This Pilgrim’s Progress

A road’s a kind of a holy thing.”

I slumped in Kevin’s recliner, stared at the first leaves falling to the ground outside, exhausted after another weekend of traveling. Of driving endless highways. Of remembering. And I wondered: Will I look back on this first, long, impossible summer without him and feel like I’ve dragged my girl all across the state, looking for him in all the places we used to go?

I can’t find him.

I need to find him.

I miss him.

There are no coincidences, at least not in my life, not where God’s concerned.

We stored the suitcases for a bit. Settled down to school. Opened up our books and, alongside my girl, the world opened for us. We traveled back, back, back into the past, into the Middle Ages, and read stories of barbarians sacking Rome, of Charlemagne and the Frankish kingdom, of Alfred the Great defeating the Vikings in England, the first Russians. This was history – what Kevin and I loved – and this was our girl, soaking up every enthralling word of it.

Autumn came and went, and between classes, there was more travelling, more desperate, lonely searching, weary pursuits to chase away the sadness. Finally, the icy blasts of an exceptionally frigid winter drove us inside, off the road. We cuddled close and sent our imaginations across the ocean to escape the bitter cold. Knights and peasants, Richard the Lionhearted, King John, the Magna Carta, Robin Hood, the Crusades, and pilgrimages.

And the words of those stories twisted and turned in my mind, then realization dawned, at a time when I was so low with grief, desperately needing the comfort of knowing that Kevin was somehow still with me.

It finally made sense. The long, sad summer, the travels, the constant need for motion, for searching – it wasn’t the restless, reckless wanderings of a grief-stricken widow and her young daughter.

It was a pilgrimage.

Like the medieval travelers, I journeyed to places of special significance – at least, to me — but not as proof of devotion to God or as penance. No, I traveled the roads, I think, because I needed to find God and remember Kevin. I was a traveler in a foreign land of grief, and more than anything, I needed to find some personal peace because it’s too hard; it’s just too hard to live without Kevin. I needed to petition for Him – for both of them – to stay with me; I’m so afraid of losing my way. I needed to find Him on this new road, in this life I never wanted. I needed to know He was still with me, and that Kevin was not far, either. I needed to know that a heart so shattered with pain still had enough pieces left to hold onto love and memories, enough beats left to sustain life and raise a beautiful little girl.

Each place we visited became a little chapel for my thoughts, a place to gather strength for all that lay ahead. A place where I could be quiet with my grief. Where I could be still with my daughter.

In each place, I saw God at work in my life, in my daughter’s life.

And I felt Kevin.

He was with us at the beach:

I stand in the gulf waters on spring break and help her jump waves. And her joy is infectious and the waves are no match for her happy determination to hurdle over them.

It makes me smile — just like Kevin wanted.

She is happy. She is living life – just like her Daddy wanted.

In the warm rays of the sun glowing down on us, I can feel him. His smile, his laugh, his shake of the head at our whimsical girl and her reckless abandonment to joy.

And at the Magic Kingdom:

As the week went on, we found our balance. We carried him with us, his spirit providing a comforting stability to our shaky emotions. Our memories of Daddy brought more laughter and fewer tears. Disney World is always evolving and we found new places to explore and we imagined he was with us, marveling at our grand adventures…We giggled and remembered and hugged him so tightly to us.

Splashing at the waterpark:

The two of us go places and we do things and I keep track of all our adventures and all the hilarity thinking I’ll share it with you because it seems impossible that you’re not in on the fun with us. We laughed today, baby, and we played in the sun and the water and I know that not one person guessed the giant hole in our broken life. But we knew it was there and that’s why we’re in this hotel room right now, clinging to each other, my tears trickling onto her sunburned head.

…It’s good to get out and remember that life is to be enjoyed, but for us, for now, we can only take that joy diluted, in small doses. We are going to be okay, baby. I promised you that.

And most definitely at a baseball game:

It’s not easy, being here without him. I cried, trailing my daughter through this city her Daddy and I loved to explore. But we did what he wanted. We made a fun family memory. Not the way he planned…but still. I should’ve known that the force of his love and God’s love would be enough to get my girl and me through this “first” – a weekend trip without Daddy.

And if I think about it, we weren’t without him. He’s with us everywhere, even at a ballgame, beaming at his Little Bear in her Yankees t-shirt. He surrounds her with love, settles into her memories and, with any luck, whispers the intricacies of the infield fly rule into her ear.

It feels impossible – living without Kevin. I love him so much. He was my best friend, keeper of my dreams and secrets. We shared it all, and now life is so lonely.

No wonder I search for him.

The road is a holy place.

The journeys? They were always pilgrimages. I just didn’t know it – but God did. This road I’m on? It’s hard and sad and there are floods of tears and mountains of grief and, honestly, most of the time, it feels like I’m not going to make it.

I miss him.

I love him.

And I’m grateful that this road into the unknown is a holy place, and I’m walking into places filled with God’s love and sheltering presence.

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