These past two weeks have been incredibly nourishing, relaxing, and overflowing with love - two of the best weeks of my life. Months ago, when one of my daughters suggested we all go on a family vacation to Hawaii this year, it was an easy sell. The last time our family had spent extended holiday time together was when the kids were in their teens. So on November 1st, off we flew. En route, it did come up that this would be a bittersweet experience since the circumstances would also bring a heightened sense of our loss. However, we knew that the joyful energy of the two little ones would be a wonderful asset. And I reminded my family that there would be obvious signs from Michael denoting his presence, and indeed, there were many.
Our first morning on the Big Island happened to coincide with my birthday. When I awoke, I lay alone in bed for a few minutes, gazing out at the palm trees before joining everyone downstairs. The waves of sadness were eased with the overwhelming gratitude I felt to be starting my new year in such an extraordinary way. Later that afternoon, while our grandchildren were napping, my husband and I explored a nearby ocean side trail which wound its way over black lava rock, with chunks of dead, white coral scattered on either side. Minutes into our walk, I was overjoyed to see the first sign: a heart-shaped piece of coral lying in the middle of the path.
A little further along, we discovered numerous heart outlines, perhaps fifty, or more, created with white coral pieces, most containing words or initials inside. I could hardly believe my eyes - I had never seen anything like it. The white hearts looked gorgeous against the backdrop of the black lava and I wondered if I would see K & M, but did not. We were approaching the end of the trail which opened up onto a small, sandy beach and were about to ascend the stairs leading away from the shore when I saw it - a huge, black lava heart outline lying in the sand, about 2 metres high, containing the letters MJG! Michael James Gibson. A poignant birthday present. Since I was without a camera, I planned on returning the following day to take a photo. After walking a ways along the resort path, we turned around in order to follow the trail back to our townhouse. When we were back at the top of the stairway, we looked down and saw a couple who were rearranging the initials in the heart beside "ours" to make it their own. They had a phone and when asked, happily agreed to email me a photo of the heart containing MJG. They joked that it was a good thing we came along when we did, otherwise "ours" might have been changed as well. It had not occurred to me that these hearts were in constant flux and indeed, the following day, MJG was gone.
Midway through the trip, it was the large, cheeky turtle marked with the number 13 (a resident of the Honu family inhabiting the popular bay we were snorkeling in) playfully hip-checking a unsuspecting male snorkeler, that made me smile. Michael had had an affinity for turtles, and his favourite number was 13.
And on the final evening, while standing on the shore, watching the most magnificent sunset of our trip, all of us laughing as my granddaughter splashed fully clothed in the waves, we took up the offer of a fellow tourist to have our family photo taken. While posing for the shot, I was filled to the brim with love, and missed my son deeply. Just as the picture was being taken, my heart melted as I realized that the song being played by the musicians behind us, at the beach restaurant we had just left, was Somewhere Over the Rainbow, one of the three songs played during Michael's service.
This family vacation has been two full weeks of feeling blessed beyond belief.