The First Vacation
Last week was our first vacation without Ana. We left on Tuesday, just the three of us and Roo, headed for the tiny oceanfront town of Ogunquit, Maine. I picked the spot after doing some research online. My criteria was that it needed to be about 4 or 5 hours driving distance and the hotel (or motel, in this case) had to be within walking distance of the beach.
I’m a worried traveler and this trip was no different. I worried about bringing Roo (would he bark if we left him alone at the hotel? would he be more of a burden than a companion?) I worried about forgetting something BIG and IMPORTANT (I think this one is directly connected to five years of making sure we had Ana’s meds with us at all times). I worried about getting lost. As we left the house, I felt a strong aversion to leaving for the week because it felt like we were abandoning Ana. Jim and Emily told me to chill, so I tried to re-frame that last worry, at least. I wondered, how could we bring her with us? Jim and I had already decided we would scatter a tiny bit of her ashes on the beach, so that was one way.
Roo was a strong connection too and I let myself imagine that she was hovering near him, happy to see him included on this trip. I wore a few pieces of jewelry that remind me of Ana–the ring I found by my bedside shortly after her death that fits me perfectly (it was hers and I’m not sure how it made its way into my bedroom), my hummingbird necklace, and a bracelet with a silver origami crane charm knotted into the center. A few moments before we left, I drew five hearts on Ana’s chalkboard wall–one for each day we would be away.
The first day was the hardest. I experienced a huge amount of anxiety being away from the house and from what has become a comforting routine (my daily walks, working, writing, spending time with Emily, working on the house or yard with Jim…) Also, the town I chose was clearly a favorite vacation spot for families. Our motel was right in the center of town, less than a ten minute walk to the beach. On the first day, we made our way down to the water with Roo (he wasn’t actually allowed on the beach) and the sight of all those families at every stage and age of being was hard to bear. There were so many families of four. It’s the perfect number. I felt our family, diminished…separate…and all I wanted to do was go back home.
That feeling of being outside of everyone else’s reality never fully went away, but it did let up quite a bit and I was able to enjoy the beach. I was even able to watch other people’s children play together without feeling that sickening longing I felt on the first day. Instead, I remembered how much Ana loved the beach and when I thought of her playing in the sand, it made me smile. And, of course, there was Emily. She surprised me. I realized once we got to Ogunquit that my biggest worry was that without Ana, Jim and I wouldn’t be enough for her. I thought she would brood or be bored. But, remember, SHE was the one who told me to chill out–not the other way around.
She kept me grounded and we had some truly special moments which included swimming on the beach, picking restaurants every day to try out (she absolutely loved this), watching a horror movie together one night, and she even tried to teach me how to sing (a hilariously disastrous fail). Roo was perfect. The hotel manager loved him. He was quiet and sweet and the hit of the town when we took him out on walks. I’m so glad we brought him.
The night before we left, Jim and I went to the beach with Ana’s ashes. Emily didn’t want to come and we both agreed it was important not to force her. There will be other trips and other opportunities for her to get involved. We walked up to the water’s edge and scattered a very tiny bit of her into the water. This is what the beach looked like at that moment.
The tide was going out, the sand was slick, the sun was beginning to set behind us. I felt the grief hit me again, just as deeply as it hit the first days and weeks after Ana’s death. That she has been reduced to ashes, that we would leave her–again–even that tiny bit of her on a beach we may never visit again, that I would need to turn and walk away from the part of her now lost forever. It was all so much.
Jim and I talked through my anxiety and visceral reaction. He reminded me that she will be part of the beach forever now and part of the ocean. It was clear to me that this ritual gave him peace and his peace, in turn, helped me feel peaceful. So we stayed until the sky darkened to lapis and then we walked back to the motel. On the way, Jim stopped in his tracks and picked up a tiny, perfect feather. He gave it to me. I’d also found it a seagull feather earlier in the week. When we got home yesterday, I put both feathers our mantel which has become a temporary altar for Ana, along with two stones I found on the beach and two shells. I then went upstairs into Ana’s room and drew another heart on her chalkboard wall.
This morning I woke up sad and distracted, as filled with deep grief as I was the first week after she died. It’s starting to ease now. Writing about it always helps. It also helped to see my little hummingbird visit the feeder as well as a tiny downy woodpecker who discovered the feeder this morning. I’m feeling a little bit better each hour of this day. We did something I thought was impossible and I still feel as though Ana is close to me. Grief and joy are mixed up right now, churning together the way the waves churned at the beach. I’m glad we went on this trip (I was SO worried) and I’m deeply grateful to be home again.