Last week I had the opportunity to tell a story before a sold-out crowd at the Women’s Fund “Tales of Our Lives” Story Slam. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the genre, a story slam is an opportunity for people to step up to the microphone and share a tale from their lives. These aren’t stories for children, but rather an honest description of real events that give us some insight into the life of the storyteller. These tales can range from the heart-warming to the heart-wrenching, but they are all authentic gifts to the audience.
I had the honor of sharing the stage with Carrie Counihan, Samantha Spohn, Nikki Hedeen, Holly Feldman, Mary Hall, Jenna Kasten and Megan Lundahl – all of whom told stories that alternately filled the room with laughter and brought the crowd to tears. It was a remarkable evening and a night that I will never forget. It epitomized so much of what I love about Door County.
My story, “A Hawaii Boy Goes Home,” was perhaps twice as long as it was supposed to be, but I wanted to paraphrase a little from the second half of it and share with you.
In early March of last year I was flying on an airplane to Florida. The Community Foundation holds an annual event in the Naples area and the price of admission is having to put up with me speaking for a few minutes. At the same time I was sitting on that plane, my father was lying in a hospital bed in my home state of Hawaii, some 5,000 miles away.
I recall speaking from Florida with my brother that Wednesday night and he said that Dad was dying. The plan was for the hospice team to get Dad’s house ready and he’d go home on Monday. My brother wanted all us siblings to gather ’round Dad and spend the next few weeks with him as we waited for the end to arrive.
I had to speak on Thursday, so I said I’d fly out immediately thereafter. I was sure that I could easily get home to Hawaii during the weekend and be there before Dad went into hospice care on Monday.
I managed to get a few hours of sleep that night, but I woke up ridiculously early on Thursday morning with this overwhelming need to go home immediately. I just knew that I needed to get home to Hawaii as soon as possible. Thankfully, the people in Florida were wonderfully gracious and understanding. So just a few hours before an event at which I was to be the featured speaker, I boarded a plane for Hawaii.
The plane landed in Honolulu on Friday afternoon and I arrived at the hospital at about 3:30 pm. Dad passed away three and a half hours later.
My father died just nine days short of his 90th birthday. Thankfully I got to hold his hand and say goodbye. They also said that Dad was telling bad jokes to the doctors and flirting with all the nurses that very morning. He was still my father right up until his last day.
My lovely wife Cari arrived shortly thereafter. We had planned on spending the month in Hawaii there at Dad’s side, but of course he passed away the same day I arrived.
So all of a sudden my wife and I were in a most unfamiliar position. In the middle of a bitter Wisconsin winter, I was sitting in a warm paradise with no demands on my time. We imagined that this must be what it’s like to be a retired resident of Door County who goes somewhere warm for the winter. We sat on the beach, took walks through the park, and caught up on our reading. We had all the time in the world and absolutely nothing we had to do.
Somewhere near the end of that month, I clearly recall sitting on the beach at Ala Moana. The sun was shining brightly in the sky but the cool trade winds made it the quintessentially perfect Hawaiian morning. Yet I couldn’t overcome this feeling that the time had come for us to go home.
I missed my family, whom I love so much. I missed our friends and all the fun we have together. I missed my work. I missed the life we had built for ourselves and I so much wanted to get back to it.
In that moment, there was a sudden burst of clarity which made me see how much my life had really changed. There I was, sitting on a beach in Hawaii, and for the very first time in my life, “home” was someplace else.
I will always love Hawaii. It is central to my being and is so much a part of who I am. But words cannot fully express how happy I am that I get to call Door County my home.
This column by Bret Bicoy originally appeared in the Peninsula Pulse on April 3, 2014.