a whirlwind goodbye

One week ago today, I was flying to Denver with about an hour’s notice to say goodbye to my Aunt Verna, who I recently found out was in hospice after a decade battling brain cancer.

Andrew and I had planned to fly out in a week or so, but when it became clear she didn’t have that much time, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to go–no matter what. So, fearing I’d be too late, I had my mom list me on some flights (my stepmom, Kim, is a flight attendant so I can fly standby) and I threw clothes in a suitcase for Maelle and me. I knew flying solo with an infant would be challenging, but I’d take it one step at a time.

Within an hour, we were on our way to the airport and I couldn’t decide if I was completely crazy or if I was following the urging of the Holy Spirit. I’d been praying about going, and I stepped out in faith that this was how we were to get there. I kissed Andrew goodbye, put on a brave face and walked into the airport lugging Maelle in her car seat, wearing a backpack diaper bag and rolling a suitcase beside me.

I love Maelle’s face as we settled into our first flight:

Thankfully, we breezed onto both flights that day, and even got a whole row (albeit the back) to ourselves on the long haul to Denver from Newark. I quickly became adept at changing diapers (and outfits!) in airport bathrooms and even in my seat. Maelle was a champ and we arrived in Denver in one piece, if not a little tired.  Our touchdown at 7:15 pm Denver time was 9:15 Eastern time…aka Maelle’s bedtime.

I hopped in the rental car Andrew had arranged (an Explorer!), fed the baby, then drove 45 minutes to my aunt’s house where my (biological) mom was waiting for me. My aunt had been going downhill quickly and hadn’t been eating or drinking for a few days, and was largely unresponsive. I barely recognized her when I got upstairs. That night, my aunt opened her eyes and saw Maelle and me. I was touched that she had Maelle’s birth announcement and a recent photo I’d sent by her hospital bed.

I hadn’t been to visit my aunt since I was 14, but her home was just how I remembered it. Flowers and photos everywhere. My aunt had been so full of life before her cancer diagnosis, and she enjoyed hiking with my Uncle BJ. I’ll never forget the shape of her mouth and her robust laugh.

She was an avid football fan, and especially liked Peyton Manning, who was the longtime quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts (Andrew’s favorite team) and who then moved to the Denver Broncos for his last few years playing. Aunt Verna and Andrew used to talk football on the phone.

I knew this would be a special trip, since I’d see my half-brother, Eric, and my Uncle Roy in addition to seeing mommy.  Eric lives in Texas with his wife, Jenny, and has two young sons of his own. Denver got an early snowstorm on Thursday morning and the Texans were excited to see it!

I think Maelle brought a lot of joy to this otherwise somber occasion. She was her smiley self and enjoyed being held by her family. I was able to see my aunt briefly each day, visit with my family, be a listening ear to my uncle, and say goodbye.  My aunt passed a few days after I left.  I know God had his hand on us throughout the entire trip, from getting us onto all our flights (even the oversold one out of Denver!), to the SUV Andrew rented for us (so out of character) that helped me drive in the snow.  Maelle even needed her first dose of Tylenol one evening, and I’m thankful she didn’t come down with anything during or after our trip.

While I was out there, I was texting with some girlfriends, one of whom recently experienced the loss of a family member to suicide, as well as currently has a friend losing their own battle with cancer.  They remarked about how short life is, and that we needed to hang out soon.  It made me think of my family members who don’t live close and who I’d like to see again before it’s too late.  I think Andrew and I are due for some travel soon.

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