Last June, my dad's youngest brother hatched a grand plan. The three brothers and their families hadn't vacationed together in quite some time. My husband, two sons, parents, brother, and sister-in-law perfected the multi-generational vacation over the years, and as my uncle got to witness it in person for three days last year, he decided 2014 would be the perfect year to really put the multi in multi-generational. We booked two houses as soon as we could, and we began planning out the most epic of vacations. We all happily looked forward to June 21 when we would begin a week of pure relaxation and family togetherness.
Then my beloved grandmother, my father and uncles' mother, passed away on Friday, June 6, 2014.
No one in the family imagined such a thing happening this year—or any time soon. Grandma spent a few months over the winter visiting her middle son in Florida, happily creating memories with the side of the family she saw least due to distance. She came home with a stomach virus that never quite got better. Eight weeks after complaining to her doctor, tests were finally run. We waited for results, for a diagnosis. The word cancer was thrown into the ring. We held onto hope. She went into the hospital on Memorial Day and never left. On Wednesday, June 4, she entered hospice, willingly and of sound mind.
And then she was gone.
When the diagnosis came back as cancer in those last few days of May, we started discussing canceling our vacation. No one had any hard feelings about doing so; we wanted to stay with her. I started to make plans to come home on the weekends to give my parents time off from sitting with grandma in hospice. They told us four weeks. Four weeks would have brought us up to this point, right now, where I sit in a beach house listening to the surf pound the shore. As I sit in a beach house missing my grandmother so deeply I don't quite know what to do with it ... other than love the weird, loud, wacky family that surrounds me.
My mom says it's a "God thing" that my uncle dreamed up this large family vacation for the lot of us. Others would call it a lucky coincidence or meant to be or just the way the cards played. Whatever the case, we needed this time together as family. We needed to laugh as an uncle swept the legs out from under my oldest son in the ocean. We needed to hold babies and breathe in their sweet scent. We needed to argue politics as we cleaned the kitchen after dinner. We needed to celebrate three birthdays in one week. We needed to make new memories... together. We needed to gather around a table and eat good food; she would have loved that part the most. She loved by the food she prepared for others.
It's been healing, being here together. To focus on something other than being sad, or rather, devastated at the loss of someone who mattered so much in my life is a welcome distraction to the two weeks in between her passing and our arrival on the shores of Emerald Isle, North Carolina. I'd give it all up in a heartbeat to have her here with us now, bossing her sons around and spoiling the great-grandchildren.
But then again, she is here with us in this space as we heal.
On the day we arrived, my mom walked into the beach house and set a framed photo of my grandmother in the living room. All week, she has smiled her beautiful smile back at us as we've laughed and cried, argued and fussed, eaten and drank, slept and played. She remains with us, in our hearts, our minds, our souls. She is in the memories we are making on this trip.
I never imagined that our annual multi-generational vacation would be more than just a vacation with family. This year it has been a pilgrimage of familial healing, and I am so very thankful for the time and space to be with these people of mine. Yes, not canceling the vacation was the best decision we made, short of my uncle's inspiration to schedule it in the first place. Together is where we needed to be this week.