Bringing Home the Boon from Chincoteague

In the last two posts, I’ve told part of the story of my Solo Journey to Chincoteague Island in Virginia. I confessed my anxiety with tunnels in crossing over and through the Chesapeake Bridge-Bay Tunnel and told about the worth of that effort, relaxing and resting during my three days on that island. I ended my post last week with the promise of returning to the final part of a journey– the “boon” or blessing of the trip that you carry back home. What I’ve discovered from my seventeen solo trips, is sometimes what you think will be the boon, is not; instead, something that may have seemed insignificant at the time turns out to be the most valuable experience of that journey. That was the case with my trip to Chincoteague.

The entire journey that year actually included starting out at the Assateague National Seashore and then the second part was spent in Baltimore at a city hostel in the historic part of town. I liked the combination of country/seashore and city. While at Chincoteague, I spent the majority of my time–after I’d improved from my ant bites and tooth pain (see post Journey to Chincoteague: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Adventure) outside by the seashore, hiking around the marsh and forest, and riding my bike on the trails. In Baltimore, I stayed in a historic mansion-turned-hostel that was across the street from the Basilica, and down the block from museums and a large library reading room. It was a rich trip with varied experiences and left me with many good memories.

But of all the experiences, all the images in my mind, there was one that served me well a month after I returned home.

When I was staying on Chincoteague Island, I drove out to the beach at mid-day–hoping to swim and then spend a leisurely afternoon. Not long after I settled into my sand chair, dark clouds formed in the distance. A storm moved in quickly and soon everyone, including me, gathered our beach things and headed to the parking lot. I’d just made it to my car when the rain pelted down. Rather than driving back to my motel, I decided to sit in my car and eat my sandwich. Why not just watch the storm, I thought. You have nothing you have to do, no place you have to be, just watch the storm from your safe place--that ‘still small voice’ said, that intuition that guides me through the day.

Some of the late-leaving families filed by with each person carrying their colorful beach floats and toys, sand blowing against their bare legs as they moved quickly to their cars. The beach emptied and then the parking lot. A young couple pulled in beside me in a green jeep. The man got out and walked toward the beach, his head tilted down as he continued into the storm. I watched him through the rain sheeting down my windshield as my Matt Redmond CD played the song”Never Once” (songwriters: Jason Ingram, Matt Redman, Tim Wanstall) The single note of the piano, the simple melody and beat matched the rhythm of the lone man’s steps moving steadily toward the rough surf. The rain came down more heavily, but still, the man continued, undeterred. I heard the words of the chorus as I never had before:

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful”

Photo by Iurii Laimin on

After a while, the rain slowed and the man returned to his jeep and pulled away. I wondered if he’d gone away with what he was looking for.

I left the beach, and soon after that, I was on my way to Baltimore–the man on the beach a faint memory.

Within the month after I returned from Chincoteague, my sister Peggy called me. Mama had fallen again. Peggy recounted the incident that had been unavoidable but hard to manage with just a sitter staying with Mama in her home. No longer could Mama get herself to a standing position and none of us by ourselves were strong enough to lift Mama.

“I called Parkview. They have a bed available.”

We three sisters had discussed this eventuality. We knew that we’d come to the point where Mama couldn’t be maintained in her home–which she no longer recognized as the place she’d lived for many years; the time for her to move to a care center was now.

The next day, I drove to meet my sisters and move Mama to Parkview. I felt a flood of tears pour forth as I drove over Jordan Lake on the country road to my hometown. The tears streaming down my face reminded me of the rain sheeting across my windshield at Chincoteague when I watched the man on the beach. I put in the CD and listened to “Never Once” on my drive to do what we had dreaded, the thing no child wants to face with their parent.

We met at the Fairview Dairy Bar, a place Mama liked to eat. Sitting around the table, we made small talk while Mama slowly ate her meal. When she’d finished, my sisters looked at me, my signal to tell Mama what would happen next.

“Mama, you know your doctor told us when it was no longer safe for you to stay in your home, we should move you into a place that could take care of you. So, when we leave here today, we’re going with you to Parkview. You remember your friend, Marie was there and you used to go and visit her.”

Mama looked at me, then briefly glanced out at the other folks eating lunch.

“Well, whatever you need to do,” she said, with little expression on her face.

I was relieved that she didn’t react against what we’d decided–like she did when we told her she needed to stop driving. But part of me was sad that she’d declined with her dementia to the point of not being able to question our decision– like she’d done with the driving.

When we got her into her new room, my sisters went about putting up her clothes and placing the familiar objects we’d brought–the family pictures, crocheted afghan, and artwork by the grandchildren. As the nurse-daughter, I went to the office to complete the paperwork and medical history. My heart grew heavier as I got to the final page of “Funeral Home Preference.”

We’re dumping our mother here, I thought, and remembered my cousin’s comment that she never had to put her parents “in one of those places.” Almost as a counter argument, I remembered Mama’s UNC Gerontologist’s recommendation to “place your mother while she can still form relationships with the staff. It’ll go better that way.” Her doctor said that Mama would be able to settle in and be part of that community and we could enjoy her more—visiting but not having to do all the care.

As I finished that final piece of paper and handed it to the staff member, I spotted an index card tacked to the wall over the desk. There was a handwritten verse from Jeremiah 29:11:

For I know the plans I have for you

Says the Lord

Plans to Prosper You and Not to Harm You

Plans to Give You Hope and a Future.”

A feeling of calm spread over me and the thought occurred to me, “Mama has a future, too.” I’d seen that verse on a high school graduation card sent to my son, but had never thought of a person, as old as Mama at 89, having a future. From that moment on, I began to reframe Mama living at Parkview–as a new community of people of similar ages and abilities, a group of her contemporaries, and staff who didn’t expect her to finish a sentence or to remember names.

I drove home, feeling some relief that we’d faced what we feared in Mama’s care, and we’d had what we needed to be able to cross over that challenge. As I went back over the lake, the sun setting in a band of pink-orange, I listened again to that song I’d brought back from Chincoteague, that boon that had helped me on a hard day:

Scars and struggles on the way
But with joy our hearts can say
Yes, our hearts can say

Never once did we ever walk alone
Never once did You leave us on our own
You are faithful, God, You are faithful”

I felt deeply grateful for those songwriters who provided me with words that were a comfort, and a tune that played in my head since that day of the storm at Chincoteague. That gift, that blessing from the trip would serve my life long after I drove away from that national seashore.

Photo by Francesco Ungaro on

2 thoughts on “Bringing Home the Boon from Chincoteague

  1. Oh, Connie. I really like how you put this together. Again, you offered us many different paths which would have revealed a very different ending, and right there in the body of you offering, you gave us the Boon. And, what a joy to have been a part of this. I am not one to give much information about myself, yet you seem to make it easy to learn about you, to find you as a person are far deeper than I could share in a similar story. This piece is truly a work of Art. Love and Blessing to you. John,


    • Hey John,
      Thanks so much for reading and for your high compliments. My hope is that by sharing this personal time of angst that others– who are going through a similar thing, will find comfort and companionship. It was what we’d dreaded as adult children of a declining parent–but ultimately, God provided enough help along that difficult path.
      Best to you, John.

      Liked by 1 person

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