Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bittersweet Homecoming

Early last spring, we began planning a trip for this fall to the place I call home: Walt Disney World in Florida. 

An older painting: "Disney's Grand Floridian Resort and Spa"

While we knew that his health was declining, we had no way of knowing that by the time that trip was only weeks away, my father would be gone.

We knew things weren’t good, but had no concrete answers from doctors, no absolute proof that he was in the end stages of his life, until he had a massive stroke in October and then ended up spending eleven hellishly long days in hospice, dying.

It very rarely takes someone in his condition, removed from life support, so long to die.

When he passed, our trip was three weeks away.

How could we possibly go, I wondered? Yet a voice in my heart answered the question for me immediately: we had to go, because Dad wanted us to go. He knew about the trip before the stroke and was happy we were going. My mother was all set to babysit our cat, and she insisted to me throughout the hospital ordeal that we “Had go to, because Dad wanted you too.”

I came to the decision I wanted to celebrate my father’s life in his favorite place in the world, not only mourn the end of it.

What a celebration it was. Bittersweet, with memories around every corner to bring tears to my eyes as quickly as they also brought wistful smiles. We happened to be staying at his favorite hotel, in the same building where he had stayed with us on a previous trip.

We saw his favorite show (The Captain Jack Sparrow Pirate Tutorial) also my favorite show, and reminisced about how my father had never seemed happier in Disney than the time he got to watch my then twelve year old daughter sword fight with the Captain himself… on what would turn out to be his very last trip to Walt Disney World.

I cried, mostly when mentioning him to various Cast Members I met and chatted with at our resort. They were so kind, sympathetic and encouraging. I knew we’d made the right choice to go. My husband and I both desperately needed to get away from home for a little while. To go, as my husband calls it, “into the bubble” that Disney creates around you in which it almost seems nothing bad can ever happen in the world. Especially losing a parent.

The sound of children laughing was soothing to my soul. The sound of kids melting down brought back memories of my own days as a young parent. Painfully vivid recollections, all.

But there were also moments of happiness, as I floated almost feeling out of my body through the whole experience. I tried to be in the moment as much as I could, and for the most part I managed to be; but when I got to the airport for the return trip home, hearing bad news blaring from the TVs overhead and hearing our flight was delayed because of snow at home (first of the year, just our luck) and rain in Orlando, reality hit with a thud. Also, I had the sinking feeling I was getting sick, which was confirmed the next day when I ended up at Urgent Care.

So I’ve spent the days since we got home in bed, trying to recover from this thing that’s taken over my respiratory system. Thanksgiving is upon us and we order our dinner from a local restaurant where the chef raises his own turkeys but I don’t know if I’ll be able to taste the food—a side effect of my sickness. My husband now has a cold and so the holiday weekend will be one of recovery for us both.

And a weekend of remembering all the brunches we had with Dad on Thanksgivings past at the local Hyatt Regency hotel before it changed hands to another owner; days filled with laughter and memories of other trips, and other people who had left empty spaces at our table.

This year, there is another empty space, impossible to fill with any amount of memories.

We miss you, Dad.

Thank you for doing what you called “trading pieces of paper to make memories” with us when we were children, and as we grew up and you enjoyed trips with us, and your only Granddaughter.

In the end, it’s because of you that Walt Disney World will always feel like home to me, and that is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.

Thank you for the magic.