Vacation– 1. a period of suspension of work, study, or other activity, usually used for rest, recreation, or travel; recess or holiday. 2. freedom or release from duty, business, or activity.
It’s a great word, isn’t it? Who doesn’t smile when they see that word scrawled across a few days in their outlook calendar? I’m staring at mine right now but it doesn’t elicit the same emotions as it once did. While I had a period of suspension from work back in May for a trip to Florida, I didn’t have a release from the rip current that dragged me out to the middle of darkness back in January. There are no vacations from grief.
We went to Ft. Myers with my sister Liz and my brother-in-law Brian for a vacation. The weather was perfect. We all caught nice tans while enjoying 2 for 1 (stiff) cocktails on the beach. We ate some of the best mussels I’ve ever had at The Beached Whale. Much to Lizzie’s delight, I tried skim boarding. . . and bailed pretty hard. We had a lot of laughs and fun. On the surface.
Vanessa and I would walk up and down the beach at least twice a day. Each time I saw kids playing in the sand it felt like I was getting punched in the stomach. And then the face. And then the stomach again. While staring out at the ocean we would ask each other the same questions we’d been asking each other since January 23rd. Some of these questions include but are not limited to: “Why him?” “Is he ok?” “Is he scared?” “Why us?” “Where is he?” “Do you think he’s watching us?” “How will we ever go on without him?” “Is he really gone?” We were trying to make sense of the insensible. Here we were, on our first true vacation since our honeymoon, wiping away tears as we strolled the coastline. I thought the sun, beach, and ocean would help alleviate some of the sorrow and sadness. I thought a change of scenery from the cold and rain of Chicago would provide a way out of the rip current of sadness that had swept us both away.
I was surprised at how calm the water was on the gulf side. As I was sitting there marveling at how calm and serene it was I started thinking about the dangerous rip currents and how they’re hidden amongst seemingly calm waters. I wondered if that’s how I look to other people. Calm and collected. Almost peaceful. Some people marvel at my so-called “strength” but that’s just an illusion they’re seeing. They don’t see the soul-numbing pain beneath the surface. Much like how people are unaware of the presence, strength, and power of these rip currents, they are unaware of how heart-breaking losing a child is to a parent. It’s stronger than the pull of a rip current. It rips you away from the shore and out beyond the sea. You feel all alone in the middle of a ocean. You panic. You try to get back to that same exact spot on the shore where you once were. That spot where your child is still alive and part of your physical life. You frantically swim against the current to the point of exhaustion. Then you drown.
The key to fighting the rip current is to not fight it. You’re supposed to let it take you until it lets up. Then you calmly swim towards a spot where you see waves breaking and let those waves take you back to shore. Allow the flow to get you back. (I need to remember that.) I can’t swim back to the same spot of my life where Charlie was alive. I’ve tried. I’ve been ripped out to the middle of this ocean of darkness by a current stronger than any ocean can produce. I was fighting it with all of my might. I was convinced I could get back to that spot on the shore. I was drowning.
Now I’m out here treading water trying my best to keep Vanessa and Danny afloat. I’m out here in this ocean trying to allow myself to go with that current and let it take me to a different spot on the shore. To a spot where I can accept that I am forever changed by this hole in my heart. To a spot where I can accept the fact that Charlie is no longer physically with me. To a spot where my faith lets me believe that Charlie is always with me, that he isn’t scared, and that I will see him again. To a spot where my soul isn’t flooded in darkness. To a spot where I allow the love to flow again.
Vacations are supposed to provide a reprieve or suspension from your everyday life. Right now, unfortunately, vacations intensify our sadness. They tempt me to fight the rip currents that take me out to the ocean and away from Charlie’s physical presence. They make me fight the current to get back to the spot of the shore where Charlie was building sand castles with me. They make it harder for me to flow with this rip current of life. A current that has taken me to a life without my Charlie. But I can’t fight it because I can’t win. I will eventually drown if I keep fighting it. Charlie is physically gone. I can never swim back to that spot where he once was. It is impossible. The only way out of this rip current in my ocean of darkness is to flow to that new spot on the shore. The spot where I honor Charlie by loving his brother wholeheartedly. The spot where Charlie’s love eternally lives through me. The spot where I can maybe enjoy vacations and life again.