Goodbye Grumblings

Find the good

What I learned from a bittersweet pandemic adventure

View of Lake Superior from the highway, near Thunder Bay

Consider the crazy idea — it might be the right one.

In late summer 2020, Dad told me his cancer had spread. I longed to see him. His doctor said we could count on Christmas, but not on Easter. Travel for him was out of the question. But my work was portable: all I needed was an internet connection. I stopped wishing and started planning.

You can do more than you thought you could.

With my lack of night vision and less-than-perfect day vision, I’ve always been content to let others drive on long trips. I’ve been the navigator.1 I’ve been the snack provider, the audiobook or music selector, the reader of Captain Underpants or The Trumpet of the Swan. On this 4,000-kilometre round trip, I learned I could be the driver. I’m grateful to Husband for maintaining our trusty Prius V so conscientiously — and that it drinks only small amounts of gas.

Bring a companion.

I’m grateful that The Art One, with her online university classes, was as portable as I was. I had good company, a second pair of eyes on the road, another point of view. The pandemic gave us an opportunity to spend time together on a trip that would otherwise have been impossible because of our usual commitments. Travelling with her gave me a chance to see her in action as a capable, practical adult.

Case in point: one early November morning on our way home, I went to pull up the day’s map on my phone and realised I had locked my phone and the room key inside the motel room. My brain immediately started cycling through plans. Risk leaving and hope motel staff would send my phone by courier? Wait a couple of hours for staff to come to work, which would mean changing that night’s destination to avoid driving in the dark? Delay arrival to Ottawa by another day? I didn’t need my phone to drive, since we had printed maps, but I wanted it for taking pictures, checking email, feeling connected to Husband via text. While I was busy flipping through options (and quietly flipping out), The Art One went to the motel room door and gave it a good shove. It opened right away. My anxious spiral fizzled into relief, and we left to go find coffee and hot chocolate.

Prepare, act when the time is right, and be grateful for good timing.

No Airbnb’s or apartments were available to rent, but I found a motel where we could get two rooms with kitchenettes for a month at a reasonable price, which would give us time to self-isolate for 14 days and before visiting Dad and Stepmom.

We purchased a good supply of hand sanitizer, alcohol for sanitizing, and masks. Snacks for the road, granola bars, apples, tea, coffee, oatmeal and hot chocolate. We packed a first aid kid, a camp stove and cooking set, sleeping bags, water and other emergency supplies. Our laptops, a computer game system, an extra monitor and keyboard so I could work comfortably. Several crochet projects and sketchbooks. We crammed a remarkable amount of stuff into the car!

While travelling, we wore our masks and avoided eating inside restaurants. We kept our social distance from everyone but each other.

We headed to Manitoba in a lucky window in mid-October 2020, when infection rates were down. When we left the motel to start the drive home a month later, the second wave was just hitting. We self-isolated again for two weeks when we got home, just in case.

Seize the adventure, then self-isolate like an introvert.

After living in our household bubble for seven months, it was exciting to go somewhere different. The four days of driving felt like an adventure, taking us through different cities and towns, through the heart-soothing scenery of Lake Superior’s north shore. We saw a lynx just outside Thunder Bay. We stopped at Old Woman Bay for a picnic. We drove around Sioux Lookout and looked at the building where my grandparents’ china and florist shop used to be. Rocks, trees and water for days, and then suddenly the endless flat of Manitoba.

Even the motel was something of an adventure. Two weeks of self-isolation passed quickly with work and school, homework and hobbies. We used the RingFit in The Art One’s room to exercise. We prepared food in my room using the tiny motel microwave and the kettle we brought with us. I made good coffee in the mornings with my trusty Aero Press espresso maker. We ordered groceries for delivery and got take-out for supper every four days.

I spoke with Dad on the phone every day, reassuring him that we were really there and reminding him of our countdown to visiting. We chatted with family and friends. In the evenings, we watched episodes of The Untamed, over and over. The C-drama’s scenery, beautiful people and angsty love story was comforting. Just hearing the theme music brings back a vivid and strangely comforting memory of The Art One’s motel room lit by the string of Christmas lights we brought with us (“for mental health”) and the smell of the Halloween candy a friend thoughtfully provided for our trip.

As introverts, we were both content to stay in the little world we had assembled.

Savour unexpected delights.

The motel room was dated, dingy and unpretty. But I set up my work laptop and spread out my crocheting projects, stacks of books and piles of pens. I relished that little space of my own for the month.

An orange cat visited regularly. It jumped up onto The Art One’s shoulder the day we arrived at the motel, then did the same to Dad when he dropped by the motel the day after our arrival to see for himself that we were really there. In the mornings when I opened my curtains and the window to bring in some fresh air, I’d find “Friend” staring at me through the screen as I started my computer and got ready for work.

My workday started with a surprisingly lovely view of the sunrise over the highway every morning. It was a holiday from cooking! I truly enjoyed doing minimal cooking for the month, as well as buying groceries without even thinking about how to accommodate allergies. Ordering take-out every four days was fun, too.

Treasure the gift of sitting quietly with a loved one.

Once our self-isolation was over, we had short visits with Dad and Stepmom every day. We talked and listened, and I even recorded some of our conversations. I haven’t had the heart to listen to them yet, but knowing I have a recording of his voice is comforting.

Sitting beside him while he napped felt right. Later, in January and February, I’d call Dad at the hospital every day. As he became less and less coherent on the phone, it was some consolation to remember those visits in November when I sat quietly beside him and crocheted, just being with him. It was what my heart longed for as he came closer to dying. I’m grateful to have had those days, especially since I couldn’t be there at the very end. Like so many people in the past year, we missed being able to keep company with loved ones who were ill or dying.

Check for bedbugs.

We didn’t do this, and we paid the price. After we’d been at the motel for awhile, I noticed some bites on my leg. Then I saw a small bug — alive! — on my shirt. My instinctive get-it-off-get-it-off reaction meant it ended up flushed down the toilet before my brain kicked in and said it would have been useful to take a picture. Research based on what I remembered and what the bites looked like told me it was a bedbug. Where we picked them up was hard to tell. This was the fourth place we’d stayed so far, and I hadn’t done mattress checks after each day’s drive. I did think about it, but my greater concern was about keeping my distance from people.

Husband’s excellent research and extreme precautions when we got back home prevented the beasties from infiltrating our house.2

On a related note, if you ever put yarn in the dryer to kill bedbugs or eggs, be sure to put it in a mesh bag that seals well. One skein per bag, or you’ll end up with art instead of usable yarn.

Untitled. Tangled yarn on linoleum. 2021

Materials: Mixed-fibre yarn, reusable bag, clothes dryer, scissors

Curated by The Art One

My biggest takeaway from the trip? Gratitude.

The memories of the trip are coloured by sadness. But they’re also painted with fondness,  humour and overwhelming gratitude. I got to go on a road trip — an adventure — with one of my kids and spend a whole month with her. We enjoyed a break from the pandemic routine of home.

Many people didn’t get to say goodbye to loved ones over the past year-and-a-half because of the pandemic. The ache of sadness and loss runs deep for many of us. I couldn’t be with Dad at the end, and we couldn’t mark his passing with a service. Sometimes on a Sunday afternoon, the day of our weekly phone call, I forget he’s gone.

Dad kindly wearing my first-ever crocheted hat, November 2020. We all agreed that it’s a bit clownish, but he kept it anyway.

I am overwhelmingly thankful that I was able to see him in his last few months. I got to talk with him, listen to him, be present with him. I planned the trip for myself, because I felt that I needed to go, and because I wanted to say goodbye in person. I brought The Art One for company and because she hadn’t seen her grandparents for years. The trip was also for Dad, and I’m glad to have given him this one last thing, this grand gesture to show him how important he was to me. I saw joy on his face when we sat together and he could hardly believe we were there  I’m deeply grateful that I didn’t dismiss the idea of the trip, and to Husband and The Art One for helping me make it happen. This time, the crazy idea truly was the right one.

Thanks for reading. Do you have a story to share? Leave a comment below or send me an email (susan at

  1. Stop laughing, Husband: even someone with no sense of direction can navigate!
  2. What precautions, you ask? Stripping at the back door in a tarp changing room (brrr) and dashing down to the basement shower. Washing and drying our clothes, bags and yarn at high temp. Getting the car fumigated. Freezing books, sketchbooks, notebooks, half-crocheted projects. Wiping down everything else with alcohol, including toothbrushes, combs, the contents of my purse, stitch markers and scissors. Isolating electronics in airtight bags for several days.

About GrumblingSusan

Word lover. Story addict. Daydreamer. Optimist. Ottawan. Treehugger. Scouter.

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