I am not an outdoorsy type of girl. Growing up, my brothers were always running around outside while I stuck around inside right alongside my mother. So, when an old college roommate suggested about five months ago that we take our families camping at Garner State Park, I wasn’t entirely excited but jumped at the chance because I knew that the boys would love it. When I mentioned our plans to Paul, he looked at me and said, “Can you handle camping?”. And of course I said, “Who knows but i’ll do it if it means the boys will like it and I know they will”.
Two months passed and the camping plans were still on. And then the phone call came in from Joaquin’s surgeon stating that his 3rd open heart surgery was right around the corner. And so I called my friend and suggested that we move our camping trip to early November because I was confident that Joaquin would be recovering nicely by then.
Fast forward five weeks. Since Joaquin’s passing, I will do anything to keep my only living child happy. And so, the trip was still on. This past Friday we loaded up the van with our tent, tons of blankets and a very happy and excited little six year old. Paul was over the moon thrilled that not only was Alejandro happy but also at the fact that I was showing genuine interest and excitement. We picked Alejandro up from school at lunch time and we were off.
The road trip was quite honestly horrendous and long. I underestimated our drive time by one hour so instead of a four hour trip it was now five. Halfway through the trip, Paul got pulled over – twice within 30 minutes of each other (both warnings thank God) and as we got closer we lost cell phone service as well as Mrs. Roads (what they boys named the navigation system on my cell phone during our trip to Disneyworld this past July) and Paul got lost (although he swears he always knew where he was going). Seven looooong hours later down narrow two lane roads and we were finally there. Once we got there we waited yet another hour before getting to our campsite. When we finally saw our friends, they were sinus-headache tired. Our camping trip was not starting off fun.
Once the grown ups finally put the kids to bed, we were finally able to unwind by the warm fire with some adult beverages. I was finally able to relax. And I enjoyed the time outdoors. As the evening wore on and the cool air enveloped us, my friend and I decided it was time to crash. The men stayed up and I lay down next to Alejandro. As tired as I was I could not sleep. I considered taking Tylenol PM but then thought “What if some crazed man tried to murder us and I’m groggy”. No Tylenol PM. I tossed and turned. Two hours later I realized that Paul was outside still manning the fire while my friend’s husband retired to their tent. I called him in thinking that perhaps I couldn’t sleep without him in our tent. Wrong. Once he was in, the heebie jeebies really started to kick in. I started seeing shadows, hearing things and Paul wasn’t outside to keep watch. And I was freezing. I tossed and turned some more and then I realized…if I did get murdered, what was the worst thing that would happen? That’s right! I would die and go to heaven and see my sweet Joaquin. With his darling face on my mind, I finally drifted off to sleep in the middle of the beautiful outdoors.
When I woke up I was thankful for making it through my first night in the great outdoors. The rest of the day was amazing and beautiful. Garner State Park was gorgeous with it’s crystal clear river and huge hills. We hiked up one very large hill and I of course thought of Joaquin. The hike was long and steep in some places and Alejandro was managing well. Had Joaquin been with us he would have needed a lot of breaks to catch his breath and even so, he wouldn’t have made it. My friend’s four year old daughter was hiking effortlessly next to Alejandro but Joaquin would have needed to be carried by Paul. It wouldn’t have mattered. Joaquin would have had a blast.
Amidst the beauty of God’s country we were really missing Joaquin. The sadness consumed me. On several occasions I found myself just bursting into tears behind my sunglasses as we walked alongside the river or hiked along the campgrounds. Watching the kids sitting around the campfire made me envision him devouring his s’mores. And then it hit me. Anything fun these days, although making me smile, will also make me cry. The irony of my life. It is indeed bittersweet. And for the first time in a good while, I allowed myself to ask God, “Why?” My question didn’t last long though. As quickly as I asked it, I let it go. It is not my place to ask that question. It’s not my place to truly understand it. It was only my job to love Joaquin and accept what God’s plan was for us. And I have. But even with peace and acceptance in my heart, I am still allowed to picture him in my daily life and miss him like crazy.