I spent thanksgiving in Southern California with my in-law family. As much as I was looking forward to the trip, part of me was dreading it--the "unknown" part of it. I didn't ever want to have to celebrate a holiday without Ken. I wasn't sure how it would go. And that was scary.
As much as I would have liked to avoid it, the holiday--as did my trip to Cali--loomed closer every day. But the closer it came the more excited I got. Not necessarily about the holiday, but to see family and friends. It was an important trip. Weighty. And in my eyes would set the tone of future trips--of which I would expect there to be many. But denying my underlying "what if" methodology I took the trip day-by-day, and sometimes moment-by-moment.
The last time I'd been to Los Angeles was with Ken for Xmas of 2009--just after we learned his cancer had returned and a hemipelvectomy was our greatest, best hope. We knew we wouldn't be traveling for quite some time. (Though Ken shattered expectations--and probably records--in his recovery and flew out six months later to surprise his dad for his 70th birthday.) It was a weighty trip as well. Punctuated by an early flight home to tend to our ailing 16-year-old Chow Chow who died shortly after our return. Hurried and scarring in ways we didn't have time to address at the time.
But on this trip spending time with my friends and the family--particularly my nephews--was a powerful and positive reminder that life continues, and joys and laughter abound in some of the most unremarkable moments. I learned perspective is a powerful thing. To lose it, devastating. To have it, extraordinary. And we must experience both at times in our lives. I learned still can party until 2 AM (though the price paid the next day is greater than I recall it being.)
I was reminded that family bonds don't change and, in fact, strengthen in the wake of loss, and that I will always have a home in LA. I learned that we are all resilient because it's who we are and as much as who we have to be. I was reminded that in spite of what I may have lost this year, I'm the luckiest man in the world and have more to be thankful for than I could ever express in words.
This trip also reminded me of some things that used to be so normal--visiting family--but haven't been normal in the past year or so. I'm grateful for every moment spent with Ken and that so many friends and family made it a priority to do so as well. But it feels good to spend time with the family...just because. Without the vice grip of some impending darkness. A return to a normality that isn't really normal at all…yet.
On the flight home, looking at photos I'd taken on the trip, something occurred to me: PadLo was a unique creation on his own, but became something special and worthy once Ken loved him. The same can be said for how Ken's love changed my life incalculably. And seeing PadLo hanging out with other unique creations made sense to me. Ken will forever be the reason I came into his family--now, my family. And the members of that family all experienced loving and being loved by him. They are all special and worthy, too.