It was another beautiful day on Bois Blanc Island in the Straits of Mackinac. The summer sky was so blue. I was there with my youngest daughter, Nicole visiting my parents Matt and Liz Patrick for a month or so. My parents had owned the summer retreat for 28 years. We all tried to go every summer. I had been there about two weeks on July 14th.
While visiting my mother had been busily helping me find a place to purchase in Florida where I had lived with my two daughters for about two years as my oldest daughter trained to play professional tennis. Jacqueline, 16 had traveled to Michigan with us to visit what we refer to affectionately in the family as the Red House. It had been a couple of years for Jacqueline and she felt an internal drive to go to Bois Blanc. We arrived around the second of July with Brian their dad, Jacqueline, Nicole, and our six month old Berger Picard, Madeleine. Brian had to leave shortly after we arrived to return to work in the Washington DC area.
On the eighth of July my mom, Jacqueline, Nicole, Madeleine and I piled into our car and we headed to Grand rapids area to spend the night. Jacqueline was departing the next day for France to play tennis until the end of August. Mom always energetic, interesting ,enjoyable, and calm came with us. She followed the lives of all her grandchildren. We stopped in Harbor Springs and the girls and mom went to American Spoon to get snacks and gifts. I took Madeleine for a walk in the park. Mom called within a half hour and I went back to collect them. We went to the rest room and then proceeded on our way to Grand Rapids.
The girls and my mom played the animal game and she told us stories about when she and Grandpa bought the Red House. She explained how they had traveled around the mainland and finally decided to go over to Bois Blanc on the ferry. They looked at many houses and the last house was a red house in the Pointe aux Pines. They decided to buy it and even though there were other higher offers on the house their’s was the only cash offer. She regaled us with stories about the various drives up and the process and years involved in making it The Red House she loved.
We stayed that night at a Holiday Inn Express (pet friendly) and had Chinese food for dinner. My mom was game to stay in for dinner because we had bought the dog which she cherished with us. That night I can remember her taking out the book “driven to distraction” to read, reading a page and everyone saying we loved each other and goodnight. The next morning we got up went to get Jackie Euros for her trip and proceeded to Grand Rapids Airport. Jackie and I went into the airport. Nicole was with mom in the car and she remembers her grandma crying after talking to her very ill older sister on the phone. I remember it was obvious she had been crying when I returned, we talked about it.
On the way home we tried unsuccessfully to find a covered bridge in the area she thought would be fun to see. She was always willing and eager to do and see everything and anything. She was just fun! We finished our four hour drive back to Cheboygan. Mom treated us to a take-out dinner from a new coffee house close to where we would catch the ferry. We drove out to eat at a park on the water where we could see Lake Huron between Cheboygan and Bois Blanc Island. After dinner we went back and caught the Ferry to Bois Blanc Island.
The next few days were filled with usual Island activities, difficult internet connection (so house hunting was a pain). My mom who always wanted a dog was not so sure anymore because whenever Madeleine saw anything from their large wrap around porch she would bark. A lot of my conversation with my mom surrounded her ill very sister and if she was going to survive. She learned her sister had been moved to the hospital from her nursing home.
My parents flew to Knoxville because my mom’s sister had said to my mom I wish you could just hug me. That was all it took for my ever resourceful mom to book a flight for her and my father to Tennessee. She felt her sister had rallied during that visit but then proceeded to deteriorate after she left.
She was also concerned with my daughter Nicole who was recently diagnosed with ADD and how could we make her life happier and better. Last year she invited Nicole to spend time on Bois Blanc Island without me to help her. She arranged for Nicole to take a couple art classed with a artist who summered on Bois Blanc. As always she cherished any of her children and grandchildren being there…………we always felt welcome and at peace with her. She was our protector.
My mother was always tortured by her weight and lack of regular physical exercise. That summer we convinced her a few times to take a half mile walk with us. Each time she was very exhausted and sweated profusely. She rested a few times during the walk but was always happy she did it. Daily my dad and I were taking our eighty year old neighbor into Lake Huron in front of the house in the evening so he could swim a little. In past years my mother too would get exercise by walking in the water.
On July 14th, I remember a conversation with mom trying to get dad to let us cook, shop etc so he didn’t have to do so much work. Mom and I joked with dad about putting (the grouch) away.
I remember sitting on the porch that day with mom, Nicole and my dad. Mom wanted me to go get Nicole ice cream from Hawks (this was usually her way of getting it for herself) I explained to her that we felt Nicole was badly affected by sugar and we would allow her to have it occasionally. Then I told my father to put the other guy away (the grouch) because he was making his usual disapproving faces. She did not like this and when he offered to help put up her new curtains. She curtly shut him down.
Nicole and I eventually went down to the store “Hawks” so I could fax my offer on a house. Nicole had ice cream. When I returned with Nicole I had a conversation with mom where she led me to conclude she had come to realize if she wanted Ice cream all she had to do is pop in the truck and go get it……realizing her earlier anger was based on her long fought internal dialogue about her weight,food, and fitness.
Later that day Ed (our eighty year old neighbor),dad, mom, and Nicole went to the beach and to the water. Mom went to exercise in the water which she felt much more comfortable doing than walking on the road. I sat on the porch with Madeleine. The porch is about 100 feet from the water. There is a line of trees close to the rock beach on Bois Blanc between the road and water. My parents had built a deck on the water side of the road to sit on by the beach. Nicole came up first, having felt the water was too cold to swim too long. That day there was a strong east wind creating white caps out in the straits. The swimming area had waves but was not dangerous. After a brief time at the beach, Ed and my father walked up. Dad and Ed recounted later that mom waved goodbye and smiled. Mom smiled a lot.
My dad arrived on the porch after changing out of his wet clothes and fixing a drink. Nicole and I were sitting there with Madeleine. My father asked me if I could see my mother and I was surprised because he had never asked before; I asked him why? We all looked for her and did not see her. Because of the trees I asked can you usually see her through the trees? He said, “yes at certain spots on her walk”. Again she walked in the water about chest deep between two landmarks she had located on shore. Dad said, “I am going to go check on her” –again this struck me as extremely odd….she walked in the water all the years she had been going to Bois Blanc Island. He walked down to the beach looked around and turned toward the house called my name with his hands raised up in the air……………indicating he was mystified.
I ran down to the beach barefoot. I scanned the water where she would walk and did not see her. I looked to my left and there were her tennis shoes neatly placed on the deck where she had changed into her water shoes. She had placed her glasses on her shoes and walked in the water with sunglasses. I said to my dad, “Something is very wrong –I am going in the water!” As I progessed into the water I looked to my right and about 700 feet down the rocky shore I saw a black object with white appendages. It took me a moment to realize it was my mother. I told my dad to run…………………I had difficulty for I was barefoot and the beach was rocky. When we arrive my mother was pale, her body was lifeless,her eyes were her same beautiful eyes but without her usual twinkle. Dad looked at me and asked what to do. She was face up head on the shore her feet were in the water. Her face was out of the water. We struggled to pull her further up onto the shore.
I had tried to call 911 and said we were in front of a landmark island cottage but the people on the other end did not know where that was…………….Later I was to learn my call went to central dispatch in the Upper Peninsula and not to the local rescue squad. During this time my daughter Nicole arrived with the dog concerned about the commotion and I screamed at her to return to the house, She did. Within a minute a guy showed up who was an off duty cop on vacation on the island. He had witnessed us struggling to pull my mother further up on shore. He helped us. He looked at me and gave me the keys to his Quad off road vehicle and told me to drive down the road to the island store and get the deputy.
He began compressions….after having a brief discussion with him about whether or not rescue breathing was necessary. I drove as fast as I could unable to figure out whether or not I needed to shift into different gears………………. I was crying and screaming NO from the bottom of my soul. Soaked from going in the water earlier I arrived at the store ran inside found the deputy whose back was to me. I told him my mother was hurt and I needed him immediately. He jumped up went with me to his truck I told him where to go and he turned on the sirens and called first responders. We arrived back with my mom a mile down the road and the off duty cop who had performed compressions since I left was still working hard on my mom. He asked the deputy for a defibillator…..which it took a while to find. The off duty cop apologized to my father and me and cut my moms black swimsuit exposing her breasts. He placed a lead on her chest…and there was no response. He continued chest compressions while I started to rescue breathe for mom. After I would breathe in water and pieces of lake vegetation came out of both her nose and mouth. I continuosly wiped her face after this thinking about her vanity.
The ambulance came quickly along with the first responders, the experienced off duty police man had the back board brought to her side. We got her on the back board and got her into the ambulance. My dad stayed behind to take care of Nicole and I suspect because he had no medical training. We had to carry her up over a little grassy noll. Once in the ambulance I continued rescue breathing, the cop looking as though he had just run a marathon asked another first responder to take over CPR for a spell. I glanced around the ambulance saw the suction apparatus hoping to use and discovering it was inoperable. I learned in the ambulance that the small plane had been called to pick us up and take us the the mainland.
The seats of the plane had been removed because we could not get the backboard on the plane unless they were. The pilot was someone who knew my sister well from Mackinac Island and I told him this was her mom. He said, “oh god”. Only two of us could go on the plane so Mike a first responder, and I continued CPR on the plane. We arrived within a short span of time at the Cheboygan airport and were met by an ambulance. I assume a full code was run as I sat in the front seat of the ambulance in disbelief. This was my eternally optimistic wonderful mother who was lifeless.
I road to the hospital with my mom. I suppose I knew at the shore she was dead. I stepped back and let the medical team work on mom. When mom was in the ER I said goodbye checked her body for injury. Shortly after I arrived my sister arrived with her son Leo – they were both crying….Margaret kept feeling mom’s hands saying they are so soft…they feel like mom’s hands. I told her I was struck by moms eyes and showed her. Shock set in and remained that way. Margaret commented on the fact mom’s body was warm and she went and got a stethoscope and listened for a heartbeat…there was none. She was warm but lividity had set in so obviously no blood was being circulated.
Before we left the hospital we understood an autopsy would be ordered. Mom always wanted us to have all possible information that might affect our health. The first responder Mike who flew over and then back to the island called the ER and offered to bring his boat over to the mainland to get us. We took mom’s walking shoes with us – hopefully to examine later…..though I am not sure why. We said goodbye to mom and took Mike up on his offer. We desperately needed to be back on the island to our father and my young daughter.
The entire family arrived within days. We were able to donate my mom’s corneas to someone. She would have been happy with this. I am still amazed by the amount of things that have to be taken care of after someone dies.
My father, I suspect was also in shock……………and guilt ridden…thinking erroneously that it he had stayed on the beach he could have helped her. He drank a lot that night and passed out eventually, sleep would not have come otherwise. My sister and I watched him, talked, took care of our children and monitored my Madeleine.
Much of the next few days are a blur. My brother Mark and my husband Brian arrived the next day. Friday my sister-in-law Dawn, my brother Mike and their boys came in. Uncle Mike my mom’s younger brother the priest arrived Saturday. Mark’s wife flew in. My dad’s brother Leo, his wife Alicia, and their children Eileen, Theresa, Katie, and some of their spouses and children came. A memorial gathering was held at The Red House – where endless islanders arrived to pay their respects. Dawn, Margaret, and Dad wrote and placed multiple obits. Monday the entire family clan and Madeleine left via ferry and picked up my cremated Mom in her biodegradable box and went to Mackinac Island to bury her. We rode the ferry to the island on a spectacular day –Mark thought dad was a little wobbly with carrying mom and shadowed him. Dad said he was fine – well he dropped her – luckily the box stayed intact.
We were met by carriages which transported the twenty-eight of us to the cemetery. A graveside service was performed by my Uncle Mike(her brother) and mom was placed by dad into the ground. Tim, Margaret’s husband had collected small rocks from the beach in front of my parents home on Bois Blanc Island. Tymon, Margaret’s oldest son had given them to me prior to the funeral. I proceeded to give them to all the grandchildren and they one by one placed them in mom’s grave. I gave an extra one to Jordan (Mark’s son) for his sister Alex who could not be there and an extra one to Nicole for her sister Jackie who was in France. We hopped back in the carriages and went to the Grand Hotel for a spectacular lunch. Mom would have loved this!
Margaret, Dawn, and I took care of mom’s clothes at dads request. The next month I spent walking to the dock and back with my dad. Appreciating nature with a new perspective as he pointed out what mom loved. I watched him raw with pain sob for her and hisself. And I cried for her and myself. One of the things he was most frantic about was changing the beneficiaries from my mom to his four children per stirpes, we were able to get this accomplished and on that day he breathed a sigh of relief and actually began to grieve slowly.
I worked with my father as he learned to pay bills online – often frustrated by the process. He learned to email. He learned to use her Iphone. One of the saddest moments I witnessed was when he opened her Vanguard account and it had all zeros- her life savings had become his. We cried.
She was a wonderful, loving, intellectual who was eternally optimistic about everyone. She touched us all…we all felt loved by her and loved her.
As we now search for tombstones it is hard to know what is right – she was so accomplished and such a loving mother. She always had time for us and our children. We were all so lucky. Our advisor, friend, confidant is gone we all miss her so…………………is this real?