The trip had been planned months ago. Fundraising had been done, meetings attended, many details worked through.
And then Dad died, and suddenly, I wasn’t feeling so much like being around bunches of people, not to mention helping chaperone a busload of ninth-graders. The last-minute details of a trip that would involve 50 hours of riding time there and back, and being amidst tens of thousands of people at the nation’s capitol, felt overwhelming in the aftermath of losing Dad.
But there was the kind friend who invited me to sit in front of her fire that chilly morning, updating me, gently, on all the finer points of the trip, guiding me through it mentally so that I would feel equipped, ready.
And slowly, I started to orient myself again toward what, I know now, will be an incredible experience.
It will be loud and youth-oriented, bumpy and boisterous. But there will be prayerful times of reflection, too. It is a pilgrimage, after all, above all. And something I think my father would have enjoyed. He was a history buff, having chosen that subject as his minor in college. In his younger, traveling years, long ago in his wandering days, this would have been an adventure he’d have embraced.
So over a warm mug of coffee, I plotted with my daughter — the one for whom I am going — and gathered up the final pieces. And later today, we will be on our way.
What really turned out to be the clincher for me pushing forward, however, was something that came to me while packing. I needed something warm for the bus ride — not too bulky, medium in thickness.
I remembered, then, that I’d asked Mom if I could take just one item from Dad’s closet before departing last week — before she took care of the task of sorting through and hauling off. I chose a red, plaid flannel shirt that reminds me so much of him, and calls to mind a time when I was only three and had fallen asleep in his arms near the fireplace of our grandparents, just a few days post-Christmas. During parts of that long winter’s nap, I became cognizant of dad’s breathing and quiet talking, the resonance of his voice through a cozy, flannel shirt, deep and assuring. I stayed there longer than necessary, allowing myself to ride the waves of his breath rising and falling as I breathed in tandem, though quicker. In his arms: safe and snug, loving and strong, bliss.
I will wear this shirt on the upcoming trip to the March for Life in Washington, D.C., and in some small way, I will feel protected again, nearer to my father than I’ve been in these last years as he’s struggled through a life with limits that finally tipped the balance.
Now, finally, I can say that I’m ready for this next journey and all that it is meant to bring and be.