Editor’s note: Reflections is a monthly column written by Island Fellows, recent college grads who do community service work on Maine islands through the Island Institute, publisher of The Working Waterfront. Sidra Nasir works with Chebeague Island’s fire and rescue department and with the island council to network island-based non-profits.
It was a long car ride to the hospital once I landed back in Orange County, California.
I was suppressing the myriad feelings and thoughts that kept bubbling up. I hadn’t eaten for many hours, but my body didn’t notice. With my eyes closed, I pictured myself back on Chebeague Island. I imagined the coarse grains of sand between my toes, the scent of salty ocean in the air, and the boats bobbing in the water. I kept telling myself that I would be back soon.
About three weeks earlier, the news came that my mom was diagnosed with cancer and the doctors found legions in multiple locations. My mom was strangely nonchalant when informing me. She wouldn’t say the word “cancer” so I had to confirm this disheartening news with my family.
For almost a week, I kept this news to myself hoping that it would disappear. When I finally opened up to someone on the island, I felt calmer. I decided to tell another close friend on Chebeague and the news traveled from there.
One of the major lessons I’ve learned during my fellowship is to let others support me. The day I left, I had a bundle of cards and a newly knit prayer shawl while someone else took the day off from work so she could drive me two hours south to Logan International Airport in Boston.
It was surreal because I felt that I had just gotten to Chebeague, yet was already firmly anchored to this place. I was welcomed graciously into the community. I had made my home here for the past nine months and I felt uprooted going back to California. It felt uneasy and uncomfortable even though I knew it would be for a short time.
I had gotten so used to the community and my ritual visits around the island, such as teatime at the library, that I wasn’t sure how I would fare without this social network.
The day after I got to the hospital, the doctor informed me that my mom had 1-2 weeks to live. I felt like I was choking on air and the wave of emotions were too much to bear. The next day, I was told that she had only 3-5 days. She passed away the day after that. The only thing that kept me going during this time was the fact that I would return to Chebeague.
While organizing paperwork, paying bills, cleaning my parents’ house to get it ready for tenants and selling my mom’s car, I would find reprieve when I closed my eyes again and imagined the nice weather on a beach on Chebeague Island. The three months in California were the most agonizing except for the cards, texts and emails: I never felt abandoned by my family on Chebeague.
When I finally came back, multiple islanders said to me, “Welcome home!” and those were the kindest words I ever heard. In just nine months, the community had taken me in and made me feel at home. It truly did feel like I was coming home. I couldn’t wait to visit with friends, listen to their stories and share their joy.
Looking forward to the next few months, I know that I have to readjust to island living and relearn to live with a parent who accompanied me to Chebeague from California. It can take a while to go through the several stages of grief and I often feel stuck between anger and sadness. Through all this, however, I am reminded that there’s no better place than Chebeague to overcome this.