Manon Hesp had purged the worldly possessions that had kept her in Ontario for years: She sold her Brampton home and gave away or donated nearly everything it had housed, save for a bed and some clothes that fit into a single storage unit.
The 51-year-old woman was officially an empty-nester, free to embark on a worldly adventure after raising three children on her own and working in customer service. Alone and with her son's well-travelled backpack in tow, Ms. Hesp left for India in November for a year-long journey through the country and beyond, volunteering and meditating along the way.
"Now that my own children are all grown up, living their own lives, I found myself to be in a place where I had to look at what I wanted to do with the rest of my life," the Quebec-born Reiki practitioner wrote on her blog, shortly before travelling to the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu.
This weekend, her trip – and her life – were nearly cut short by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that rocked Nepal and claimed the lives of more than 3,200. She survived the natural disaster and managed to reach her family by phone, but not before her mother and daughter believed her dead.
Her 28-year-old son, Ryan Goodfellow, managed to reach Ms. Hesp around 3 a.m. ET Saturday morning. She answered, but the screams, crying and general chaos in the background made it difficult to hear her, not to mention that the call kept cutting in and out. Amid the horror, he heard her ask him to take care of his two sisters.
"She said, 'I'm surrounded by dead bodies,'" Mr. Goodfellow told The Globe and Mail on Sunday. "I thought, 'This is it. Say something meaningful in case something happens.' I said, 'I'm sorry I'm not a better son.' She said I was the best son she could've had and that she loved me."
And then their call was disconnected.
Ms. Hesp called back about 12 hours later and said she had taken refuge with locals in a Kathmandu square after she narrowly escaped the crush of a temple ceiling that had collapsed. Powerful aftershocks stoked fear and wreaked more havoc. Fires were burning all around her. Rubble was piled high. Wild dogs, often viewed as a nuisance, brought welcome warmth as they cuddled up to survivors. "She broke down crying," Mr. Goodfellow said. "She said, 'I was walking and this woman beside me dropped dead. People are dying all around me.'"
He asked her to call every few hours to check in, but as of Sunday evening, he had not heard from her again. He said he contacted the Canadian government's 24-hour emergency response centre, which opened a file on his mother and assured him the Canadian consulate in Nepal would be informed she is in Kathmandu. "I strongly believe she's absolutely fine," he said. "She's on an epic journey and I guess this is part of it."
Ms. Hesp's journey had already featured the bustle of Delhi, volunteer work at a palliative-care facility and a women's shelter in southern India, the celebration of her 51st birthday and participation in a meditation retreat. In recently crossing into Nepal, she joined hundreds of Canadians in the South Asian nation: More than 450 citizens are registered as being in Nepal, though Ottawa cautioned that was only an estimate since registration is voluntary.
"When I think of coming home, I get [a] wave of anxiety [at] the thought of coming back to an old life, a life I no longer connect to," Ms. Hesp wrote in her most recent blog post, dated April 15.
Mr. Goodfellow said he is convinced his mother is alive and simply unable to reach him. He is not convinced, however, that she will cut her adventure short. "My mom is a strong person," he said. "This probably won't deter her."
He said he called her phone several times Sunday but when someone finally answered, it was not his mother. The person quickly hung up or the call was disconnected. The Globe and Mail also tried to reach Ms. Hesp on Sunday evening but an automated message said the phone was off.