Military Widow Finds Comfort and Therapy in Vacationing

Author: Sarah Greene

I have felt the pull to visit places and take vacations that my husband talked about but never got the chance to visit. I want to visit these places for several reasons: to honor him, feel close to him, fulfill his vision of seeing the parts of the world, and see the world for myself. Alaska was highest on his destination wish list, so that will be a must. We used to say, "When the kids are up and out, we are going to rent an RV and travel cross country." Sadly, I am now at that point in my life, and although I may not get to do that, I will see many other things and I will think of him everywhere I go.


On the first anniversary of his death, I took my kids on a mini vacation to the beach to learn to surf. I hesitated to do this activity because I did not want my kids to think I was disrespecting their dad by indulging in a fun day at the beach. But I explained that their dad would want us to "get out there" and enjoy life and do new things. I said we could do these things for him since he was not here to do them; it would be a way to honor him, and he would truly want us to have fun. They seemed to be fine with this explanation and excited for the day at the beach. 

On that beautiful, yet emotionally heavy, July day, we paddled out into the unknown. I tried to relax although my thoughts were in a different place. I did my best to show my enjoyment and grief conquering determination. My kids tumbled in the waves and smiled as they struggled to get on their boards. We tried and failed repeatedly. The surf was strong and overpowering. And it was loud. However, once we were out beyond the breakers, I heard another hauntingly familiar sound off in the distance. It became louder and nearer. Then it was upon us.

Directly overhead, only a few hundred feet above us, was the exact type of military helicopter my husband used to fly. We were nowhere near a military base and not in any known flight path for aircraft like this. I could not believe what I was seeing. Without thinking, I smiled and waved, bobbing up and down. The surf instructor must have looked on in puzzlement but I lost track of why we were there. The salty ocean waves washed my tears as they came in torrents. I choked on my words as I said "Daddy sent a helicopter to say "Hi" and he is so glad we are doing something fun on this day. My kids were thrilled, smiling, and waving too. 

The next attempts at riding waves were more successful. Each of us managed to get up on the board at some point and ride a wave in. Perhaps, it was the lift from seeing that familiar symbol, or the rush of remembering and knowing, but more importantly we were out doing what he would want us to do. We were living. I am so glad we did not stay at home that day or we never would have gotten that sign from above.

I will say that in the years since my husband died, there has been a learning curve on how to travel again with kids. The first trips were difficult. At first, I remember constantly thinking "he should be here" and worrying about security in hotel rooms, etc. I hated requesting a table for three at restaurants. Also, it was hard to enjoy the trips because I was event planner, security guard, tour guide, food provider, shelter provider, transportation provider, etc. With the insult of missing my husband and all of the responsibility, there was little room for relaxing or enjoying. I have a distinct memory of a trip to visit Gettysburg Battlefields. It was late in the day, we were all tired, and the only hotel I could find was in a bad part of town. Some of the people hanging around the pool were drunk and disorderly. We checked in, I discreetly told my kids the room number and asked them not to say it out loud for security reasons. As we walked along the corridor by the pool, my pre-teen daughter announced, "We're in room 226, right, Mom?" Haha.

Since then, we have been on some great memory-making trips, and they have been very rewarding and healing. It takes time to find your comfort zone and if you like control, I would advise taking small trips close to home to start the "traveling again" phase. Even in a smaller family unit, it is worth seeing the wonders of the world together. Maybe, someday, I will convince my kids to join me on an RV excursion.