We set off for a little vacation late last week. My husband has been itching for a getaway. Munchie and I are always game for a good old-fashioned road trip so we packed up the car and off we went.
Within a couple of hours we were in Arizona and we continued to our destination a few hours from there. It was just what we needed.
We indulged in road trip food. Made pit stops for photo ops. We visited beautiful historical sites. Stood in awe of wonders off-the-beaten path. Some man-made, some natural. All inspiring. It was peaceful, restful.
I spent a lot of time lost in thought. Good thought. While I was soaking up Munchie’s joy from being on a vacation, I sometimes fell back and walked alone for a while on our daily adventures. Let my little one walk ahead of me with daddy.
I could savor so much from my place behind them. The two of them holding hands, exploring homes built over 900 years ago. I could absorb the views, the vast and arresting scenery surrounding us. I could appreciate the treasures of my husband and little girl.
I was counting blessings from the first day. For various reasons, I had promised myself I would do that on this trip. Then on the morning of the third day, as I smiled listening to Munchie ask a million questions as we drove into Grand Canyon National Park, I received word that a friend had passed away.
My heart ached instantly. I had planned to visit her shortly after we returned home. I was too late. And, selfishly, I began to choke up and cry for myself. I didn’t see her often, a few times a year, but when I did she greeted me with a bear hug. She never let go right away. I cried because I didn’t get to hug her, squeeze tightly, letting go only after I was ready. I cried because I didn’t get my goodbye.
Someone said to me that day, in the hope of offering comfort, “at least she wasn’t your closest friend.” Well-meaning, but silly. As my sister said to me later, a friend is a friend. Perhaps cliché to some, but I believe it’s true that we are placed in each others’ lives for a reason. For a day, a year, a lifetime. She meant something to me and I will miss her.
Fresh memories pop up here and there throughout the day. I reach for them quickly so I don’t lose them. But they are clear, lacking the fog some memories carry. And I wonder.
Maybe I didn’t need a goodbye. Would it have offered me comfort? Am I the one who needs comforting? I know God knows my needs. Maybe all I need is memories. I can vividly hear her laugh, see her flipping her shoulder length hair back. I remember the days working alongside her in my first teaching position. Seeing her every Christmas season. Hearing her encouraging words, the way she told a story, and seeing her smile. Her first words of advice for me as a newlywed have stayed with me. I don’t wish to share them here, but I think of them often. They’re not going anywhere.
“How much do you love being a mom, Danielle?” she asked the first time she saw Munchie and every time I saw her after that. I always said I loved it, loved nothing more. And she would touch my arm and say, “I knew you would.” That scene played out the last time I saw her only a few months ago.
I’m saddened most at the thought of her son and husband without her. Then I think of her parents. Her family and best friends. I can pray for them. I do and will continue to do so.
But instead of a goodbye I’m wrapping my arms around the gift of her friendship. I don’t think that when someone passes away, your friendship passes on, too. It remains. It takes on another form and new meanings, I’m seeing. But it’s there, it beats inside of you. You carry it with you for the rest of your days. And that comforts me.
Despite the heartache of the loss, I loved our trip. We ended it just a day later, but that’s okay. We were ready to come home. To have Duke wag his tail heartily, welcoming us as if we’d been gone for years. I’m thankful for the opportunity to explore the world around us, but so grateful for the blessings of home.
You’re missed already, LaRie, but I carry you in my heart until the day I meet you again–strong, warm, and smiling. I’ll be ready for my hug.