SK couple’s journey of discovery a lesson for us all


Have you ever asked anyone for a favor so outrageous that you felt immediately ashamed for asking? And even more embarrassed and ashamed when he or she said yes?

Shame was the name of the game when I called a friend to ask for help. The request was beyond outrageous.

My dog has a sensitive stomach, you see, and I tried him out on a new dog food and awoke to find him … well, remember that scene in “Slumdog Millionaire” where the little boy, Jamal, leaps into a latrine to escape a locked outhouse?

That was my dog.

You would think this friend would think me crazy for calling. Instead, she didn’t hesitate.

She jumped in her car and drove to my house dragging along long rubber gloves and a hose attachment for the shower.

There she spent two hours with me washing a fecal mess from the dog.

You cannot repay that type of favor. Mortified, I pledged eternal gratitude.

She brushed it aside and thanked me instead, saying she had awakened feeling down and my request gave her day an important sense of mission.

Now, understand that nothing about the dog washing could be construed as uplifting, aside from the clean and happy dog that resulted.

However, Dr. Daniel Amen, a Tacoma neuroscientist and best-selling author of “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life,” insists in his writing that by helping me, my friend did, indeed, help herself.

He advocates a number of brain tricks to redirect your focus from troubling thoughts. Moving yourself out of a situation, exercise and helping others does wonders, he says, for the brain.

So, when this friend called on a gloomy weekend when self-pity had taken hold of me to ask what she deemed an “outrageous favor,” (trust me, it wasn’t even close) that involved taking her to Port Townsend to pick up an RV, my self-imposed misery vanished with the words, “road trip.”

If it takes a road trip to chase away the blues, what would it take to dispel the intense pain of losing a child?

That wasn’t a question that Kurt, a retired Port Orchard dentist and his wife, school counselor P.L. Mondloch, were considering when they decided to circumnavigate the world in a 42-foot sailboat christened “Osprey.”

The time was right. Their oldest daughter, Katie, had previously graduated from Georgetown, and their son, Tyler, a recent UW graduate and his girlfriend, Ashley Palumbo, were off on an adventure in India.

When word reached Kurt and P.L. that the two young people had been swept away in a monsoon, they entered a nightmare that all parents dread.

For six years the couple sailed together giving their grief to the sea.

Statistically, few marriages survive the loss of a child. Even fewer still could endure long months aboard a sailboat.

Yet, for the Mondlochs, the time at sea was important.

“You become dependent on each other,” Kurt said. “You can’t hold a grudge or any resentment.”

P.L. added, “Who better to talk to the parent who loved your child as much as you? We remembered, cried, talked and philosophized.”

They did so while spending months in various ports around the world – 10 in Turkey, “which we loved,” six in New Zealand and the South Pacific and three in Australia.

They explored the countryside, becoming part of the communities they visited. In the process, they met people of all religions, races, ages and ethic backgrounds, many of whom shared similar tragedies.

The journey changed them. It hardened their bodies, unburdened their souls and strengthened their marriage.

They discovered they could roll with the waves that life and the sea offered.

“How did you do it?” is the first question asked by audience members who attend Kurt’s lectures on circumnavigation.

He’s not afraid to share the essence of the changes the sea wrought in his soul. In fact, he captured as much as possible in the memoir entitled, “Flight of the Osprey,” using the couple’s newsletters home as a basis for his story-telling.

“I’ve always loved to write,” he said. “So many people have questions, putting it all down on paper was the right thing to do.”

Reviewers agree. His Amazon reviews are all five-star. “You’d think I wrote them myself,” Kurt laughed.

Yet, they were penned by fellow sailors, who discovered Kurt’s book in sailing shops, like the Seattle Armchair Sailor and Captain’s Nautical Supply.

“Imagine Rick Steves channels Hemingway with a Jimmy Buffet soundtrack,” writes one.

Another calls “Flight of the Osprey” outstanding reading. “This is a story of a personal catastrophe which none of us would want to endure,” the reviewer says, “a recovery from the deepest sadness imaginable and a couple’s six-year cruise around the world that is the catalyst for recovery. Kurt Mondloch weaves the story so eloquently that you are with him on every part of the journey. This is gripping nonfiction.”

Still another call it a “spellbinding account of a search for a missing son followed by a six-year adventure to enable them to let go and carry on with their life. I was unable to put it down until I had read the final paragraph.”

The book’s reception enables Kurt to take part in events, like the Floating Boat Show held last September and the Seattle Boat Show held at Qwest Field, where he’ll be speaking and sharing slides on Jan. 23.

One doesn’t have to be a sailor or contemplating circumnavigation to find treasures in his writing. Life at sea helps you “appreciate and savor the quietness of the world.”

“You find yourself,” adds P.L. “The self you are without your fancy title, or even your family and friends. You need to reinvent yourself, determine who you are and what you stand for.”

The toughest two parts of sailing around the world, they say, are “leaving and coming back. Leaving, because you’re saying goodbye temporarily to all your family and friends. And coming back because you must somehow reacquaint yourself with life at a faster pace. We were very humbled by those months at sea.”

Those thoughts are forming the basis for Kurt’s next book.

The couple, who periodically charter a boat and take in exotic locales like Croatia with fellow retired dentist Nick Skalabrin and his wife Joan, now have a grandchild and no plans to head out to sea for another long journey.

Instead they are here, savoring the essence of home.

Mary Colborn is a Port Orchard resident.