Back when my husband was wrapping up his first round of cancer treatment – so this was before all hope had been lost – we were at the hospital for a follow-up visit after his surgery.
It was a spring day in Michigan so the air was warming up and the ground was thawing, but my husband was moping. I don’t blame him. A year ago, he’d been healthy and whole. Now, he had just brushed past death and was minus an esophagus.
Anyway, we passed one of our favorite people who worked in the hospital. She asked what we’d been up to and my husband shrugged his shoulders to say not much.
“Well go outside and get the stink off you!” she replied.
My husband, taken slightly aback, asked if he smelled. She said no and gave a reply that I can’t quite remember but that was essentially: stop feeling sorry for yourself, the weather is great and you should be out enjoying it.
Sure, it may have been easy for her to say, but it was the tough love comment we needed to hear. We’d been through a hellacious winter and (at least temporarily) hit the light at the end of the tunnel but were still acting like we were living in darkness.
Choosing to be a family not defined by death
For some reason, that “get the stink off” comment has stuck with me. That may be why, within a month after my husband died, that I gathered the kids, told them to think big and write down a destination they would like to visit on vacation.
The slips of paper went into a jar and out came Hawaii.
I really didn’t think we would go to Hawaii. I’m great at ideas, but follow through? Not so much. Still, I thought that after three soul-crushing years spent in cancerland, even the idea of Hawaii would give us something positive to tuck away in the back of our brains.
But then it turned into something real. The kids started conversations that began with “When we go to Hawaii…” So I started saving and planning and wondering if it were insane to take a solo trip across the ocean with five kids.
Last month, we did it. We spent nearly two weeks in Hawaii on Oahu and the Big Island. We played in the waves, saw the turtles and lazed around. We got sunburned, got lost and got plenty of memories along the way.
Even better, as I stepped off the plane coming home, it occurred to me that we were no longer simply the family that had watched their Dad die. We were no longer a widow and fatherless children moving sadly through life. No. Now, we were the family who went to Hawaii. We were the ones who weren’t going to sit at home and feel sorry for ourselves.
It felt like we had shaken the stench of death off our family. We would no longer be defined by what we lost but rather who we are and what our future holds.
Of course, there is a certain sadness in moving forward. Part of you wants to sit and revel in your grief because that’s where your loved one dwells. Putting on a happy face and moving forward seems to imply that you’re ok that so-and-so is dead. It doesn’t matter how many times people tell you ‘oh, he would want you to be happy and move on.’ The reality is that being happy and moving on feel like a betrayal.
So I’m working my way through those emotions.
In the meantime, the kids were so excited when we got home from Hawaii that they all had ideas for our next big trip. Again, we put them in a jar and this time, out came Japan. God willing, I should have some rather cool stories to share in 2017.
Have you ever taken a trip that you felt changed your life?
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