Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Celebration of Family

My husband’s step-brother died a week ago yesterday.  While a close family member’s death usually brings grief, this one did not.  This man had managed to alienate most of his family and friends, and in the end, he died alone.

To be truthful, it was not entirely his fault.  Mental illness is insidious.  I won’t go into my tirade of how the mentally ill really need to seek treatment and follow their doctors’ orders; I’ll only say that he did not.  And when he died, he left his estranged children with the task of setting his affairs in order and arranging for cremation.

So – how do you hold a memorial service for someone that nobody was even going to miss?  His siblings and children asked us to host an open house in his honor.  The event that actually transpired was a celebration of family.

The open house was pretty much the same as a luncheon following a funeral service – only without the funeral.  Or, since we live in Utah, without the funeral potatoes.  We had fresh flowers on the tables and a display of photos of the deceased, but the photos all had family members as well. 

We had not seen some of the family members who attended in over 20 years.  Some I did not recognize.  Little children had grown up and brought children of their own.  Some were in poor health.  Some of this man’s family had also not seen one another in over 20 years.  There were tear-filled hugs and past-due reconciliations.

We reminisced about the good times we’d had together.  Conversations revolved around the family.  We caught up with one another’s lives.  I uttered the words, “I am sorry for your loss,” only once – to the father of the deceased man who has now felt the tragedy of burying three of his sons.

I write this in gratitude for family.  I was so honored to be a part of what turned out to be a blessing for the family and friends of this man.  And if the occasion ever presents itself again, I will be honored to host a Celebration of Family.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Cruising Alaska – Local Style

MV Malaspina
Retirees - is Alaska on your bucket list?  Consider using the Alaska Marine Highway.

The Alaska Marine Highway is a system of ferries that run from the Port of Bellingham, Washington, to several communities in Alaska.  Most of these communities are only accessible by air or by sea.  The ferries are not luxurious by any means, but the accommodations are adequate, the ships are clean, the food is good, and the staff is friendly and courteous.

We drove to Bellingham, but you can also fly into Seattle and take a shuttle to Bellingham. On the ferry, you pretty much get what you pay for.  You can book a stateroom – or if you’re more adventurous, you can pitch your tent on the top deck or sleep in the recliner lounge.  The cafeteria is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – with two or three specials for each meal along with standard grill items and an array of packaged fruits, salads and desserts.  Only one of the ships – the Kennecott – still has a bar, and adult beverages are allowed only in your stateroom, but you can bring your own.

You can bring your car onboard.  Fees are based on length.  We saw small cars, large motor homes towing boats, and cars loaded with household belongings.  Pets are allowed, but must remain in kennels on the car deck, and you can only visit them on “car deck calls” announced by the Purser’s Office every few hours.

Once onboard, the voyage is pleasant.  While it’s often too cold to watch the scenery go by from the
Canadian coastline
outside, a large viewing deck at the front of the ship provides excellent views, and it’s pretty quick to run outside to get photos.

Our final destination was Ketchikan – the first major port on the route.  It’s a 38 hour cruise with only a couple of open water crossings where you could feel the rocking of the boat.  The crew warns you in advance of open water crossings – just in case you need to take a Dramamine.  This route also serves Wrangell, Petersburg, and Juneau.

Downtown Ketchikan
A bit of history:  Alaska was granted statehood in 1959.  The first state legislature passed a bond issue to build three ships for the planned marine highway system.  The three ships were completed in 1962. Our ship, MV Malaspina, was one of the original three ships.

Malaspina?  Sounds like Latin for “bad back.”  Turns out she was named for the Malaspina Glacier, which in turn was named for Italian explorer Alessandro Malaspina, who visited the area in 1791.  And while the ship’s “back” is sound, you can see a few “age spots” where the water hits. 

The ferries are austere, in contrast with the many cruise ships that sail Alaska’s inside passage.  But if you’re looking for good value in a pleasant trip to your Alaska destination, the Alaska Marine Highway may be for you.