Special to the Westerly
A Christmas Letter – sort of:
To the First Responders, Ukee Surfing Community, Bystanders and Visitors (who did not just stand by) and the Community of Ucluelet:
On November 11, 2017 while enjoying some family surf fun with my husband and young son at Wickanninish Beach, tragedy struck my family… swiftly and unexpectedly… changing our lives forever. One moment we were laughing and watching our son surfing… playing in the water. And the next, we were caught in the middle of a horrible nightmare; one that we cannot ever wake up from. John and I were to celebrate our 12th wedding anniversary on November 12th… for some reason we had exchanged cards and said words of love that morning. I’m so grateful that we did. Here is our story:
Moments before I had caught a wave and rode it in to the shore … “So AWESOME!” I yelled to the guy getting ready to kite surf. I turned around and it was then that I noticed something was wrong as my husband lay on his board… drifting further and further away from me. I paddled out with some urgency and when I called to him, his answer was weak. “Come in!” I waved. “I’m trying…” It was then I knew something was terribly wrong. I paddled out to him and made a playful remark… which typically would have been met with one in return. Nothing. It was then that I saw the fear in his eyes; and this is when time began to stand still. “I can’t breathe”… he rasped… and I could see the panic in his eyes. I knew I had to get him into the shore. “Hold on, baby, I’ll get you in – it’s going to be okay.” But it would never be okay again.
I frantically paddled towards the shore, but I could feel him slipping away from me. I reached to keep his arms on the board and head above the water and paddled in as hard as I could. We were approaching the breakwater and I knew I needed help for I could never keep him on the board through the crashing waves. I heard my voice calling to a few surfers nearby, “we need help!” I waved my arm… “Help!” These two amazing guys responded immediately and came to our assistance, helping to get John to the shore as quickly and safely as possible. We hollered for someone to call ‘911’… more and more surfers joined us in our efforts…, I remember hearing a female voice yell, “All hands are good hands!” More and more people came. We worked to save my Johnnie… I remember holding his hand, screaming at him to fight while whispering over and over, “this isn’t happening, this can’t be happening”, I just kept saying it as if that would make things change somehow. During this time I felt hands on my shoulder. We worked at CPR, taking turns, switching out… strangers all working together to try to keep this life. The love of my life…I specifically remember a man saying, “Stay with us John, you have all the energy of the universe and Ukee love surrounding you right now!” It was true… and I will be forever grateful for the kindness and courage of complete strangers.
Despite all of the incredible efforts of everyone around, he left us that day. Love wasn’t enough; for if it had been, he would surely be sitting beside me today.
Our lives have changed forever in ways we are just beginning to experience and realize. No history of illness, no warning signs… just gone. Very sad and tragic. As I type this, I ask myself… why am I writing this? Why tell the story? Why relive it as I have every day and night since that fateful day? I have many reasons, I suppose. Firstly, because I would like to thank all of the people who selflessly jumped into a situation to help save a total stranger and to offer support to his family in the worst of moments. Then there are the first responders… what an incredible group of dedicated professionals – paramedics, R.C.M.P. officers who attended and specifically the officer and paramedic who sat with me in the ambulance. Caring, patient, kind and empathetic… your support in those moments helped me gather strength in delivering the most unthinkable news to our young son; that his Dad was gone from our lives forever.
I would also like to thank the kind folks from Victoria who took care of our son during the ordeal and helped preserve his memory of his Dad by keeping him away from an ugly scene when I requested them to. A vision that would likely have stayed with him forever, had they not intervened so quickly. They drove us home in our rental car and even offered to stay with us. Thank you to the people who returned our surfboards and Relic Surf Shop for their compassion.
The beauty of this small town can never be fully understood until it is experienced. The coroner and officer paid a ‘house call’ to take our statement, saving us the ordeal of going to the station and also answering my questions in the days to follow. Thank you to the Victim Services group who called and checked in regularly to ensure that we were coping as best we could and offering assistance. I am sorry that I don’t remember all of your names but I can tell you I will never forget you. Thank you to the people in the community in the days after, offering their home to extend our time there as we waited to bring John home… delivering soup and creature comforts. You are all true heroes!
It was so very humbling to be the recipients of such generosity, love and warmth. Despite the horrible memories of that day and the days following, Ucluelet will forever be in our memory because of its amazing people, the ones that live there and those drawn to its magical beauty. We will return there again as it has always had a special place in our hearts… and now I feel compelled to stay connected to this community in some small way.
The world has continued on and in many ways, I feel like I am still on that beach… the place where I left my heart. I would give anything to have one more moment with John – he was my husband, best friend, soulmate and the father to my son… we laughed every day and enjoyed life. There are always small regrets and things taken for granted in the business of life but I am grateful to have had the time that we did.
Many people have asked what we need… and no one on this earth can give us that. If you are reading this and hopefully you are one of the people that helped us on that day… here is what we need:
This Christmas season, (and every day), please slow down, look around you… enjoy the moments with people that matter most to you as you never know when they may be your last. When you ask how someone is doing, take the time to really listen to their answer as you may not know what they are going through and that one moment of caring may be needed… and may make a real difference to them. Know that any act of kindness and love, no matter how small, are never wasted… thank you to all of the kindness and love shown to us in Ukee…
With gratitude and love we send you this Christmas wish:
Live, Love. Laugh… and enjoy the moment.
…Kari & Shawn