Grief is ever evolving.  You never stop grieving after the loss of someone you love, but your grief does evolve over time.

I’ve said many times before that January 21, 2005 was the most painful day of my life.  Today, 16 years later, that statement remains true.  January 21, 2005 was the day my mother received her wings.

Some people think that I should move on, that I shouldn’t talk about my mom as much as I do, but those people never lost anyone that was near and dear to them.  You see, once you feel that loss, that pain, you never get over it, and that’s perfectly normal.  That is the is absolute essence of being a human being.  No, those of us who have experienced that loss don’t lock ourselves in our rooms and cry all day, every day, wishing that we had one more day with that person that we loved so dearly and lost.  But we do certainly see life through a different lens.  We have a greater appreciation for those who we still have here with us on earth.

The stages of grief are complex and unique for each and every one of us who has felt that loss.  There is the initial shock, the feeling that your world is crumbling, that you can’t face a single day without them.  Then one day goes by, and another, and another, and you realize that you can face each day without them.  You’re just facing those days differently than you did with them.  Life goes on.  It is different, but it still goes on.

As days turn into months, and months turn into years, you still remember them.  Sometimes at what you think are the most random times, but in reality, they are not random times at all.  Sometimes, years later, you do still cry during some of those most random times.  Sometimes because you still miss them.  Sometimes because you wish that they were there to share a moment with you.  Sometimes because you hear a certain song.  Sometimes because you remember all of the things that they did that make you proud.  Sometimes because you think that the thing that you are doing right now might make them proud.  Sometimes because of something that you see on the clock, or on a billboard, or on a restaurant menu, or in a sunrise, or a sunset, or absolutely nothing at all.  You just think of them and you cry.  Yes, years and years later, you may still just think of them and cry.

And that is perfectly okay.  That is perfectly normal.  That is being perfectly human.

Life goes on and grief evolves.  Just like we as humans are evolving every day.  We are not the same person that we were last year or the year before that, and we’re certainly not the same as we were ten or fifteen years ago.  So, as we evolve, so does our grief evolve.

Had anyone asked me three or five or ten years ago what I’d be doing today, my answer would not have been correct.  I would have never thought that I’d be doing what I am doing today.

I always admired what my mom did when she decided to leave the safe haven of selling insurance and converting a 1967 Plymouth Valiant into a makeshift mini-RV.  There was a song years ago that talked about being country before country was cool, well that was my mom, she was living nomad life before it was cool for sure.  But for me to do it, it wasn’t my cup of tea.  Yes, I enjoyed traveling, I enjoyed when my old organization would take teams to Atlanta, Myrtle Beach, Las Vegas, Florida, and so many other places.  For me, that was how I was satisfying my nomad craving.  I would have never in a million years envisioned myself sitting in a campground next to the water on a beautiful sun-drenched day in Key West on the 16th anniversary of my mother’s passing.  Yet, here I am, with my wife and dog.  Just sitting here in Key West after five months of traveling, 22 states, and almost 12,000 miles under our belts, here we are.  Living a life that we would have never expected to be living and enjoying every second of it.

If there is one regret that I have regarding my mom, it is that I never asked her for more details of why she what she did.  Yes, she told me that many of her friends had just returned from traveling abroad and telling her how beautiful other countries were and it made her realize that God had given us an absolutely stunning country right here in our own back yard and that most of us never take the time to enjoy it, so she wanted to take the time to enjoy it.  I was 16 when she started her travels, so I guess that I just took it for face value, she wanted to see the country.  Now that I have been doing it for a few months, I believe that there was so much more behind her decision to travel.  Yes, she was enjoying seeing the country, connecting with friends and family, volunteering, and paying it forward, but there was more.  I seem to believe now that it was also a spiritual journey for her as well.

I know for myself; this is as much of a spiritual journey for me as it is a physical journey.

I first felt this tugging three years ago, on this very same day.  Traveling back from the World Baseball & Softball Coaches’ Convention in Connecticut on January 21, 2018.  I was with two dear friends of mine that were involved in our organization.  It was a tough day for me emotionally because I was also coming home from a coaching convention in 2005 when I received the news that my mom was being rushed into heart surgery.  Shortly after returning home, I received the news that she didn’t make it through the surgery.  The convention in 2018 was the first that I had attended in awhile and the entire weekend I felt as though I was getting signs from my mom and the Lord to break from the norm.  I was getting in a rut with our organization, and even though I was away on business, it was a break from the normal everyday grind.  On our way home as we were looking for a place to eat dinner, we ended up pulling off of I-95 and into a 9/11 Memorial in Westport, Connecticut at the Sherwood Island State Park.  This was no coincidence that we ended up at a 9/11 memorial on the 13th anniversary of my mother’s death.  As we walked around the park and looked at the memorial there was a heaviness in the air.  The three of us spoke about how almost 3,000 people lost their lives that day simply because they went to work.  As we looked out across the Long Island Sound at the New York City skyline, I could feel my mom with me.  I felt as though her ashes were in the Sound that day beside us.  I felt a special serenity the rest of the drive home.  Her and the Lord were still speaking to me, but I didn’t know what they were trying to tell me.

A year later, I drove to Dallas by myself for the American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) Convention.  I left early in order to be able to take my time on the trip.  This is something that I had never done before – enjoy the journey.  Again, while on the road, the Lord was speaking to me.  The peace and serenity that I felt as I was driving was almost overwhelming.  This is when I began to feel that my mother’s journey was much more spiritual than I had ever understood before.

On the way to Dallas, I stopped at the old Loraine Motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated, which is now the National Civil Rights Museum.  In Dallas, I conducted a lot of business, but also enjoyed my time there.  I met some great new colleagues in person for the first time.  I connected and had dinner with my old friends, Leah Amico and Crystl Bustos, and they introduced me to a new friend Melany Torres.  From Dallas, I drove five hours into Sulphur, Louisiana to see my friends Lori Pritchard, Jennie Finch, Mark and Vanessa Daigle, and Mark and Shirley Simon.  We had a little get together at Jennie’s house on Saturday and I went to church with Lori, Jennie, and their families on Sunday before driving back to Pennsylvania that afternoon.  That trip alone, I traveled through 12 states and covered almost 3,000 miles.  I was beginning to understand why my mom did what she did.  Connecting with people that you love and being close to the Lord while enjoying the journey was starting to speak to my heart.

One last solo road trip in 2019 is definitely what pushed me over the edge.

In late February, I drove to Orlando to do market research and participate in an Ali Krieger Adult Football (Soccer) Camp.  Once again, I took my time on the drive.  I stopped to see one of my former players, Zac Schneider in Atlanta and stayed with my cousin Carole in Orlando while I was there for the camp.  Like my trip a month earlier, I enjoyed the journey.  I caught up with family and got to spend some quality time with my good friends Cynthia, Melissa, Ali and the rest of the AKFC team.  On my drive back, I went out of my way to enjoy the journey.  I was getting the bug.

While I was in Florida, my cousin Patty said to me, “I can see you doing what your mom did some day.”  I just laughed when she said that and said, “No way.”  Somehow, she knew something that I didn’t.

Now here I am, three years to the day that I first started feeling that tug that it was time to make a change.  Doing what my mom did, but also in my own style as well.  Our RV is a bit bigger than the Toyota camper that she eventually migrated to.  We’re enjoying the moment, helping others, and connecting to the Lord spiritually in a way that we never have before.

I still grieve over the loss of my mother, but I know that she is here with us every day.  She was with us at the Sebastian Inlet, she has been with us here next to the water in Key West.  She’s with us when we enjoy a sunrise or a sunset.

I enjoy the beach more now than I ever did.  I enjoy the little things in life more now than I ever did.  I enjoy being in the moment more now than I ever did.

Yes, I still grieve, but my grief has evolved just as I have.