Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Saying Goodbye

Last week I scrambled like crazy to find someone to take care of Carter while Craig worked on Saturday, all so I could hitch a ride to Wisconsin with my parents for my cousin's funeral.  I haven't been to Wisconsin since I was almost 13, so I guess you could say I was overdue.  This certainly wasn't the way I wanted to go, but I was very thankful that Craig's family was able to take Carter for the day.  That meant Craig had to do a lot of driving over an already busy weekend, but again, I couldn't imagine being anywhere else. 

I had to leave Thursday night.  However, before I left town I had to go to the first "Moms' Night Out" gathering at my church.  I've been going to the same church for 15 years.  It is a rather large church and it's easy to get lost in the crowd.  When I first started there, my odd work schedule didn't jive with Bible study night.  Craig's schedule has never been conducive to getting involved, and kids complicated matters further.  As a result, I've never gotten involved with anything.  But this moms group sounded like a possibility...and I wanted to be there from the beginning, so I made sure to go to the first one.  And you know, I liked it.  We talked, we snacked, we watched a video, and we talked some more.  My goal is to find a long-term friend and be reminded of how fun churchy stuff can be...and to ultimately get my spiritual life back in a great place.  It was just a beginning, but I'm so glad I got up the guts to do it.  But then I had to run home, get the kids in bed, and take off.  It was a late night, but it was an even earlier morning.

We left just after 5am, just me and my parents in the car.  Yes, it felt a little funny.  But it was fun and felt like a bit of an adventure.  And it was nice to be in the backseat where the pressure was off!  The drive actually wasn't too bad from back there.  We made a few stops for food and bathroom breaks, and we even ran into my uncle, my cousin, and her wife and son, who left at the same time we did.  We stopped at a Steak and Shake in South Bend, IN, since my parents had never been there.  We got a glimpse of Notre Dame, did a geocache to add Indiana to my parents' list of states, and headed toward the brutal traffic outside Chicago.  It was a harrowing ride (Speed limit?  What's that?), but eventually we made it across the border to Kenosha.  This sign was right near our hotel...at a place called The Brat Stop...for bratwurst, of course, not cranky children.
Yup, definitely Wisconsin...
We spent the evening with my aunt, uncle, cousin, and various family from both sides.  It was a very emotional evening, but there were some moments that brought out the smiles.  We ate, drank, laughed, cried...and eventually headed back to the hotel. 

We had a free morning on Saturday before the first viewing, so my parents wanted to add to their geocache totals a bit more.  We did a few just across the border in Illinois, and while they were taking care of one, I happened to catch this bird on a wire.  I guess this bird is pretty common, but I don't know that I've ever seen one...
The wings were so striking...and the sky was perfectly blue!
One of the geocaches back in Wisconsin appeared to be outside a jelly bean factory, and it turned out to be a Jelly Belly location!  It wasn't actually a factory, but more of a warehouse that fulfilled internet orders.  We found a cache nearby, then headed into the store to buy souvenirs (mostly for the kids, but...), but we ended up just catching a tour.  The tour involved sitting in a train that drove around the perimeter of the warehouse and treated us to videos of jelly bean production and history.  It was cheesy, but it was fun!

After stocking up on candy, we headed back to get ready for our first trip to the funeral home.  I don't know that anything could have prepared me for that.  She didn't look like herself in the casket, which was strange.  It just made everything even more strange and surreal than it already was.  We looked at hundreds of pictures of this beautiful, smiling girl, and it was so hard to believe she's gone, that all of those adventures won't be added to.  It was so sad.  My brother arrived part of the way through, and it was good to see him.  I had some nice conversations with some of my uncle's family that I hadn't seen in many years (or ever), but my eyes always went back to that casket and back to those pictures.  Still completely unbelievable.

When Craig's Nana passed away, her flowers were so beautiful and I snapped pictures of a few of them.  It was a beautiful way to memorialize her.  I decided to do the same here.  This arrangement was one of the more unique, and the colors were so bright and beautiful.

This lily was as big as my hand...

After the viewing, Kristi's friends held a bubble vigil down by the lake.  We blew bubbles and sent them up to the heavens for her.  It was beautiful to watch.

My cousin Kathy's son Erik, Kristi's dad, my mom's brother, Kristi's mom, my mom, and my cousin Kathy's wife Kim
We had another evening of food and drinks at my aunt and uncle's before heading back for another night in the hotel.  Believe it or not, it wasn't too bad staying with my parents.  Again, a bit like a weird throwback, but it was fine.  Sunday morning my mom went to church and I opted to run a 5K on the treadmill in the hotel gym.  We headed over to the funeral home at noon and did another couple hours of visitation.  This time we seemed to stay in our smaller family groups as people came through, and the funeral service followed.

As you would expect, the funeral was very difficult.  So many tears.  So.  Many.  My uncle did an amazing job of eulogizing his daughter, and between that and the moving music, it was a very emotional time.  We went to a luncheon put on by my uncle's theater group, and then it was back to my aunt and uncle's for one more evening together.  We looked at old photo albums, which brought back so many memories and made everything even more surreal.  How can that little girl be gone?  We said our goodbyes rather early so we could prepare for another early morning and long day in the car.

We went through Chicago since it was early, and we had just enough daylight to enjoy it.  It's hard to take pictures in dim light while moving at 60+ mph, but I did.

As the sun rose over Lake Michigan, it did the strangest thing.  It reflected perfectly off the water, creating a bight column of light.  It was stunning.

The drive home was long, but we added one more state to the geocache list in Ohio and gave my dad a chance to eat a Primanti Bros. sandwich in Erie.  And once we got back to my parents' house, I still had another hour and a half to go!  But I was happy to make it and give my kids hugs.  Of course, as I did I realized Carter was hot and discovered a fever that lasted into today, but at least I'm home.  Carter and Jacob are both coughing and congested, and Carter's seems pretty bad.  Coughing through the night, a stubborn fever, and a constant runny nose.  Poor kid.  It makes it hard to get back into the groove, that's for sure.  And tonight was a rough night in general, including the realization that Jacob needs some sort of rehab (they told us he wouldn't, but watching him limping through lacrosse practice makes us think otherwise).  I am a little disappointed in myself, because I should have tons of patience after my absence and tons of perspective after such a tragedy, but tonight was pretty depressing.  Let's hope tomorrow is a better day.

I figure I might have more thoughts on all of this soon, but I wanted to get the trip out before it all became a blur.  I'm so thankful for the opportunity, though.  I just couldn't have been anywhere else.

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