A Different Kind of Journey

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I love to tell amusing stories from my travels – using the wrong words, making a silly assumption, putting my foot in my mouth or complaining about the heat, the number of steps, or the choice of hotel on a holiday. These anecdotes make readers smile, chuckle, remember a similar “fish out of water” experience they themselves had while traveling.

But, unfortunately, I’m afraid that not all stories are humorous.

Recently, my partner, our toddler son and I were discussing taking a “safe” trip to New Orleans. We’d spend it mostly in our hotel room, having our food delivered and perhaps just roaming the streets we know so well for fun. But those ideas stayed firmly in the discussion phase and suddenly, abruptly, a different trip was thrust upon us, last-minute.

It seems that almost every time we’ve packed a bag this past year, it was either to say a socially distanced “get well soon” to someone, or to attend a funeral. The funerals themselves, though, provide no real closure, no relief. They are usually a place to embrace others who loved the person who has passed, to remember favorite moments with that loved one, to tell stories and remind others of something funny, something sweet, something memorable that invokes the one we’ve lost. But instead, the funerals we have attended were sparse affairs; all families little islands of socially-distanced mourning, stuck within their bubbles out of necessity, unable to connect with other attendees in any meaningful way, lest someone else become ill.

Packing for a trip isn’t exciting when you’re packing black, matching shoes to the ensemble and making sure that your toddler’s black dress pants still fit from the last funeral attended. My partner made sure he had a black mask packed, as the pallbearers were all asked to coordinate not only their attire, but masks, too.

Instead of singing along to music on the long drive across Texas, we sit, thoughtful, discussing for the thousandth time what a strange time it is, what a hard year it’s been, and tentatively suggest what we might like to do when “this is all over.” How strange it feels for even a funeral to be made less cathartic, less healing, more isolating.

We saw a few family members and friends’ eyes crinkle when we arrived at the cemetery, but you have to look at them carefully, because there isn’t much else to tell you that they’re smiling, that they see you, that they are glad you’re there. But those crinkled eyes and terse nods are more meaningful than ever in a time when we see so little of one another.

Each time we’ve attended a funeral or visited a loved one (from a distance, though closer than the telephone brings us), we go back to our hotel, lay back on the bed and watch our son play with his toys. The hotel room is new to him, and so is immediately exciting. He jumps on the bed and giggles and watches cartoons from the bed, all of it a fun adventure since he doesn’t quite understand what’s going on around him. And here again, we weep a little, knowing that we had such plans this past year – real adventures for him, explorations, friends to meet, people to visit, family and friends all over the world and United States who want to meet him, to hug him, to show him more of the world.

As I said in the beginning, unfortunately, not all stories are amusing. But not all travels are grand happy vacations, either. Some trips are made to say goodbye. Some voyages are made with heavy hearts. There is a season to everything under heaven, and hopefully, this mourning season is coming to a close, and adventure awaits just beyond.

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