Living with dying: The heart of grief

This column is presented by the Living with Dying Partnership – an alliance between End of Life Services (formerly Hospice Volunteer Services and ARCH), Addison County Home Health & Hospice and UVM Health Network Porter Medical Center. The mission of this partnership is to create a framework for end-of-life care organizations to collaborate on our common goal of providing education about dying, death and options for care. For more information on this partnership, please call End of Life Services at 388-4111.
For many summers my wife, Pam Carter, had worked out west as a white water river guide. She loved being on the water and before she passed away she asked me to take her ashes to a river that had been significant in her life. In reflecting on her request, I thought of the Hudson because Pam had been born in New York City and also for the connection it has to Lake Champlain where we had spent many happy times.
The plan became for me to paddle Pam’s kayak with her ashes from Kingsland Bay in Ferrisburgh to Fort Edward, N.Y., where the Champlain Canal meets the Hudson River. There I would fulfill her final wishes.
As I departed last September my biggest fear was that I would sustain a paddling injury, but after five days with no aches and pains I reached Fort Edward. Feeling well, I decided to continue beyond this original destination. Over the next eight days I became captivated by the solitude and beauty of the river.
To my surprise I eventually reached Manhattan, where I recalled that Pam had once pointed out the hospital where she was born. I could see it from the river and it was here that the circle of Pam’s life was connected.
I had decided to take the train home, but what to do with the kayak? Paddling on I discovered a kayak center at Pier 84. I was happy to learn that the organization is committed to introducing young people to kayaking. My dilemma was solved. I donated the kayak, paddle and life jacket to the center. It seemed fitting as Pam had taken many kids out on rivers in her guiding days and continued to help young people in her later work as a psychotherapist in Middlebury. When I told the manager the reason for the trip he replied, “From now on the kayak will be known as the Pam.”
During the train trip home I caught many glimpses of the river Pam and I had just traveled together. It was a surreal trip back, emotions as turbulent as the waters of New York harbor. Yet it was heartwarming to know that Pam’s kayak had a new purpose — that of teaching and helping young people — a mission to which she devoted her life’s work. I knew then that her legacy of that work would continue … there on the river.
Andy Davis lives in Middlebury and continues to enjoy kayaking, often in some of the favorite spots where he and Pam had paddled together.

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