Tag Archives: beach vacation

Another Good-bye: The Big Red Truck

The icy sleet angrily pecked against the glass windows as I picked up the ringing telephone. My greeting might not have been so cheery had I known an operator with the state highway patrol was on the other end of the line.

“There’s been an accident…” she started. I swayed against the door frame to the living room, watching my three-year-old daughter and her older cousin playing on the floor. I dropped to my knees on the floor, even as I looked quickly out the window to the front porch, expecting to see a state trooper slipping up the icy sidewalk.

But he’s all right, I thought to myself. They wouldn’t call if he wasn’t all right. Someone would come here to tell me.

I forced my attention back to her words.

Ice on the highway.

Lost control.

Rolled the vehicle.

Emergency crew cut him out.

Refused hospital treatment.

Trooper took him to a gas station to wait for someone to pick him up.

He’s okay.

He’s okay. I kept telling myself as I called my dad. It took a while to get to Kevin that icy, snowy day. My grandmother came to stay with the girls while my dad and I slowly drove the treacherous roads for an hour to the gas station where I flung open the truck door and threw my arms around my still-shaken husband. Ten minutes later, when we drove into the wrecker’s parking lot, I could see why. His blue Explorer was totaled; smashed in doors, broken glass, outside mirrors hanging at crazy angles. We silently filled plastic bags with the bits of our life that survived the crash and walked away, thankful that he’d survived.

When the shock wore off and we could joke about it, I teased Kevin because I’d actually been up for the next new vehicle at our house. “Wrecking your truck? That’s kind of a hard way to make sure that YOU get the next new car, not me,” I told him. But I laughed because I didn’t really care about the new car, as long as I still had Kevin.

A few weeks later, after insurance claims had been filed, Kevin went looking for his new vehicle. He found a 2005 Dodge Durango, bright red, low miles and, with our insurance check and a little bit we’d squirrelled away, it was the right price. It was the base model – no frills, no bells or whistles – but it got us where we needed to go. Kev loved it; it drove a little rough for me. I told him it was like riding in a feed truck across a bumpy field, a comparison my city-bred husband didn’t really get.

I think he liked the bright red color because it felt so alive. Just a couple of months before his wreck, Kev’s oncologist had okayed a little break from the chemo that was fighting the colon cancer’s unrelenting spread through his body. Kevin had been through a lot over the last nine months – diagnosed with cancer, two surgeries, six months of chemo – and being able to walk away from that smashed-up Explorer made him realize that he had a lot to live for; the cancer hadn’t gotten him, and the wreck hadn’t killed him. He was supposed to live.

And so we did.

We piled our luggage into the Durango early one spring and headed to the airport. Destination: happiest place on Earth. And, at the end of our Disney week, the truck welcomed us back, funny mouse ears and all, and got us back to our real life.

We went to baseball games and amusement parks and church and work and the zoo and museums, and the Durango safely got us there and back, always up for whatever kind of adventure we were in the mood for.

We sang along one summer as Frank Sinatra blared from the speakers, “My kind of town, Chicago is my kind of town” and Beary passed bottles of water and cans of soda from the cooler by her side as we road-tripped to the Windy City for a conference. The following spring, I loaded the cargo area with Kevin’s oxygen concentrator, portable oxygen canisters, a wheelchair, our luggage, and Beary’s beach toys and we drove sixteen hours to Orange Beach, Alabama, so he could watch our girl play in the ocean for the first time.

It was our last family road trip.

Just a few weeks later, I drove the big, red, rough-riding Durango home from the hospital, with Kevin in the front seat. I winced at each bump, anxious not to cause him any extra pain. My dad sat squeezed into the back seat, ready to reach out and catch Kevin if he started slumping, or if he passed away on the way home, a fear my dad and I didn’t voice to each other, but felt every mile of the way home. We’d spent the night in the emergency room and, when morning came, our doctor told us time was short. I drove with one hand on the wheel and the other on Kevin’s arm, needing to touch him, keep him with me, get him home safely because I’d promised him I wouldn’t let him die in a hospital.

He died the next afternoon, laying by my side in our bed.

The truck sat in the garage for a week; in my grief, family and friends drove me to the places I needed to go.

But one day, I climbed into the driver’s seat again, and my girl fastened herself into the seat behind me, and we drove Daddy’s truck to the store. Then to church, and the park and soon, we drove Daddy’s truck everywhere. It was a way to keep him with us, to remember him seated behind the wheel, music blaring, taking us to another family adventure. We drove it to the airport, so we could get back to Disney’s magic and remember Daddy again; we drove it on the long road trip back to the beach, to be in a place of wonderful memories on the second anniversary of his death. We drove it and drove it to the zoo and museums and baseball games and amusement parks and took Kevin with us everywhere.

Two years went by and the odometer ticked steadily and I knew it wouldn’t be long until we’d have to give up the Durango. I started looking around, searching for the minivan I’d been wanting since before Kevin’s icy wreck. Finally, six years later, it was my turn for the new car, but it was hard to get too excited about it, because we’d be giving up the Durango. Losing the rough-riding truck itself didn’t bother me; but losing another piece of Kevin, a tangible something that connected us to him and our memories – that was harder.

I didn’t know it, but we had one more memory to make with Kevin’s truck.

It’s kind of like we saved the best for last.

I don’t know what my girl will remember about her childhood, but I hope she remembers the night that I woke her up at 11:30 and drove eight miles out to the middle of a bean field in the country. We layered blankets on the hood of the Durango, then leaned back with our arms crossed behind our heads and watched the stars shoot across the sky. She giggled with delight at the idea of sitting on top of the truck, then said, “I can’t believe we’re part of all that, way up there,” gesturing to the Milky Way spilling out across the heavens above us. We cried out each time we saw a glowing bit streak across the sky and burn out as quickly as it appeared. Me and my girl, on the hood of her Daddy’s truck, feeling him with us, watching God’s fireworks.

That’s what I’ll remember.

A week later, I finally traded the Durango in for a minivan. It was déjà vu on the car lot, silently filling a plastic bag with the bits of our life left in the Durango. Beary bounced with delight, trying out all the seating options, and I struggled to maneuver the new buttons and controls. I cried as I turned out onto the street and drove past Kevin’s big red truck, sitting alone on the lot. I couldn’t feel his presence in the minivan and I missed glancing over and imagining him sitting next to me. I wanted to turn around and go back and sit in his truck just one more time, spilling my tears over the steering wheel.

But then I remembered what he’d learned after his wreck: We are supposed to live.

So we will. My girl and I will keep on, because that’s what he wanted. We’ll take our new minivan and make some new memories. We’ll go on road trips and adventures. We’ll drive and drive and drive – to museums and zoos and baseball games and church and amusement parks.

We won’t be in Kevin’s truck, but that’s okay – he’ll still be with us.

He’s always with us.

big red

My girl likes to make chalk drawings on our driveway. This is one of my favorites: Daddy’s bright red Durango.

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Always Safe

“Mama!” She squealed in delight when I joined her at the edge of the beach, the cool water splashing over my toes. She danced in the surf, jumped over the waves, and shrieked when the sand rushed from under her feet, pulling her into the ocean. Water has always been her magic, and to have the vast gulf spread out before her was almost too much.

“Mama! Come in the water with me, please?” She turned her shining blue eyes, her Daddy’s eyes, on me.

How could I resist those beguiling eyes?

I tossed my phone into the beach bag, then took her hand and followed her into the pounding, yellow-flagged surf: medium hazard, moderate surf and currents. If she wanted to play farther out, she’d definitely need me with her.

“Mama?” she confided in a voice low over the waves’ roar, “I like it when we go in the water together, because we can go out farther, but you can hold me up when the big waves come so I’m always safe.”

And, boom – there it was. God always finds a way to remind me of His promises.

Kevin died two years ago – and I’m still here. Somehow. Honestly, in the weeks that followed his funeral, I’m not sure I thought I would make it through that much pain, that much grief, that much heartache. It hurt too much to breathe, to sleep, to eat, to talk…

It just hurt too much to live.

And, honestly, sometimes it still does.

But God is still here. He’s been here through it all. And when I forget that, as I have lately in the loneliness of grief and the busyness of life, He speaks through my beautiful Bear.

Stay with me, He reminds me. We’ll do this together and when this pounding, yellow-flagged life comes at you too big and too much, I’ll hold you up. You are always safe.

I smiled wryly to myself and waded out a little farther with my girl. She watched the waves rolling toward us and I swung her up, over and over, laughing at her screeches as she kicked the white caps that rushed by. And even when a massive wave caught us unaware and knocked us into the surf, I held on to her and kept her safe. We came up together…drenched…and laughing.

She is always safe. And so am I.

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Psalm 5:11

Sand and Life and Two Years Later

It’s in that moment when the waves crash to the shore and I watch the tide pull back and pull everything with it, when shells skitter as they wash back into the sea and precariously-close-to-the-water sand castles crumble and dissolve, and footprints in the sand disappear – that moment when it seems everything is destroyed – that’s when I see it. An intricately formed sand shape, carved into the slope of the beach, pounded into beauty by the relentless surf. Standing firm in that moment against the tide, not disappearing, but letting the waves work to create something new and magnificent.

God, I think to myself, if that’s a message to me, it’s a beautiful one. Thank you.

We trekked across five states to the beach where we’d last vacationed with Kevin. It seemed the best place for us to be on the anniversary of his death – a new tradition and a beautiful memory to get us through what is still a very hard day. Trusting the hope of heaven to keep us going.

Two years ago, on April 16, I lost the love of my life. My daughter lost her Daddy Bear. In an instant, our world changed completely and forever. So much loss, so many tears, so much heartache…even still. I wasn’t sure how to go on without him, but I knew I had to, especially for our daughter. It wasn’t easy, but nothing about this life alone is. The idea of being cheerful and thanking God and believing that all things work for good – that seemed impossible…still does sometimes, if I’m honest. I felt so pounded some days, so pulled under by the grief and the tears and the missing him. Everything destroyed by the relentless battering of life. I sobbed at his graveside; I screamed into a pillow in my closet; I sang lullabies to my girl as I rocked her in my arms on our sad days. And when it all still seemed incredibly overwhelming, I simply told her what I had to believe was true: “Life’s not fair, but God is working good, Baby Bear. Always. We have to trust Him.”

Slowly, the days went by, then weeks and months, and we started putting the broken pieces of our life back together. She made me laugh and I helped her learn and finally we started to really live – not just exist. Parts of our old broken dreams and traditions got swirled around and mixed up with our new dreams and traditions and Kevin is still so much a part of everything we do every single day because he’s always, always, always in our hearts. We remember him with happiness and love and laughter and celebrate everything that was and is still beautiful about this family of ours that God carefully and lovingly created.

So we came to the beach, to be here on this hardest of days. We came here to be by the water he loved, that his daughter simply adores; to be in a place where the memories are all happy, where we were all so happy.

And at the beach, when I look one way, all I can see are the waves, the grief and loss, constantly rolling and swelling and sweeping the beautiful bits of shells, the beautiful bits of life, away forever. But when I look the other way, when I look ahead with faith and love and hope and joy, I see the shape of something more, the shape of something formed by the hardest parts of living, the shape of something breathtaking and intricate and resilient. I see those shapes in the sand. And I see something that felt impossible two years ago, but something I know Kevin, out of the deepest love, would want for me – something that God has planned for me.

I see a beautiful life. Not beautiful because it’s easy and carefree, because it’s not; the loss and sadness are part of me forever. No, it’s beautiful because God is using all the parts – the pain and the tears and the joy and the dreams – and forming them into a new story for me and my daughter. It will shift and change, as stories – and sea-sculpted sand creations – do, but it will be okay. It will be better than okay because God is working all things – all things – for good.

I love you, Kevin, I whisper it into the waves and the salty sea breeze. I love you and I miss you, but I’m taking you with me as I keep moving through this life with our girl. You always said I was strong and beautiful…I guess it’s time to find out.

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.

Jumping in the Waves

The sky was Sea Bubbles blue. I know because I’d just seen that shade in my daughter’s box of 64 washable markers. Bright blue. Exactly the color of blue a kid would reach for to color in the vast, vivid expanse that stretched above us. Beautiful, bright, Sea Bubbles blue.

And we stood in the gulf waters beneath that brilliant blue sky. The waves were high and frothy, remnants of the last night’s storm, and as the green water rolled toward us, gathering the energy to crash against us, I held her in front of me, my arms loosely looped around her body, under her arms. She faced out toward the gulf, ready for me to swing her up and over the white foam that dashed against us. It was a new game she’d invented – wave jumping – and while she had fun doing it on her own, with my added height, we could venture out further and take on the bigger waves. She squealed and shrieked with delight as I swung her body over the water; she kicked her feet, pretending to walk on the water, and shouted, “Again, Mama! Do it again!”

And she laughed and played in the never-ending roll of waves and she had no idea the salty droplets I tasted on my lips were not from the gulf splashing up in our game, but from the tears streaming down my face behind my oversized sunglasses. She couldn’t see me and the crash of the surf muffled my silent sobs.

We were here, in the ocean, playing on a gorgeous spring break afternoon…and Kevin wasn’t with us.

I cried because I miss him.

I miss the life we lived together, the love and fun we shared.

I cried because when I finally begged off from our wave jumping game and settled onto the beach, I watched her play in the water and she was so beautiful and vivacious and sparkling and when I turned to share a conspiratorial grin with him about how amazing our daughter is…he wasn’t there.

Through tears, I texted his sister because I needed someone to know how very much I missed him at that moment. She texted back immediately: “I know he’s watching over you guys and smiling. He’s proud of you for still having her live life and do the things that she enjoys and that makes him smile.”

It should make me smile, too, because he and I agreed: no matter what, we would absolutely not let our battle with cancer rob our daughter of her childhood. Kevin pushed himself to go places and do things with her, even when he was tired and worn down and sick from chemo. He wanted her to have happy memories of him, and I thank God every day that she does. And he would not want us to hole up in the house now, curtains drawn and lights off, mourning him. He trusted me to keep making her childhood special, to keep making happy memories.

So I do.

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.

She jumps the waves.

One after another.

And I think a little of her Daddy is in her, pushing me to jump, too. Jump when the waves of grief roll in and threaten to overwhelm. Jump high and reach for the little things – so many things – that still bring happy to our lives. Jump for the bright promises that remind me God’s in control and He has a plan for what the future will be for me and my girl.

Jump.