The past year has been hard – probably the most difficult of my life, thus far. A close family member was diagnosed and has been battling cancer; we chose to send our mentally ill daughter away to a therapeutic boarding school 1,000 miles from our home; and I fought to maintain normalcy in my life, fighting off feelings of guilt, anxiety, anger and depression.
I believe life hands us certain situations for a reason. There are no accidents and it’s amazing how a different perspective can provide clarity in an instant.
Chloe visited home recently for a week. During her stay, our primary goal as a family was to connect with one another in ways that are different from our past patterns. Between work and appointments, we had enough time to participate in one full day activity together. We decided as a family to rent a raft and spend the day on the Rogue River.
For those of you unfamiliar with Southern Oregon’s Rogue River, it can be a beast. In fact, on a portion of the river, professional kayakers from all over the world travel there to qualify for the Olympics.
Let me be clear, we didn’t sign up to raft any portion of the Rogue River that would qualify for the Olympics. However, I did register our family for the “Half Day Wild Adventure” with no guide, four paddles and life vests. On the raft company website, it said the highest class of rapids on our stretch would be Class II – the highest possible is Class VI.
It was a hot day, high of 98 degrees. We loaded up on our rented raft with paddles and life vests in hand and headed down the river for our “adventure.” Honestly, it was probably one of the best days our family has had together, ever. We were working our paddles like champs, my husband, Jeff doing the majority of heavy lifting for me and the two girls.
We noticed during the first part of our “adventure” that our raft was deflating on my side. There weren’t a lot of people out on the river that day so Chloe would yell and ask anyone we saw whether they had an air pump. After a few negative responses, we came upon a guided group pulled over for lunch. Chloe again asked whether they had a pump. At first, the guide said no but upon further review of our limp raft, he changed his mind and said, “Oh, I do think I have a foot pump.”
We pulled over and the nice man helped us pump our raft to a safe pressure. Then we were on our way to find a spot for lunch. Within a half hour, we found the perfect spot, pulled off and ate. After lunch, I switched sides of the raft with my daughter. Super hot from baking in the heat, I put my life vest on the raft under my bum to keep it cool while we worked our way down the remainder of our trip.
So, let me be clear again: I wasn’t wearing my life vest. Yes, I’ve heard, “stupid,” several times already. But I’ve lived in Southern Oregon most of my life and have done multiple guided rafting trips with Class VI rapids (and a life vest), as well as multiple self-guided tours with friends. So, it took me for a bit of a loop when I fell into the water on a Class III rapid. You’re thought is right, the company website said our “adventure” would only have Class II rapids.
We were having a blast together when, before we noticed, our next stretch of “wild adventure” looked to be a little faster and stronger than we had come upon all day. Before we could get our vests on, we entered the rapids, Jeff yelling at all of us to “get ready.” He shouted out commands to each of us about which direction to row. We got through the first two rapids like pros. But the next one came too quick and it was huge and strong. We ended up on the top of a Class III rapid and large rock. I screamed, “Sh&%!” My first thought was for the safety of the girls. My second was, “What if the raft capsizes?”
And then, just like that, I was in. The raft had slid off the rock to my side, throwing me into the wild water. As soon as I plunged in, my arm was sternly and tightly grabbed by my husband. Me, the raft and my family spun around counter-clockwise a few times toward the next set of smaller, more manageable rapids.
I’m fairly certain that without Jeff’s quick reflexes and strength, I very well may have drowned that day.
First, I have to say, I have never been more in love with my husband than in that moment. It’s easy to understand why extreme danger often ignites romance. However, what also happened over the next several days was a clarity of priorities I’ve never experienced, not only for me but for Chloe’s success.
Up to that point, it had taken me nearly a year to let go of the guilt and shame I experienced from both “giving” her a mental illness and then sending her away to a treatment boarding school. Letting go of the process and handing over her treatment to the program has been next to impossible for me. My “wild adventure,” near death experience literally spun my perspective.
To realize Chloe’s potential and success for the program, we no longer have time for guilt and shame (so, maybe there’s a day or two of guilt after home visits when I send her back to Utah). She struggles in such a way neurologically that her deficits can land her in high risk situations that could go sideways in an instant. We all have some serious work to do yet there isn’t a lot of time to change old dysfunctional patterns.
My “adventure” also defined the priorities in my life: family, friends, and sharing and educating about mental illness. I also realized I choose my attitude, behavior and destiny in every aspect of my life. I choose love, compassion and kindness. And, by gosh, a life vest!!