Last week, Mike, Shelby and I packed up and drove south for the Smoky Mountains. We’ve been waiting and saving for this trip all year long. It is by far our favorite place to go unwind and explore the beauty of nature. With buckling down on our finances, we haven’t been able to do really any trips this year, so this one was especially exciting to finally get to.
There’s plenty I could talk about on this trip, but the one thing that is on my mind most is that, in this new life of mine, I am doing things that he and I dreamed of doing, and I am still bringing Andrew with me. He and I were not really much into hiking - in part due to living in the hot, flat, North Texas landscape. We camped here and there but never anywhere of note, and usually only somewhere within 30 minutes of where we lived. We always wanted to get out there and see more of the country though. Our plan for our honeymoon was to buy a little teardrop trailer and go cross country to see some of the nation’s most amazing national parks… places we had only ever dreamed of. Neither of us had ever set foot in any of these marvelous national parks, and we were about to do it together.
We never made it to those dreams together though, he died before we ever got the chance. But I have, since he died, and I’ve taken him with me for every one of them.
Still, I haven’t made it out to Yosemite or Yellowstone. But I visited the Grand Canyon just months after his death, for my 30th birthday. It was excruciating to be there without him - but it was also the only place on earth I wanted to be for that milestone in my life. And even then, I brought him with me. Weeks before the trip, I found this little yellow helicopter toy at the store, and I bought it because it reminded me of him (he was a pilot, and died flying a yellow helicopter). This little toy was cute, and silly, and somehow brought some lightness and odd cheer to me. When I looked at it, I could feel him smiling. Little did I know all the many places that tiny toy helicopter and I would go...
I took the yellocopter with me on that Grand Canyon trip. And then to Palo Duro Canyon in Texas. And in these six years, he has been with me to Barbados, Hawaii, Seattle, Alaska, Mammoth Cave in Kentucky, Virginia Beach, the St Louis Arch, Ohio, West Virginia, New Orleans, North Carolina, and more. Most recently, of course, he's been with me in the Smoky Mountains. I’ve taken him on many visits to see dear friends, and had them take a photo with the little copter too. Over all this time, I can now look back at an entire album of travels and memories that the yellocopter, and Andrew, are part of.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, I met Mike, who had lost his wife just months earlier. He saw my travels with the “Yellocopter” and he wanted a symbol like this for his wife, Megan, too. She had a ton of star tattoos, colored blue and black. So he found a little tin star at the hobby store and he and his then eight-year-old daughter painted it to look like Megan’s tattoos. Not long after, we started dating, and the tiny star befriended my yellocopter on adventures - and now they both travel around with us, every place we travel, in an altoids tin for safe keeping.
Some people are easy to dismiss this thing I do as ridiculous or otherwise judge it. But I don’t listen, and I don’t care. I just keep bringing him along with me, the way that I want to, and if they don’t want to be part of that, they don’t have to.
It does sound like a silly thing to do. And it is. But honestly, that’s the beauty of it… having a way to bring him along in my life that feels a little bit silly, and a little bit lighthearted, reminds me of the silliness we shared together when he was alive. It reminds me that I can still be silly. And it gives me a simple, easy way that I can always bring him with me in this new life. A joyful way.
He may not be physically by my side, but his presence is still physically known in my life in some way. I still have a photographic record of his presence continuing on in my new life with me. For me, that has done wonders. It has helped me to show the world, and myself, that he is here to stay, and that I’m not ever going to “get over” or “forget” him. It has helped me feel a connection to him and his fun-loving spirit even now, six years after he died.
Last week, in the Smokies, we took with the yellocopter and the tiny star quite appropriately on a hike to an overlook called “Andrew’s Bald”... a bald spot on the top of a mountain with a beautiful view. It was Mike’s idea to go there, which made it even better. They are still with us, always. They may have died, but our connection to them, our love, never ever has to die. I think this is one of the most relieving discoveries I have found on my journey. My connection to him never has to die. There is some comfort in that. I may not have gotten a choice in whether or not he died, but I do get the choice to take him with me.