In a few days I’ll travel to San Francisco to visit my little brother for spring break and I can’t help but think of Dan’s adventurous spirit. Dan had a passion for traveling and traversed the entire US in addition to a staggering 52 countries around the world. Getting ready for a trip is certainly different without Dan, but it is stirring up some of the most wonderful memories of our time together.
Dan and I didn’t travel much together because, well, he had cancer a lot. But, when we did manage to sneak away, we had some serious fun. My favorite trip was our spring break in 2012 to what was advertised as a “quaint and quiet chalet on a beautiful lake” just outside Atlanta, Georgia, a halfway point between us and our travel buds, my brother, Colin, and his wife, Kathleen. They picked us up at the airport and off we went to begin our long weekend of relaxation, March Madness basketball, cocktails, and fishing in our comfy cozy getaway.
A few hours drive outside Atlanta, we arrived. What we thought was going to be a secluded, luxurious chalet turned out to be a dilapidated cabin that nearly brushed up against its neighbors. Although dark, we could still make out a bed of straw in the backyard covering some freshly-planted grass seed. Too exhausted to think about it that night, we retreated to our less-than-cozy bedrooms for some sleep.
Dan and I woke up first, brewed some coffee and crunched our way over the straw to sit on the dock and enjoy the lake view. The view was lovely as we soaked in the morning sun, hand in hand. There was just one thing missing – water. What we could see in the distance was a lake with boats and fishermen catching an early nibble on their lines. What we saw below our dock was about six inches of murky, muddy, water. Colin and Kathleen eventually joined us and we sat around laughing at the ridiculousness of this place. In the late morning, the boys went in to watch the basketball tournament and the girls stayed outside to check out the fishing gear that the owners so graciously allowed us to use during our stay. Before long we discovered that, not only was the TV broken, but Kathleen and I were neck-deep in tangled fishing wire.
We had two choices when we arrived to the cabin: 1) leave, demand our money back, and find the nearest hotel for a comfier bed, or 2) make memories. I’m so glad we chose the latter.
In the weekend that followed, we shared one of the most memorable vacations together. The list of things-gone-wrong continued to grow and eventually even included a call to the owner about a flood in the kitchen and an emergency trip to the pharmacy for anti-itch cream after an unfortunate incident with some fire ants. But despite the mishaps, the misinformation, and the miserable itching, it was fun. We spent our time under the gazebo grilling food, drinking beer, playing games, singing songs, dancing to music, throwing washers, and making memories.
That weekend I learned that traveling with my husband was fun. I learned that it didn’t matter where I was or what kind of bed we slept in, it was perfect if I was with him. We came home from Georgia on a Sunday feeling rejuvenated with a renewed appreciation for adventure. Dan was two and a half years in remission and we were just six months away from the three-year milestone when we could consider cancer behind us for good. We were nearing the target date when our doctors would work with us in starting the family we had to put on hold. I went to work on Monday and Dan went to his monthly IV chemo on Tuesday feeling on top of the world. All was well.
On Wednesday, we were thrown down from our high when we found out Dan’s leukemia relapsed. That devastating news threw us into the beginning of the end – first, a hopeful remission, another relapse, and then a life-saving transplant, another relapse, another miracle remission, and finally, the fatal relapse. Throughout the two years after our Georgia trip, Dan and I used the lessons we learned there over and over. Sometimes you don’t get what you signed up for and sometimes life doesn’t go as you planned. Sometimes the TV is broken, sometimes you step on a fire ant hill, and sometimes you get cancer. But when you’re crazy about your spouse and there’s love in your life, you can do anything. You play games, you dance, and you fight like hell. You love. And you make memories.
We never did get to plan another spring break trip together, but the memories we made will inspire me for a lifetime. Every time I hear Van Morrison sing “Domino”, I think of Dan, under the gazebo, singing his heart out, dancing like a fool, and then I smile.
Hanna believes that love is the reason Dan fought as long and hard as he did. She believes that love heals, and hopes that through her story others will learn to find joy, big and small, in every single day.
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