Travel agents deal with all different sorts of travelers every day. Some who are new to cruising have a lot of good, basic questions. Others not so many. Sail a time or two and the focus of those questions will change in nature. Moving quickly from asking ‘what is the dress code?’ to ‘tell me about the dining options, features of the ship’ and more as they gravitate toward a cruise line the resonates with them. Such was the case with Carol, a wonderful client of mine for many years. In failing health for most of that time, courageous Carol won battle after battle with Cancer, often attributing her temporary success with having a cruise booked: something to look forward to. Remembering Carol today perusing a collection of cruise memorabilia she wanted me to have after her passing, one might think this to be a sad story. Quite the contrary. Courageous Carol had a marvelous sense of humor and a lesson or two we can all benefit from.
For Carol, Cunard Line was a personal favorite and one she sailed often until health issues prohibited flying. At that point, cruising was limited to ships that sailed round-trip from Northeast U.S. ports accessible by private car from her Connecticut home. Many times, she sailed round trip on Royal Caribbean‘s Explorer of the Seas from New Jersey to Bermuda, Princess Cruises‘ Crown Princess sailing from New York at the time and others. But it was Cunard Line that resonated with her most, mainly because they seemed to understand her best.
“I want a cabin on the port (left) side of the ship so I can have my left arm resting on the rail of the balcony and see where we are going,” Carol told me, early on as her primary requirement. Cunard Line not only got that message but had a lovely hand towel draped over the rail of that balcony just before her arrival.
As time went on Carol was given grim news with a team of doctors predicting ‘it is time to get your affairs in order’. Getting good at beating the odds, Carol doubled down on cruise bookings, inviting friends and family along for the ride. She beat that prediction as well, and went on to sail more, fueled by a ‘never give up’ attitude in addition to the special dose of courage that comes with having the C-word in one’s life. If you have been there, you know.
Still, health issues continued to decline in spite of her good attitude about it, some magnificent support from family, her employer, co-workers and her “if I have to crawl up the gangway, I AM going on that cruise!!!” attitude.
Just before her passing, I was about to fly to Southampton for the christening of Princess Cruises Royal Princess by Kate Middleton, a royal herself. No longer ‘selling’ cruises but enjoying helping long time clients and friends with their plans, I had arranged what would be Carol’s last sailing, on Celebrity Summit to Bermuda. It was then that she wrote to me via email one afternoon:
“You’ll have to give my very best regards to Princess Kate in June – she really is a welcome addition to the royals. Hope they treasure her as an asset. She’s like the sister or daughter you always wish you had (except that you already have 2 of those!). I might have to reconsider Princess out of Brooklyn; I had wonderful times on Crown & Ruby (I can smell those chocolate chips cookies even now; it’s about the right time of day).”
It was at about this point that Carol realized the end was near and concluded that email in an uncharacteristically different tone, still peppered with the humor that served her so well through many difficult times.
“Otherwise, things are not wonderful (from who else do you get such honesty?!?!?!). The Summit is my distraction activity while I wait for approval for some new (add’l) drug that the onc/doc prescribed for pain. They make you jump through hoops at exactly the time you’re feeling least able to do so. These are more than white-knuckle days, my friend, so a few extra prayers would be most appreciated.”
Carol was often in my prayers and the following February the world lose one if it’s best people. If there are lessons to be learned here, they will surely include gaining courage from whatever source one can find it. For Carol it was the anticipation of going on a cruise. I experienced the power of that courage first-hand. Having a good sense of humor and not letting things beyond one’s control get the best of us sure can’t hurt either. I think the very best lesson here though is one not so obvious, but one that can make all the difference in the world.
Carol led her life as she chose, not how others dictated, getting the most out of every single day.
When I was told Carol had been taken by “the Thing” (her name for Cancer) it was a sad day.
If Carol had been here at the time she would have had none of that. Embracing life as she had all along the way, she would likely joked about it, writing “Hey, the old girl looks pretty good for all she went through!” then signed it as she always did:
…and with this post, we will begin a series on Cunard Line, Carol’s personal favorite and one that has a rich history as well. Stay tuned.