At this time last year, we were on the road. We had to move Joey's anthropomorphic VW bus, fondly known as "Gunther", out from a storage facility in L.A., where it had been languishing for six months, for lack of a better plan. We decided to drive Gunther cross country to its new home, and hopefully new term of service, with our grandchildren in Virginia Beach. It was stuffed full of Joey's life--his chair, his guitars, his backpack and ski gear, and his ashes. We had fears that Gunther couldn't make the trip, but Rachel reassured us that this dented, but sturdy VW was road-hardened from traveling round the Northern Hemisphere and would not fail us. And she was right. We made the long journey without mechanical incident, and arrived safely at our destination the day before Thanksgiving, just as planned.
At that time, my chest cavity was still filled to the top with leaden boulders of grief. I barely breathed. I lived in a heavy fog of shock and confusion, and could hardly think, move, plan or execute. I had no capacity for pressure or stress. I was in excruciating, heretofore unimagined pain, and each day was necessarily basic, simple and uncomplicated. It was as if all my bones were broken and I dared not move anything for fear of the pain it would unleash.
Gunther's gear shift knob and funky rastifarian foot pedals, just as Joey and Rachel found them when they bought it.
The sorrowful but necessary trip turned out to be an unanticipated blessing. It was hard leaving the safety of our home in Maui to go back to L.A., the scene of so much devastating loss. But as we drove away from L.A. out into the wide expanses of the West, away from people and cities and buildings, over rugged mountains, through long green valleys, peering down into paintbox canyons covered with rocks and trees, we began to lose our fear of the road and of change. We soon found we relished the start of each day's drive, sitting in the refuge of our son's van, experiencing some of what Joey and Rachel lived when they took a similar trip the year before; and particularly soothing for us: the peace of miles of solitude that stretched before us with no responsibilities except to fill the gas tank.
We had a modest time table, and so we could take each day as it came, making time to stop and smell and listen and feel the changing season as we moved east. One Sunday morning near the end of our trip, we had an especially magical drive through the Smoky Mountains. There were few other cars on the road at 7 a.m. , and the light was different--so clear, shimmering with life, so quiet you could hear it, so peaceful our raw nerve endings settled into a purr. And the peace touched our ragged souls, both of us, deeply, maybe for the first time since Joey left. We listened to worship music and let it soak into us as we drove wordlessly, through the most beautiful cathedral of them all. The trees spired high over our heads, and the most incredible blue sky sat straight above us, peeking in and out of the trees. It was a holy moment. It was one of those moments when you know there is something more personal and powerful and mystical to the universe than what we've pieced together so far.
My little camera could not do it justice, but these pictures will give you the idea.
I will admit I was suspicious of that. I have been trained to worship the Creator, not the creation. When our pastor recently taught on the book of Job, I got a new perspective. I've now concluded that at times of deep suffering, we can't see or hear the Creator. When Job's torrent of pain and confusion finally poured forth in despair and frustration, he got smack into God's face with his questions. And God smacked right back-- not with answers, but with his own set of questions: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?"
Four chapters later, God's basic response to Job is "look at what I've made--look at Nature". It doesn't tell us "why", but it does declare the greatness of God and that He is big enough for all that we doubt. That makes sense to me and has freed me to do what I had already been doing, finding solace in the beauty of nature.
It was the most memorable segment of our 5000 mile trip, and it was the start of a turning point in our lives. We emerged from the mountain passes into the wide, grassy valleys below.
We had planned to stay with our daughters just through the holidays, but while we were there, we made the decision to pack up our own previously idyllic island life and move to Virginia. People are usually surprised by this and ask how we could do it. Simple. We couldn't bear any more separation from our beloved children. It was already too much that Joey was gone. And so began a new beginning...
A year later we know it was the right decision. Everything has changed, nothing is the same, yet we are surviving. We feel less heaviness. We shed fewer tears. We are settling in. We miss our son endlessly, and yet we are slowly trusting the Maker of it all that there is a bigger plan.