I Ordered Fish and Got a T-bone.

I wiggle and shimmy the wooden box into the opening, and in the end, my son’s ashes fit snuggly inside my olive colored purse. It’s Valentine’s Day, and the 13th angel-versary of his passing.  A few week’s ago my parents invited me to lunch with a casual, “and feel free to bring Shawn along” thrown into the conversation.  We’ve had many meals in his honor over the years, and each time we chuckle at our little secret as I set him down in the chair next to mine.  We know this is one of those things that some wouldn’t understand.

“Why would she keep his ashes and carry them to a restaurant for lunch?  That’s morbid!”

But, I have a philosophy I’ve lived by for as many years as he’s been gone.  There’s no right or wrong way to grieve the loss of a child.  If it brings me comfort, and doesn’t harm me, then it’s a-okay!  Shawn’s 11 lb box of ashes has been hiking with me to Seven Falls, spent the night at various family member’s homes, gone on a field trip to a monastery, and secretly sat in a dining chair at countless restaurants for lunch and dinner.

Don’t get me wrong, he doesn’t go everywhere with me.  Usually it’s once or twice a year when we’re doing something special in remembrance.  In the mean time, he sits in his place of honor in my home, with a statue of the baby Jesus that was a favorite of my mom’s before she passed.  I imagine my mom and son spend time together on the other side, joined by my late husband and sister, and the family gathering of spirits behind the veil outnumbers our little luncheon for three here on earth.

As I pull into the restaurant parking lot, I notice the flow of silver-haired patrons slowly walking towards the entrance.  It’s proving to be a perfect Arizona winter day; an example of why people retire here.  The sun is shining and the mountains surrounding the valley look dipped in rich watercolors of wine.

“I’ll park on the other side of the lot and leave the closest spots for people that can’t walk very far.  I need the exercise anyway.” I think to myself.

At lunch I order grilled, fresh New Zealand Ora King salmon over a toasted croissant and sautéed spinach.  We take our time, enjoying the atmosphere and pampering, until I realize we’ve stayed so long that I’m running late for a happy hour gathering I’m hosting at my home.  As I hurry across the parking lot, my brain registers something isn’t right, and I slow down.

“What’s wrong with the side of my SUV?  Has that dent always been there?  No.  No!  It’s far too big for me not to notice it before.  Oh my gosh, it’s huge!  And no one’s here!  I’m the victim of a hit and run?!” My thoughts race as I approach my car.

And then I see the little note, flapping in the breeze under my windshield wiper.  “I’m very sorry.  My phone number is xxx-xxx-xxx.”

I can hear someone calling from the balcony of the restaurant.

“Hello!  Ma’am!”  He’s waving his arm and directing me over.  “Oh, finally!  We’ve been waiting for over an hour to see who owned that Landcruiser.”

He explains that they have the car next to mine and saw the accident.  He has notes written down that I briefly see as he waves them around and talks about the pictures he took and will send to me.  But he’s talking too fast and I struggle to keep up with the flood of information.

“Yep, he hit you so hard it pushed your SUV into our car.  We didn’t want to move our car until you came out.”

And that’s when I realize the Landcruiser is smooshed up against another car on the passenger side.  Great!  Damaged on both sides and a third car is involved!

He tells me that the person responsible is from the Congo.  “He’s a dishwasher at the restaurant.  He’s only been in the U.S. for a month, and hasn’t been driving for very long.  He says his brakes went out.  He has insurance, but it’s probably very minimal.”

My mind goes back to my time in Africa.  A refugee from the Congo… oh, no.  I’m torn between compassion for this refugee I have yet to meet, who must be frightened by this experience, and my own frustration.  Suddenly, the accident is put into perspective.  My afternoon was spent dining at a 5-star restaurant, which I drove to in my luxury SUV.  Meanwhile, he’s washing dishes, in a foreign country, in order to escape a history that I can only imagine based on my travels.  My heart breaks at what must have gone through the man’s mind when he hit my car.

The next hour is a bit of a blur as information is exchanged and the restaurant manager introduces me to a 30-something man named “Bahati” (name changed for privacy).  He has kind, shy eyes, and does his best to apologize in his broken english.

“It’s okay.  These things happen,” I say with as genuine a smile as I can.  I place my hand on his shoulder for a brief moment, hoping he understands that I’m not angry.

Eventually, it’s time to leave and I crawl over the passenger side since my driver’s door no longer opens.  Shawn’s ashes sit beside me, and I ask him to watch over Mama.

***

I’ve taken my time posting this story to my blog.  Many decisions needed to be made as the ripple effects of this accident played out and I wanted to be able to share the end results.  The Landcruiser is considered totaled; worth more than Bahati’s insurance limits can pay.  I’ve purchased a new car.  A Honda HR-V that I absolutely love.

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No, my new car can’t tow Sarandipity, my trailer.  I was forced to do some soul searching when choosing this next vehicle.  Do I base my decision on whether or not it can tow a trailer?  How badly do I want to keep Sarandipity and how much traveling in the trailer will I do in the future?  If I were to buy my dream car, what would it be?

In the end, I listened to what my inner voice was saying.  The trailer served it’s purpose.  It gave me a wonderful distraction during my cancer treatments.  I would show up at the cancer center daily, and whittle away the hours of chemo planning my new life as a solo, full-time RVer.  It was exciting to think about this new adventure in my life.

But, I no longer need that.  I’m enjoying being settled in my old home, fixing it up while keeping my new minimalist lifestyle.  And so, I’ll be selling my trailer soon.  I have several trips planned in the next few months that will feed my traveling soul, but I’ll be going by plane and staying in hotels.  I love change and try to find the blessings that are hidden in every challenge, and this experience has reminded me to practice this belief.  Part of life’s beauty is it’s unpredictable nature.

I’m thinking of contacting Bahati, and taking him out to lunch.  Not where he works, but, some place just as lovely.  I have a feeling he has stories that would be an honor to hear.  Perhaps, if I’m lucky, one of the most beautiful things to come of this will be a new friend.

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27 thoughts on “I Ordered Fish and Got a T-bone.

  1. Rita Rector

    Love this! I am sitting here in tears for the good, bad and ugly of your journey.

    Love to you, my dear friend, Rita

    Rita Rector Sent from my iPad

    >

    Like

  2. Harvey Stanbrough

    May blessings and how you perceive them continue to bring you joy. And yes, I might be interested in buying The Egg when you’re ready to sell. You have my email address.

    Like

  3. Kelly Alden

    Awww! Tearfully enjoying your blog and thanking you for your kind and generous heart! Sara, you make the world a better place! I feel lucky to have met you…❤Kelly

    Like

  4. Laura P

    Wow, I am just stunned by your compassion regarding this situation. It’s something you don’t come across every day and I hope to learn from it.

    You’ll have folks lining up to buy your trailer, I’m sure. You might have to hold a lottery for it!

    Best wishes

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    1. Thank you, Laura! Full disclosure, I went through the full spectrum of emotions with this! But in the end couldn’t imagine being angry with someone that has most likely endured a much harder life than myself. I’m not worried about selling the egg. I have a feeling it will go very quickly. I do love it, and will miss it.

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  5. As someone who has also lost a child, I have to say that you’re 100% correct — not that you need me to point it out: there is no one “correct” way to grieve, and no “correct length of time,” either. I guess, really, we’ll grieve forever, each in our own way.

    You’re a good person (and a good writer!) and I’ll miss the travelogue.

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    1. Yes, Rod, that’s so true. No time limits or correct way to deal with this. I’m sorry for your loss. BTW – I’ll continue to post to my blog. I have a lot of traveling in my future (a big trip to Europe this summer) and will continue to write about my photography and personal life stories. Not sure if I’ll lose a lot of subscribers because it won’t focus on RV travels, but then – most of the time I’m just rambling for myself as much as anything. 😉

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  6. Micki Kremer

    I love you! You find good in everything…and I find it so perfect that you carry your son with you…for as long as you care to. I continue to wait for your next blog. BTW…just had my latest blood work done…STILL in remission! APL gone since January, 2015!

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  7. Sorry for the car. And more sorry your journey will end.
    I know this is inappropriate but if you really are thinking of selling your trailer, I would like a chance to buy it.
    After raising kids as a single parent, I am now able to reenter the world of graphic design and have actually been looking around for that perfect travel vehicle in which I can escape and find artistic solitude.
    From the first time you posted about the modifications you made to your trailer, I have followed in envy.
    Please consider me if you have not already found a buyer. I can be reached at onlyrosalyn@aim.com
    Thank you
    Rosalyn

    Like

  8. Excellent choice and a logical decision. The trailer served a valuable purpose for the two or three chapters in your life. Maybe you are starting a new volume, now? You carry an eleven-pound box; we carry an old Kodak film canister with a smidgen of Rob’s ashes. We carefully distribute a pinch of Rob’s ashes at our different destinations: Icy Strait, Alaska or Cabo San Lucus. I do believe that Rob and Shawn know each other. Love, Sam

    Like

  9. Linda Artley

    Dear Sara…not a salutation but a thought, for you are the dearest person I know. your heart knows no bounds and your love of humanity and compassion of others is amazing and wonderful. You deserve all good things. Even if circumstances start out badly they will often become good because it is your will to make it that way. Since your son was with you in your purse, I bet he was so proud of how his Mom conducted herself in this bad situation. Blogs are wonderful and I enjoy yours so much but if I could, I would love to see you write a book. I just know it would help other’s in their life journey. A big plus is that you already have the writing down to an art. Love You, Sara…Denny and Linda

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  10. Ken Touring

    Hi Sara…
    You are so SPECIAL. You are a TEACHER.
    I have learned…..we all have learned from your wisdom .
    You have a very special gift that you share.
    All the emotions…..the tears.
    Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
    Ken

    Like

  11. Diana Courtright

    I only see beauty, love, hope, and compassion in the deeply intimate stories you share about the life and loss of your precious son, how you dealt with a serious diagnosis of cancer, and the true kindness you showed to a vulnerable stranger who accidentally hit your car. The gentle empathy you show to others (and yourself) is truly an inspiration to me, Thank you so much for being a beautiful light in this world.

    Like

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