On Thanksgiving day last year I was able to volunteer at a kitchen in Florence, Oregon, and help serve over 650 dinners to homeless and hungry folks. It was my first solo Thanksgiving on the road and the first in many years that I wasn’t with family. Even on the Thanksgiving day that Klink died my family showed up with a smoked turkey at the hospital and we had lunch together in the staff lounge.
I volunteered last year for two reasons: first, I didn’t want to be alone on T Day; my first year on the road, and second, because I wanted to serve others and be a part of the community. Having seen the amount of homelessness on the west coast I wanted to help in some way and hoped to make it my new tradition.
I’m in South Carolina now and called over a half a dozen soup kitchens and food pantry’s hoping to volunteer again, but with no luck. There are no hot meals being served this year to those in need (due to COVID) — only drive-up-open-your-trunk-and-get-your-turkey-dinner type of situations and they either had all the volunteers they needed or they had to close down because of COVID. It’s heartbreaking because there is more need for them now than there has been in decades.
So I dive in to my work and keep myself distracted all week. But my body remembers no matter how busy I keep my brain and I time-travel back to his end of days every time my eyelids get heavy; calling our family and friends to say goodbye, his struggle to breathe, his blue eyes searching mine for help. He’s dying and he knows.
And I can’t help him.
The distraction of being in this unfamiliar place comforts me more than I anticipated it would. There are no cedar walls that he built here, no cold tile floors he laid his hands on, no stone fireplace he built with the help of friends. There is no garage with his tools and no wedding shoes hanging in the maple tree. And, mostly, there is no hospital bed, no morphine pump and no B-Pap and IVs pumping him full of oxygen and steroids so he can breathe.
There’s only the sound of the distant train, the neighbors hitching up in the dark, and the three hardworking guys getting off of work late—drinking a few beers, grilling a turkey and having some laughs. And then there’s me. I’m still here. I’m the part of us that continued.
I’m also the one who didn’t stay.
A year after Klink died I watched a story about “getting over“ grief. The take-away message was that grief never goes away, that our lives just get bigger and then grief doesn’t seem as all-encompassing as it once was. But then there are moments in time when a memory comes back or a holiday arises and the bigness of our lives shrinks back again – and the grief returns. It’s an ebb and flow and something we should recognize as a sign of healing. Our grief shouldn’t be the bigness it once was, but we should honor it when it surfaces and simply be with it.
Hearing this helped me to realize I had a choice of how my future would unfold for me. I could decide how big my life could be and how I would handle the grief. His death anniversary will always be a big memory because it’s also a holiday. You know, you may forget your wedding anniversary over the years but you’ll never forget that it’s Thanksgiving day. I understood that grief would still stay in my heart but my heart would get bigger if my life changed. My heart would wrap around grief like a giant embrace and smother it with all the compassion and love it needed.
Any time it needed it.
And so I went out on the road to explore the country — and to make my life bigger. I’ve travelled over 30K miles in the last 20 months; from Oceanside, CA where I first dropped Klink off at the beach, to the astounding beauty of the Oregon coast, to the dunes of Cape Cod. I’ve explored our civil war history at Gettysburg, traveled down the Blue Ridge Parkway and drank some moonshine out of a mason jar in the hills of Virginia. I’ve camped at wineries, parked on goat farms and kayaked some of the bluest water I’ve ever laid my eyes on.
And Klink has been with me the entire time. Because now that he’s gone he sees through my eyes and tastes through my lips and feels through my touch. He loves everything I love (which means there’s never any arguments anymore ;). And even though he still guides me out of tricky situations, I don’t feel him as much as I used to. I believe that’s because he’s looking down on me now, saying, “You got this Lorri Jean. You got this.” He always knew I was a capable woman but he also, always! wanted to take care of me. His biggest concern in the months before he died was to make sure I would be okay after he was gone.
And I am okay.
Over the years I’ve come to realize that melancholy and me do not make good bedfellow and I was tired of feeling the blues this week—with nothing on my schedule to fill the empty space. When I awoke this morning I packed a lunch and headed to the place that always cleanses my soul.
So today — on the 4th anniversary— I find myself on a South Carolina beach thinking about Klink, basking in the sun and having an enormous heart full of grateful for the man who gave me such a wonderful life.
Thank you Klink. I promise not to waste it. Rivers and roads till we meet again.
Happy Thanksgiving y’all.