Three years ago I stood up at my MOPS group and shared the hilarious story of my stressful morning at Walt Disney World. In the story I shared how I had foolishly decided I would be fine taking four kids by myself to Epcot while my husband returned the rental car and caught up with us. The stress of keeping track of them all and finding lunch and losing each other brought peals of laughter from my MOPS friends. Then there was the cute Irish waiter who invited me into the pub in the UK pavilion to sit for a spell. I may have temporarily forgotten my husband and kids and almost taken him up on the offer. That was the funniest part. (Seriously I could have gotten lost in his accent for a while.)
That story came to mind two weeks ago as I stared at five suitcases and contemplated the fact that I was now intentionally headed on a huge 10-day vacation with four kids alone. It made me sad and a little bit overwhelmed. What was I thinking?
I must admit that my stress levels were higher on this trip than any I’ve ever taken. I did not, at any point while awake, fully relax. I had to keep counting kids and suitcases and carry-ons through plane changes each way. I continued counting kids at each park and asking who had Lucy by the hand. I am thankful my children are well-behaved. But I made sure normal kid behavior wasn’t upsetting overly sensitive people around us and reminded them when to say “excuse me” or “thank you.”
This trip was hard. Once again the silence of his absence was loud in my ears.
I felt it first at Universal Studios—a hollowness that made me doubt the wisdom of this trip. Was this the right time—only one year after his death? Could I keep track of them all? But if we are to launch into new adventures then at least for the foreseeable future, alone is how I must do this.
Even our trip to the beach felt off. After a year of comparing grief to waves, I found myself standing on a real-live, beautiful beach. A knot rested heavily in my chest. I like the beach. But now the waves represented something sad deep in the recesses of my mind. They had become a loathsome thing. How had I managed to ruin the beach?
My sisters and mom had taken care of the details—towels, toys, chairs, food, and location. Bethany had even put together frozen slushies in Ziploc bags for all to enjoy in both kid and adult varieties. Sublime.
The water was perfect for boogie boards and splashing. The white sand was soft and hot beneath my toes. This time at the beach, though, I could not sit and relax. I had to swim and play and supervise my tiniest daredevil who lacked understanding of riptide. I could not ask Kraig to take a turn. My mom, Bethany, and Chad helped some. But they had their own kids to supervise. My mom had her husband to hang out with.
As we enjoyed the sun and watched kids build sand creations, my sister Bethany again asked if I was sure about staying in South Dakota. Living near family has benefits, she reminded me. Uncertainty pulled at that knot in my chest. Had I done the right thing? My supportive group of friends in phenomenal. But had I missed a chance for my kids to embrace deeper relationships with cousins?
On the drive away, I asked the kids if they would rather live in Florida. They all said no. They like seasons. Are you sure? Yes. They would miss snow. They felt the distance made getting together with family more special, though they’d like to do it more often.
Even at Walt Disney World, my counting of kids and “who has the water bottle?” kept me always slightly on edge. There was figuring out what to do with Ryan while the three daredevils went on wild rides he couldn’t handle. There was chatting with chefs about his gluten-free needs. God bless Disney for having options everywhere we went, but it took time. There was watching the clock for Fast Pass appointments and when to eat and when to head back to the hotel for a pool and nap break. All the details I enjoy handling became more strained this time around.
One day I realized I was feeling sad. Why? We were having a good time. Then it hit me. I was surrounded by moms and dads helping each other with kids. And the silence of his absence got louder. I texted my friend Chelsea. I have learned that sometimes just saying what’s making me sad helps.
This blog post may be sad but don’t get me wrong—we had a wonderful time. There was much laughter and favorite rides were enjoyed a second time when the line wasn’t too bad. We soldiered on through rain and made some pretty amazing memories to include in the digital scrapbook. It was the trip Kraig would have wanted to bless them with and for which God provided.
I share this in the spirit of transparency that I have held to throughout the journey of grief. And I share it for anyone walking through it that is reading this. You can do amazing adventures. You should do amazing adventures after loss. God can give you strength and provide but know that it is different, harder.
Despite the heaviness that was my constant companion, I’m glad we went. My kids did amazing and having a cell phone for Jarod made it easier to reconnect with them when they launched on adventures too much for Ryan and/or Lucy. I did not lose them once. My next blog will include some of the funnier stories of lost items and hula dancing lessons. For now I’ll have a cup of Topsy Turvy Wonderland Tea in my new Tinkerbell mug and pretend I’m back on vacation. A little denial won’t hurt for a while.