In the past 3 years I've lost two young vibrant coworkers to illness, and my 53 year-old-brother to a heart attack. I had been experiencing some feelings of "survivor's guilt", thinking that it should have been me instead, I felt that was the expectation for myself and those around me. I shared my thoughts with a good friend who told me that there was a reason I was still here, that "I was not done yet". It really hit home for me and motivated me to continue on with advocacy and finding ways to help others. What I didn't realize is that maybe I was still here to not only help others, but to experience beautiful moments for myself.
Last weekend, Travis and I attended Camp YMCA Kanawana's Annual Friends & Family Reunion, where I was honoured with the "Pip" Award in front of friends I had attended camp with in the 1990's.
It was a dream come true.
I had no idea how many people who I hadn't seen in over 20 years, would show up. At least 30 past campers and staff who I had been at camp with attended with their families. I'm not kidding when I say the weekend was a "dream come true". I literally had been having dreams about going back to Kanawana for years. And after speaking with others, apparently I wasn't the only one having these dreams, demonstrating the incredible spiritual imprint Kanawana has on our hearts.
It feels impossible to express the overwhelming emotion and sense of love that was given to me that day.
We arrived Saturday morning and headed to boating to greet people. As we looked out over Lac Kanawana, canoes appeared out of the mist. Yumi! Heidi! Simon & Natacha! All arrived by canoe, what a perfect introduction to old friends. And they just kept coming, Heidi, Tammy, Tracy! I can't name everyone because I'm sure I will leave someone out!
Lunch in the dining hall felt like a time warp as everywhere I looked another fellow Kanawanian turned up. It was really special to see them especially with their children who were, or were about to become the next generation of campers. It was great to go through old photos and reminisce and of course with that comes a belly full of laughter! After lunch Travis took me for a canoe with my trip leader Tom and his family. We canoed through the Suez Canal to Lake Wilson and our old overnight sights.
At the "Pip" Award Ceremony Andrew Caddell read a moving letter from his son James to his sister Emily when she was considering attending camp, and he shared his thoughts on the magic of Kanawana.
Bruce Netherwood came with his wife Jackie and their 3 daughters to present me with the award. Bruce hired me to be a junior girl counsellor in 1990. I went on to work for him for 5 years at Kanawana and then he hired me at the South Shore YMCA Camps Hayward and Burgess in 1995. He was my boss for 10 years and for those who know him, know him as a mentor, an inspiration, a prankster and just a really good guy. He helped me become the woman I am proud to be! I was lucky enough to also be good friends with his wife Jackie, and her sister Dellie who I was a counsellor with. It meant so much that they came all the way from Cape Cod to present me with the award. Not only that, but it was their daughter Jasmine's 18th birthday!
Jackie and her daughters sang "We (I) Won't Give Up" by Jason Mraz straight to me, it brought the whole dining hall to tears. It was so moving and beautiful and I can't express my gratitude for that moment. Bruce spoke about our time together and knowing me as "Sharmy"! He shared my history and presented me with the "Pip" Award.
Travis helped me up to accept the award, and of course I had to thank my husband for being my rock and number 1 fan. I thanked Andrew and the "Pip" Award Committee for making my dreams come true and honouring me with this prestigious award. I thanked Bruce and his family for being there for me and for the many life lessons I learned from Bruce. I shared my shock and confusion of being given a diagnosis of ALS, but that Kanawana's motto of "Non Nobis Solum" (Not For Ourselves Alone) is so important in many ways. That motto inspires the advocacy work that I do, and helped me to discover purpose and meaning in living with a terminal illness. Also, Kanawanians from near and far, lifted me up, supported, fundraised, encouraged, and showed up when I needed it. So thanks to those who have continued to keep me in their hearts. To those who were able to attend, and to those who cheer me on from afar.
And of course, after dinner, Sean Day's current staff who are incredible (Sean whatever you are paying Vanessa, double it!!!), sang cheers for ever!
"Wherever you go, whatever you do, you will always be a Kanawanian".
Though it is difficult and sometimes we falter, we have chosen to make the last three years about LIVING, LOVING and LAUGHING.