somehow I'm still going and this story isn't quite over yet! Thanks for reading along and for all the love and support. Be sure to catch up on the first 10 chapters if you haven't already!
It was so surreal to talk to Ben's Mom and Sister and to connect like we did. His sister mentioned something about how they were planning to have a memorial for Ben back in Ontario (there had been a funeral service a few days after the accident in B.C. but they wanted to do something back home as well) and she invited me to come. I felt honoured and overwhelmed just to be asked. She said she would let me know when they had figured out more details, but it was planned for mid-September, which was about a month away.
The next morning I left for a road trip with one of my Sisters. We had many hours in the car to talk and I tearfully shared the conversation I’d had with Ben’s Mom and Sister from the night before. I was experiencing the worst of my anxiety, and my hopes that getting away would help calm me did not prove to be true. The last time I had been on a road trip I’d had a major anxiety attack that essentially led to a break up. And just a few weeks before that incident, a man I loved had died behind the wheel of a car. Looking back I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised that I majorly struggled throughout the week or so that we were gone.
I was so overwhelmed with emotion but had no time or space to process. I had lived alone for a few years by that point and had grown accustomed to having lots of time by myself, a fact that I often cursed. But in this situation, even another day between the conversation and the trip likely would have helped me. At that point in time, the idea of going to Ontario was just a vague thought and to be honest, I wondered if the invitation had really been sincere or if it would have been strange or even intrusive for me to go. After returning home from the trip with my Sister, I began to switch gears to prepare for returning to teaching after the summer, and also spent a lot of time thinking about whether or not I wanted to go to Ontario, and if I even should.
I only talked to a few people about the invitation to Ontario, one of them being my best friend Tiffany, of course. I remember the concern she expressed. She wondered if it might be too much for me, especially considering how much worse my anxiety had become. I had always been quite a nervous flyer, even before dealing with all of this. If I accepted the invitation I would be flying to a place I had never been before, and meeting people I had never met before. I would be facing a very emotionally difficult situation in an unfamiliar environment without the support of people who knew and understood me. It did seem kind of crazy.
I also wondered if I would regret not going if I decided not to accept the invitation. Clearly this man had had a big impact on me. Going could potentially bring me some closure and help me in my own healing process. True, the trip could cause a great deal of anxiety, but realistically it was only a few days. Even if I really struggled with the flights, even if I felt ignored and alone or awkward and uncomfortable, I had survived much worse. How would I feel on the day of his memorial if I was sitting at home in Calgary? Would I be wishing that I had gone? My thoughts were back and forth and up and down and all over the place.
I remember looking at my travel points and figuring out how many points I needed to fly there. I had enough points, so I wouldn’t even have to pay for my flight. I then began to look at hotels, trying to figure out where I should stay if I were to go. I hadn’t made the decision to go, but I was certainly tiptoeing up to it. I don’t remember exactly how it happened or at what point, but Ben's Sister invited me to stay at their house. While on the one hand this seemed even crazier - staying with complete strangers - it was probably the deciding factor for me to go.
Her invitation obviously eased the financial burden of getting a hotel room and paying for various expenses for the weekend. But more than that, it indicated to me that the invitation was genuine. I was welcome. It wouldn’t be weird or intrusive for me to be there, in fact they really wanted me to come. And so...I did it. I nervously booked the flight with my points, I told Ben’s family when I would be arriving, and I began to mentally and emotionally prepare myself for what was coming. I remember telling people what I was doing in casual conversation….
“Hey Sara, what are you up to this weekend?”
“Oh actually I am going to Ontario!”
“Oh...just for the weekend? Wow! Do you have family there?”
“No, I don’t. I have actually never been there before!”
“Why are you going?”
And the story would begin, or as much of it as time would allow or I was willing to tell. People were surprised to hear what I was doing. Some seemed skeptical. Most seemed supportive. I was surprised too! I couldn’t quite believe what I was planning to do, and likely wouldn’t until the day came.
And then the day came. A friend had offered to drive me to the airport so she came and picked me up early in the morning. I was nervous and anxious about everything, and I appreciated how understanding she was while we talked on the way there. She prayed for me before I got out of the car and headed inside.
Once I was all checked in and had gone through security, I remember mentally talking myself through what I was doing. I was trying very hard not to let the anxiety begin, because as I had learned, once the waves started to come I was nearly powerless to stop them. I had a bag full of things to occupy and distract me on the plane. Once I got to my aisle seat I nervously watched as other passengers boarded and I wondered who, if anyone would be next to me. I tend to feel very claustrophobic on airplanes and if I end up with someone who does not understand personal space, it makes things even worse.
A tall, broad shouldered middle aged man came down the aisle and found his seat beside mine. I got up so that he could get to his seat, and once I returned to mine, I found that the only way our shoulders would not touch would be if I was to lean into the aisle. I fought the annoyance, pulled out my headphones and tried to get myself settled in for the flight. Rather than annoying me, it turned out that his presence, and even the touch of his shoulder against mine was somehow comforting. This man had a gentle, fatherly presence and I felt calm through most of the flight. I’m not saying he was an angel, but I’m not saying he wasn’t.
I kept myself busy reading, drawing, and listening to music. It was actually a fairly enjoyable flight all things considered. As we got closer to landing I could feel my stomach start to knot up in nervousness. I was about to meet two strangers who I felt a crazy, deep connection with. I knew it would be emotional and I was right. I walked down the steps from the plane, across the tarmac and through the doors of the tiny Kitchener Waterloo airport. I saw them through the glass and around the corner and my tears started before I had even reached them. I dropped my bag and hugged Ben’s Mom and Sister and the three of us cried and hugged and hugged and cried and then stepped back and laughed and got on our way. My nervousness was gone.