I’ve covered a lot of miles this. week. Last Friday we drove to Chicago to pick up my sister-in-law at O’Hare and then we continued on to a northwest suburb of Chicago to celebrate our uncle’s life with friends and family. The original plan was to stay through Sunday, going to church with our aunt and cousin and. linger a bit longer before coming back to Grand Rapids.
The weather report had said some rain and snow, but by the time we were done with breakfast, our car was buried. I went to clear it off while Mike went to collect everyone’s luggage and Anne Marie went to check us out of the hotel. By the time I got back to the lobby, there was two inches of snow piled on my head. I caught a glimpse of myself in the glass doors and saw a bedraggled mess. My hair - which for once had been perfectly coiffed - was dripping wet and stuck to my head. My makeup was running down my face. As my sister-in-law glanced up to greet me, a chunk of snow slid off my head, onto my shoulder, and then plopped onto the floor. It was perfect comic timing and the look on her face as she beheld me was priceless.
We had a quick conference in the car. I was willing to drive to the church, but it was with the understanding that this was not a brief spring dust up. We were in a blizzard and the streets were not being cleared. A unanimous decision was made to send a text with our love and to head for home. It turned out to be a good decision. Normally a three and a half hour drive turned into a trip that was closer to eight hours long, with tsunamis of slush washing over the car whenever a truck passed us. We passed countless wrecks and ambulances from Illinois to Michigan. About twenty minutes from home the snow finally let up. It was an epic drive.
Once home, I checked messages and learned that a cousin had passed away. She was elderly and had just entered hospice, so it was not a complete surprise, but my small family group is dwindling even more and it breaks my heart.
After a two day respite from the road I was off again. Leaving Mike and Anne Marie to look after Dad and one another, I got on the highway heading east this time. Perhaps it’s because I was tired, perhaps it was the harrowing drive from Chicago, or perhaps there was grief upon grief, but I was not looking forward to the trip. Normally, I’m always up for a road trip. I love driving and I love going from place to place. But not this time.
Once I got to Rochester Hills, though, things felt better. As I drove the back roads to the funeral home, memories from my teen years popped up. Bike rides, friendship, and youthful angst joined in with memories of family. By the time I got back to the hotel that evening, I was on a more even keel and was able to get some rest.
In the morning the sky looked dirty and uneven - a bit sad, actually. A fitting day to mourn. The funeral was touching and I gathered with my cousins to share memories and catch up. After lunch I was back on the road and back into another storm. This one was only heavy rain but there were still accidents and the drive had its challenges.
East and west, through grief and bad weather, I persevered and made it home. A perfect metaphor, I think, for life and for death. You travel this world, you persevere through all the challenges life presents, and you make it home.
Rest in peace, Bob and Gerda. You’ve made it home.
Donna Kemper put aside her art career to care for a mother she hadn't seen in over a decade. For seven years she followed her mother's journey into dementia, caring for her and putting forgiveness into action.