Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Trips of a Lifetime

Throughout the many years in which cancer was a part of our lives, Susan and I tried to create as many memories as possible (a term coined by our friend Martha). One of our favorite things to do was to take trips. Together, we were able to visit places in Colorado, Alaska, Washington, Maine, Montana, Wyoming, Tennessee, New York, California, the Caribbean, and Europe. (As I reviewed the list, I was surprised at how many places we traveled!) In addition, she took trips to Minnesota (by herself), Israel (with a group), and Illinois (with Jon). Those trips are full of precious recollections as we tried to live a lifestyle that could most closely resemble an early retirement.

There have also been several other important trips since Susan died, where she was with us in a different way. As I reflect on them, I notice that they are helping me travel through my own passage as I adjust to life without her physical presence.

Susan and I had intended to visit Washington, D.C. in April or May of 2008 but the brain tumor got in the way of that. So in late April of this year, in honor of that “last trip not taken”, I did it for both of us. It was a great trip and I managed to cover a lot in less than 5 days. It involved a lot of walking. Had Susan been physically with me, we’d have been limited to whatever could have been done with a wheelchair and a bus tour. But she was definitely with me in spirit and it was good to revisit this great City. There were all kinds of reminders of our life together and of our shared pleasures. I found myself “talking” to her a lot.

Early in the cancer journey, we feared that Susan might not even live long enough to make Patrick’s high school graduation in 2005. But of course she did – and almost made it to his college graduation – which was the day before this past Mother’s Day, 2009. Jon and I watched Patrick take a trip down the aisle with his class in commencement ceremonies at Montana State University – and Susan was there too. (He will officially finish in December after student teaching this fall.) Neither Susan nor I were ever particularly enthralled with big commencement events and Patrick was of the same mind. But such milestones have become more important to us and Patrick agreed to participate in honor of his mother. Ever the great planner and role model that she was, she had written a letter for the occasion which I gave to him the night before. Jon, Patrick and I enjoyed each other’s company in Bozeman (a great college town), then loaded up Patrick’s stuff for his return to Denver and a major lifestyle change.

Two days later, and a little over a year after putting his life on hold to be Susan’s caregiver, Jon proceeded with his plans to pursue international service. After a 52 hour trip, he is now at a volunteer center in Kenya working with kids in a small village (his blog address is: http://www.woeai.blogspot.com/). He’ll be back in Denver on July 31. Shortly after that, the three of us plan to take a trip to Downers Grove to visit Susan’s family. Then Jon will be off to China in late August where he’ll study Chinese and teach English at Chongqing Three Gorges University. Naturally, I have a trip to China in mind some time after the first of the year!

The trip theme continued last Saturday when I attended a memorial service conducted by the hospice that cared for Susan. They were honoring those for whom they had cared over the last year or more. The staff emphasized what a privilege it had been for us to allow them into such an intimate part of our lives. The service ended outdoors (on a gorgeous spring day) with the release of white doves, one for each honoree. It was symbolic of Susan’s trip across the threshold to that beautiful paradise we all hold in our hearts.

Several of us will be taking a “trip” back to the Montview Garden Columbarium this Memorial Day weekend to place a Butterfly Plant near Susan’s crypt. It was one of her favorites and it seems fitting to have it there, reminding us of the circle of life and death and life again.

All of this reminds me that our trips, excursions, expeditions, jaunts, and journeys are an important part of the fabric of our earthly life. They’re helping me stitch together that huge whole she left in our lives with a unique pattern and texture that is shaped just like her.

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