Do you have a “rock” that you cling to? A solid rock? A spiritual rock? A talisman, a memory that acts as a guidepost and helps keep you on solid footing?
My “rocks” include my human and feline families (my cats Apple Cobbler and Lucie Louise), close personal friends, my church family, Star Island and, of course, my Star Island family. Like the rock on which the Chapel sits, my rocks are solid, immovable, and permanent.
But this last year I felt some of my rocks crumbling. My mother, Harriet Kerr Swenson, died on August 23, 2019, two weeks after I returned from the Star Gathering 2 conference. Some of you may remember when I had many frantic telephone calls with medical personnel at Concord Hospital and with my brother (shoaler and former Pelican) from the East Porch of the Oceanic Hotel and on various island hot spots. Mom’s nurse practitioner at the health center where she was temporarily staying called me on Monday, two days after I arrived on Star. Mom’s ARNP sent mom, alone, in an ambulance to the ER because mom couldn’t swallow. Mom apparently didn’t complain because of her gentle nature and, in fact, she wanted to tip the ambulance driver for his help, but she forgot her purse. That’s my mom.
Mom had emergency abdominal surgery. Her physicians encouraged me to remain on Star Island until the conference was over because they felt mom would be sleeping most of the time. She made it very clear the morning I left for Star Island that she wanted me to be on Star Island with my Star family. It was a hard decision to stay on Star and yet also an easy one, because I know how much Star Island meant to both of us, it enabled her to picture me there where she could no longer go, and it is our spirit’s home. My brother, Bill, visited mom daily and I also spoke with her nurses regularly.
Initially panicked because I was far away and, let’s face it, I couldn’t swim to shore to hitch a ride to the hospital, I texted our minister Carlos. I asked him if he had any time to stop by the hospital during the week to check on Mom. Like mom, I don’t like to bother people to ask for favors, but I figured mom’s solo visit to the ER merited a ministerial call. It was a priceless gift when Carlos texted me a selfie of Mom and Carlos smiling in her ER room. So concerned and focused on Mom’s care, I was surprised to hear from Carlos that Mom, an old Shoaler, wanted to know if I was having a good time on Star.
I left Star Island on Saturday August 10 and drove directly to the hospital to be with Mom. On Friday, August 23, less than 2 weeks later, she was gone.
My dad, Rev. William I. Kerr, died of cancer on August 24 many years earlier, two weeks after our usual family Star vacation. A coincidence or the unseen magic of Star Island?
Mom and Dad first brought my siblings Bill, Laurie and me to the UCC conferences on the old rugged wood boat – the Viking Sun? – in the late 1960’s. I still remember the boat crashing through the waves with our luggage on the bow of the boat. In spite of admonitions to stay away from the edge of the boat as it ploughed through the waves, I delighted in getting drenched with heavy spray from the waves as we headed to Star. My parents took a huge risk bringing a young family of five to a small bit of land 8 miles out to sea to spend a week with a bunch of religious folks they didn’t know. What if the conference was full of religious fanatics? What if we needed or wanted to leave quickly? What a risk!!! But what a grand reward it was and continues to be.
Dad was slated to be the chaplain his last summer. Instead, he left Mass General Hospital, where he was dying, to spend a little more time on Star Island to say good-bye to close Star family and friends. With his doctor’s blessing and the help of several Star friends, he made the trip on whichever Viking boat was the least seaworthy one stormy August evening. It seemed like everyone on the island was on the Pier to greet him when he disembarked in his wheelchair. There wasn’t a dry eye to be had. He was in a lot of pain, but he had made it to his rock, his touchstone, to his family and to Star island, his spirit’s home. He had to leave a few days later but he had, indeed, come back one last time. His wish was fulfilled.
Mom wished to come to Star again last year, but she was unable to do so. She was in rehab working on increasing her strength using her walker when I left her on August 3 and with dreams of seeing Star again. She was determined, fierce and focused.
This year I grieve the loss of my mother and my father, who both created a spiritual home for my extended (four generations) family. I cannot imagine my life without Star Island in it. I also grieve at not being able to get to Star this year to see my Rock, my Star family, my spiritual home, when I feel I need it so badly. The last time I was there I was overseeing mom’s care from afar and this year I wanted and needed time to reflect, relax and breathe. I am grateful I was surrounded by my Star family during mom’s medical odyssey last year and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for your support.
But this is not the end of Star Island or our conference. This is, I must believe, a temporary impasse, an unexpected break, a space that we will reflect upon later. I plan to return to Star Island, my spiritual home, next year. Like mom, I am fierce and determined.
Are we all grieving? Yes, but let’s also express our gratitude for this rich Star community, where nothing can destroy our foundation. This Rock, this place, this Star Island. What a gift it has been and will continue to be for me and for you, too, I hope.
So, until we meet again, I ask you to find a small rock, a pebble, a talisman, an icon, any sort of a symbol representative of Star Island. Keep this item with you and reflect on what Star Island means to you during the coming year. Bring the talisman when you return next summer. We’ll have a basket in the hotel lobby where we will hold these items to share and reflect on in the Oceanic Hotel lobby.
We will come back!
Carolyn A. Kerr
Star Gathering 2