Just a thought... But in all of the sadness, when you’re feeling that your heart is empty, and lacking, you’ve got to remember that grief isn’t the absence of love. Grief is the proof that love is still there. [Tessa Shaffer]
One of the wonders of the week we spent meandering through the canals and waterways of the Netherlands, and later Belgium, was seeing a dear friend come back to life.
Last summer, my former radio partner Mike Cooper let us know, some eight months after signing on with us, that he just couldn’t see himself coming along on this trip through the Netherlands after all. He was having trouble picturing life going on, so deep in the midst of grief was he as he watched his wife’s fight against colon cancer come to its conclusion. Fortunately, before Debbie left us, her oncologist told Mike he was going to need things to look forward to when she did - and boy, this cruise managed to tick all of the boxes.
To every person who wrote and told us to give Mike a hug: trust me, he was well and truly hugged. And kissed. And listened to and laughed with. He held court at dinner, entertained us all and laughed heartily through our many hours together. The service staff got to love him too - especially Michaela, who teased him with the “cup’s full” trick….
If you look closely, you’ll see how the trick is done, but it was a great sight gag and his face was EVERYTHING! (Thanks to Deb Hill for the photo.)
Mike himself was hilarious, too. He’d go around at the Chef’s table dinners we held with our group and take “selfies” - only he was the only one in the pictures. Trust us, it was hilarious. Oh my goodness, we laughed. More on that in a bit.…
For a time, he really did find his center, his happy place again. I don’t know if a heart so utterly shattered can ever heal completely, but there were signs of it being gently sewn back together again, that’s for certain.
So, now, back to our travels! Our second full day on the cruise, Tuesday, was spent in Middleburg and nearby Veere. Rob managed to get a few shots of both towns. I’m sorry I stayed back in the cabin to rest up and missed the more bucolic and tranquil cycling sights…
…and the stop at a dairy farm where Rob enjoyed a taste of buttermilk. He said it’s the first time in his life he’s enjoyed that beverage - probably because it was raspberry-flavoured and tasted like yogurt. And it was undoubtedly fresh!
Plenty of historic sights greeted cyclists, too, including a church that Napoleon had converted into three floors of barracks (as well as stables below - which made for a fragrant cot above, I’m sure). The building is currently being restored and turned into an events venue.
More hospitable is the Roosevelt Hotel (the oldest hotel in the Netherlands) which used to be - you guessed it - a fort.
Of course, if the edifice didn’t give you a good enough hint as to the building’s origins, perhaps this might have.
Middelburg and Veere were very peaceful and much less busy than Hoorn had been the day before. What a lovely area!
That night’s exquisite private dinner was held for half of our group of fifty (hosted by Mike and me) at the chef’s table, a quiet remote dining room, with a menu made up of specially-chosen tasting selections. We enjoyed wine pairings, desserts, unique flavours and presentations and lots and lots of laughter!
More of those dinner shots tomorrow here.
Every time we took the microphone or were addressing our guests, I kept wanting to call these men and women “winners” and some - including Sandra Rye, Mary and Ralph Larin and Andrea and Bill Bates - did win a trip with CHFI (to Ocho Rios) with Mike and me. It just felt like a “winners’ trip.” All of the couples (and a handful of single women) were genuinely glad to be travelling with us, just as we were with them - even though, this time, everyone had paid!
This group shared a real camaraderie right from the start. Some folks who hadn’t booked with us (mostly from the US) joined in the fun, too, especially the night we took over the lounge and played Coop’s Classics and had a not-so-Oldies Dance. Funnily enough, some of those non-Toronto folks said when they filled out the survey at the end of the cruise that the dance was their favourite part! (Maybe we’d have to have two of them if we took the ship over entirely.…)
Of course, in addition to having a great week, visiting new places and, for some, river cruising for the first time in their lives, people truly wanted to make sure that their Mike - our Mike - was going to be okay. (There were a few single ladies on the trip who wanted to ensure the same thing…!)
I am pretty confident that, after this past week, we can all know that he will be. It won’t be tomorrow or the next day, but I think if we DO go ahead and do this in fall 2020 (maybe an entire ship of us on the Rhine in Germany?) we’ll see even more signs of that heart gently mending. (Email Gerry Koolhof to find out more. We truly want to take over the boat!)
Mike and I are so grateful. More amazing pics and adventures and stories tomorrow.
(@erindavis on Twitter)