“Load the car and write the note. Grab your bag and grab your coat. Tell the ones that need to know; we are headed north.“
-The Avett Brothers
But there is no “we” this year, only me.
I have been waiting for this moment for a long time, or so it seems. For years now, Joe and I have traveled to northern Wisconsin every first week of October for the annual Cranberry Festival in Eagle River. Consistently peak week for fall color and the last “hoorah” weekend, of sorts, for the locals before beginning the slow down for winter. Docks will be coming out of the water, and boats will wrapped and stored. Seasonal shops are closing, and vacationers from the south will be traveling back home until the summer months return.
Northern Wisconsin and the U.P. of Michigan are among the most beautiful places I have ever been. I was blessed to live here when I was a kid and into my formative teenage years. Though I didn’t appreciate the beauty of the area back then or the colors of autumn, I certainly do now. The memories I have of living here are plentiful, and I will always consider it “home.”
The fishing, of course, is what drew Joe to this north country. Trout, musky, and, more recently, walleye were always the bonus to our trip and what has kept us coming back year after year. No matter where we traveled, Joe was looking for water. Every year we visited, we would entertain the idea of moving. But then we’d head south to Florida only a couple of months later and decide; oh…this is where we need to live. And then in June, it was west to the Rockies—western Wyoming became our favorite—and we’d remember… OH, YES… this is where we need to live!
It was always fun dreaming of moving and romancing the idea of living in all of the states we visited. The wilderness, the water, and natural beauty—everywhere we went—would always tug at our hearts. We would often wonder if the people who lived “here or there” truly appreciated what they had at their disposal. (I imagine the folks from the city may ask us (rural dwellers) the same question when they travel to the country for a weekend getaway.)
We would talk for hours about what we would do, what type of house we’d have, where it would be, what our life would be like living in the mountains, on a lake, or near the Gulf. And then we’d decide that we were in a pretty perfect spot, after all, right in central Indiana—the ideal location to get to all of the places above within a day (or two’s) drive.
It feels strange to be here without Joe, but what hasn’t been strange over the last year and a half?
I decided that this, my first time back since losing Joe, would be a solo adventure only weeks ago. I had initially asked for company on the journey but later reconsidered, knowing it would be an extra special trip—much like Florida was last November. Some things are not meant to be shared, and this is one of those things.
I tried to think of everything Joe was “responsible” for remembering—the things I never had to think about before and always took for granted that I’d have should I need “it.” He always knew I would require an extra jacket (his) or warm socks (his) or another hoodie (his, too.) But this year, it’s all on me, and I’m trusting that I’ve remembered everything I may need. I don’t have any fishing poles, but I do have my camera and all the gear, hiking boots, a book or two, my journal, my laptop, and Grinch—he is no doubt helping to heal my heart.
The last time we made this trip, in 2019, Joe started to feel like himself again. The sadness was gone—or was at least laying low. I will never forget the day that he said to me, “Babe, I feel so good. Like, my old self again. I haven’t felt like this in a long time. I’ve fallen in love with this place all over again.” I was so happy to hear this news! It was indeed a reason to celebrate. And for the most part, that was where his mood and mind stayed until March of 2020.
I’ve mapped out a few new places to visit and hike and, of course, some of the old ones, too. I cannot go north and bypass the trout streams we went to every year; even though they’re fishing holes, I will still go. I’m grateful that Joe used a Garmin to navigate the area and has all of “the spots” marked on the map. Without that, I’m not sure I could find those places my dad showed us when he and my mom made the trek with us in 2015. My dad gave Joe his love of trout fishing, and they both relished the “off the beaten path, hard to find holes” so much!
Even as I sit here imagining all of those places void of Joe, it is through tears. It will be hard; I know that. But it’s okay and to be expected. I now know I can do hard things. It will never be the same here without him, but I’m making sure it’s one of the most healing trips I’ve taken so far. My dad, who we lost in 2017, will be here with me too. He’s the one responsible for bringing us here to this most amazing of places. It truly is God’s country.
My faith has become stronger by the day. (I don’t know how anyone is getting through the world in the state that it’s in without it), and I do not doubt for one minute that God is guiding me. I am living and doing by Intuition. Everything I need will be provided, somehow, someway. It always is. I’ve dreamed many times of going to a cabin in the woods alone, uninterrupted, to write, and now I’m doing it. And the love for travel…well, it’s in my blood…I am a gypsy! I accept and embrace it.
I’m proud of myself for doing this. I’m growing into “me” more and more as the days pass, and it feels incredible!
And… all is well. This is what’s meant to be.
I hope that if you’re going through a period of suffering that you can somehow find peace. For me it’s by facing it head on. Maybe for you it’s necessary for a more gentle approach. Journaling about it, talking about it, or maybe just walking daily, and listening to what thoughts come up. It’s not easy. It’s not comfortable. But it is necessary in order to grow into the you that you’re meant to be. There is always contrast. Contrast is good. Don’t stay stuck. Ask for help if you need it and please give yourself some grace. We all need some grace.
I made this video after our 2018 trip. Another gift.
To your healing, and to mine.
xo, and peace.
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I just want the pain to stop… (video)
Suicide is not a selfish act. It’s a desperate act.
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