Last week I hastily filled a backpack with clothes, grabbed a laptop loaded with work and a basket of knitting, then climbed into my parent's camper for an impromptu cross-country road trip. Pete and the kids stayed home to tend animals and keep our home and life humming along in my absence.
In the child's role for the first time in decades, I was the passenger once more: riding in the back and watching the scenery unfold alongside the highway. It would be my longest time away from my children ever, and my first time crossing as state line without them. In all we would cross four, heading all the way to Texas in just 3 days.
The last time I drove to Texas (unbuckled and riding in the covered back of a pick up truck, as one did in the '80's) I was 9 years old and we were heading to Houston for a family wedding. 35 years later the cast of characters was much the same, but our reasons could not have been more different, as we headed south to attend an untimely funeral and to be there for our family whose lives had been upended by grief.
Though I did not know the young man who died, I did know those who loved him, and wanted to be there for them. That is one of the reasons that we gather: to support the grieving, to remember what it means to be a community or to be a family. I wanted to do what my grandma would have done and stand with them in their sorrow, for whatever comfort that might bring.
Before leaving home, I found a sweater that my grandma once owned, and packed it to wear to the funeral. It was the closest I could come to her, some kind of a matriarchal talisman, symbolically pulling her closer when her family needed her most.
My sister flew in to meet us, and there were were, the four of us once more, packed into my parent's little camper and remembering what life was like when we were small.
In Texas we reconnected with aunts and uncles, cousins and second cousins – some of whom we hadn't seen in decades. We shared tears and laughter, stories and grief, and more hugs than I could possibly count during our brief stay.
And what struck me most profoundly was this: we are so very different, my family and I. In our lifestyles, our values, our beliefs, our politics. But in that moment of reconnection and sorrow, none of those things mattered.
Because beneath all of it we’re family, and we showed up when we were needed. And that was more than enough.
Back in Wisconsin after a whirlwind 7 days on the road — my thoughts ping-ponging between my family in Texas and my family at home — I returned to tackle-style, bone-crushing hugs and peals of laughter from my own kids. Instead of unpacking my things we spent yesterday morning on a family date to our local coffee shop. We spent the day playing board games, sharing stories, and cuddling up beside the wood stove. Then last night, when the boys had run to town, Lupine and I bundled into our snow clothes and trundled outside in the darkness and falling snow for sledding by headlamp until long after bedtime.
And I savored it all.
Because more than anything, this trip left me feeling profoundly grateful for the things that matter most: my children, my parents, my partner, my family – and our simple, joyful life. So much more than I did just one week ago. Perhaps sometimes it takes a dark reminder to illuminate how fortunate we really are.
Life is fragile, loves. Hold your dear ones close. Love them with abandon and without condition. Make time for each other. Go sledding; tell stories; look into their beautiful eyes. Do all the things you have longed to do but have been putting off.
Make the time, do the things, and above all hold them close. Because the only thing certain is today.
And I'm certain you won't regret it if you do.