It has been six weeks since my daughter Sarah passed away at the way-too-young age of 24. And it has been seven weeks since we embarked on what was unbeknownst to us, to be her last vacation, taking in a long weekend to San Francisco and the Pacific coast.
Sarah had never been to northern California, but had traveled extensively with me over the years to Florida, Washington D.C. just last summer with my wife Jane and her brother, San Diego, Ireland when I ran the Dublin Marathon in 1999, Winnipeg and Toronto following her brother Michael’s hockey teams, and multiple times to her favorite place on earth, and my hometown of New York City. She had hoped one day to move there, but her cancer diagnosis in June of 2011 put those plans on hold.
While Sarah had been ill with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare and often deadly bone cancer, she remained positive and full of life up until the end of her days. Despite enduring half a dozen rounds of chemo that lasted from three to five days that was followed by radiation and a transplant of her own stem cells in an attempt to beat the nasty disease, Sarah kept living and laughing, with much of that including travel.
The San Francisco trip wasn’t anticipated to be her last, as Sarah didn’t appear to be anywhere near her final days. Unfortunately, she left us on Friday afternoon after having returned from California on Monday evening. During the getaway which included her sister Laura, we did all of the “touristy” things that you would expect. With her love of the ocean we started out heading straight from the San Jose airport to Santa Cruz and a walk on the beach, followed by a spectacular drive up the Pacific Coast Highway (Route 1) to Half Moon Bay. We then headed for our base at the Hilton Garden Inn in San Mateo, which turned out to be the perfect place to start and end each day.
Of course, we also visited the Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street, Fisherman’s Wharf, Pac Bell Park (she loved baseball, especially Derek Jeter and the Yankees), Pier 39, and a tour of my old neighborhood by Lake Merritt in Oakland. The Bay Bridge and its incredible lighting was a definite highlight on our final night in the Bay Area.
Sarah had been an intern last year with Minnesotan’s United, a pro-gay marriage organization, though she herself was straight. She saw the anti-marriage amendment fail in last November’s election in Minnesota, but sadly left us just weeks before gay marriage was approved by the legislature. Her most recent position in addition to going back to college had been as an intern for Governor Mark Dayton, who quickly signed the bill into law. She would have been thrilled.
Travel was a part of Sarah from infancy until death, and she was a delight to explore with. We went to Crawford, Texas, home to former President Bush’s ranch, and bought deeply discounted memorabilia in local gift shops. We call Waco, “Wacko”, New York, “New Yawk”, and Minnesota, “Minnesnowta”. We laughed, we goofed around, and we grew ever closer not because of her disease, but because of travel.
Life can be very fragile, so get off of the couch, hop in the car, board a train or a plane and explore the world. There is nothing more therapeutic than a change of scenery, even for a person with a terminal illness, not to mention those who accompany them. Sarah will forever be missed by so many who knew and loved her, but our travels together will always be a source of comfort, and smiles.