This week I made a choice I did not expect to make. I chose to not travel to my grandmother’s funeral. She passed away late Tuesday night, and over the past few days, knowing she was in the hospital, I had mentally been preparing to fly back to Mississippi. But at the moment of decision, I suddenly knew it was the wrong choice.
Rob and I have had a difficult year. We have recognized that many decisions we made in the past few years have not been healthy for us, for our relationship, and that to correct that, we needed to make radical changes. To be honest, with all the amazing adventure that Alaska has offered…experiencing the Arctic, seeing dog sled teams race, traveling to remote and beautiful locations by float plane and ferry, seeing glaciers and northern lights…if I had it to do again, I wouldn’t move here. The distance from family is too great, and adventure doesn’t replace the ability to be present.
Still, this is where I find myself today. I looked at flying out today, knowing that Rob would spend the holiday and the next week alone, and I couldn’t do it. He’s a big boy, he’s spent a fair amount of time alone in the past three years due to work and travel demands. I know he could do it. But the point is, that choice has been a bad one. We are both weary of spending time apart for the sake of work.
I considered the reality that this was a family emergency, a moment to mark and honor a beloved woman in my life, and to renew my connections with family members that I don’t see often. But in the end, I think I am honoring my family. I’m acknowledging that this relationship, even at a moment like this, has to come first. It feels a bit selfish, and I have some anxiety that this choice will not be be understood. But after a time of reflection, I am at peace.
So today I’m sharing a Thanksgiving meal with a few others from the clinic where Rob is covering call. I will miss being with my family who have gathered to say goodbye to my grandmother tomorrow afternoon. I will miss seeing the little ones who’ve grown and the ones who have joined the clan since I was last with them. I’ll miss sharing the tears and the memories, the hugs and the smiles. It hurts my heart to choose absence.
But this morning, drinking my coffee and looking at this man who has been my life for the past 30 years, I knew I was right to stay. The lesson of the moment is that we have the present, and that’s all. We may not have the good fortune to live to 90 with all our faculties intact. The choices that we’ve made, we live with, and we look for ways to re-align our priorities with family and future needs.
And my grandmother? If I could ask her, I believe she would support my decision. She was a lighthouse, staying put, watching her children roam the globe, but I don’t recall ever hearing her complain about their choices. She was accepting that life has to be lived.
Rob and I had already planned a trip back in March. I regret that she won’t be there to sit with, to share with. But we’ll visit the cemetery then with my mom, and remember her, my grandfather, my dad, my uncle and aunt…all the family we’ve lost. It will be sad, but it will be sweet, full of happy tears that these people…human, imperfect, funny, wonderful, loving…touched our lives.
And until then, I’m where I belong.