With so many demands on the lives of Gen-X women (spouse/partner, children, jobs, extracurricular activities) it can be easy to neglect quality time with our parents, but at some point, we have to deal with the reality of their impending mortality.  As a child, I thought my parents were invincible, I assumed they’d always be there. However, the truth of the matter is that they can be gone at any time.  I learned this lesson the hard way, 12 years ago when my father died. I wish that I spent more quality time with him. Now, I make it a priority to spend quality time with my mother.

 I worry about my mom. She is an empty nester and now that she is retired, I don’t want her to retreat into a solitary world of her own.

When I first decided to take my mother on a cruise to Alaska, the responses I got were pretty extreme. “ALASKA!  Why would you go to Alaska during the summer? You can’t lay out on the beach. You have to take a winter coat with you.  You are definitely not going to see any people of color on this trip.  What!!  You are going on vacation with your mother? For how long?  A week-long vacation. Oh my gosh…I can only spend a couple of days with my parents.” I get it. Alaska isn’t your “typical” summer destination choice, but my mother and I love exploring new places and stepping out of our comfort zone, we bond over exploration and adventure so taking a cruise to Alaska made sense for us.

Photo: Leshawnda Larkin

And, this wasn’t just any cruise to Alaska…it was the first ever O-inspired “Share The Adventure” cruise with Oprah Winfrey and friends. O, The Oprah Magazine partnered with Holland Cruise Line to create a variety of activities and experiences with great visionaries for a week. I know what you are thinking.

Did Oprah Winfrey actually set foot on the cruise? Yes, she did! She was out and about, enjoying the festivities and  mingling with guests.

Photo: HollandAmerica.com

From morning yoga with Sara Ivanhoe to learning about the daily operations at O Magazine from editor in chief Lucy Kaylin and editor at large Gayle King (A.KA. Oprah’s best friend), our days were constantly filled with positive words and activities. We were able to hear from empowering and motivating speakers such as fitness coach and Soulcycle instructor Angela Davis, who led us in a spiritual filled light exercise where we were filled with powerful and inspiring mantras such as “What’s in Front of you is greater than what’s behind you.”  Blogger and best-selling author of the book Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle discussed that we are here for one reason and that is to love and be loved. The smooth, rich voice of GRAMMY nominated singer and songwriter India Arie, soothed our soul as she had a SongVersation with us. India performed some of her inspiring songs in an intimate setting as she reviewed her life’s mantra with us: Breakdown, Breakthrough, Break the Shell, Elevate and Fly.  As I watched India perform, I thought  “I am watching one of my favorite musical artists perform live in Alaska.”

Photo: HollandAmerica.com

The highlight of the trip was attending A Conversation with Oprah Winfrey in Glacier Bay. Oprah shared important lessons from her life, her journey to success, and how she manifested her desire for a Year of Adventure.  She really wanted this trip to be the start of something memorable and meaningful for those on board.

Photo: Instagram/Oprah

In addition to the activities on the ship, we went on excursions each day to explore all of the designated cities: Juneau, Glacier Bay, Sitka, Ketchikan and Victoria, British Columbia. We were able to hike to the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau where I saw my first glacier positioned next to a waterfall. Such a view. We went to Saxman Native Village in Ketchikan which has the largest collection of standing totem poles.

We also spent time with some of the Native American Indians in the region as we learned about their history and culture. I was most surprised with the amount of influence of Russian culture in Alaska. We visited a Russian Orthodox church and even saw a Russian dance show. And no, I did not see Russia from Alaska. Ha! In Victoria, we went to the Butchart Gardens -one of the most elaborate floral gardens that I have ever seen. Beautiful flower arrangements that spread for miles and miles across the land. We ended our trip in Seattle by going  to the Space Needle where we got a great panoramic view of the city and the Chihuly Garden and Glass which features eight galleries, a glasshouse and a lush garden showcasing the amazing glass art from Dale Chihuly.

It was a beautiful experience brimming with “aha moments.” Here are a few I’d like to pass along:

Photo: Leshawnda Larkin

Be Open to New Experiences – It was our first time to Alaska and we marveled at the magnitude and beauty of the land. As I took in everything around me- the cool brisk air, glaciers, whales, sea otters and eagles, I felt like I was receiving a present from God.  There are no words to describe the view of Glacier Bay on a clear day. I stayed outside in the cold for over an hour because I wanted to let the beauty of nature fill me up. There is something about nature and being surrounded by such magnificence.  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights” (James 1:17 NIV).

Take Time to Be Still – Each early morning, my mom and I started the day off with yoga and meditation session with Sara Ivanhoe. It was such an amazing experience to do yoga with over 200 guests on the ship. Sarah encouraged us to become present with ourselves and with those around us. I used the time as a way to get recharged, re-centered as well as refocused on my vertical alignment with God.

Walk in a Spirit of Compromise – Since I was traveling with my mother, I had to compromise on our excursions and activities on the cruise. My mother was not too fond of taking helicopter rides to a glacier or going on a fishing boat. Instead, we explored some of Alaska’s natural places like Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau and Sitka National Forest. The important piece is that we were spending quality time together.

Embrace the Spirit of Giving Back – Typically, you are not thinking about giving back when you are on a vacation trip. However, I wanted to do something different for a great cause. While sailing to Victoria, British Columbia, I participated in “On Deck for a Cause”.  More than 150 walkers including breast cancer survivor Jayne Jamison (Senior Vice President/Publisher, O, The Oprah Magazine) participated in a 5K walk on deck to help raise awareness and funds for cancer research. It was so inspiring to walk with cancer survivors in the middle of the ocean.


Photo: Leshawnda Larkin

Obviously, you can spend time with your parents without taking some grand trip. A nice lunch outing, a tour of your local museum, or a concert will do just fine. The key is to make time in your busy life for your parents. It’s in these special moments that life-long memories are created as you give back to them for all that they have given you.

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Leshawnda Larkin