I have made two road trips in the last five days. Both were for family events, one happy, and one very sad.
My nephew (my mother’s youngest grandchild) had his First Communion on Sunday. It was a lovely occasion and a good reason to take my aging mother on a road trip. It means so much to her to spend time with her grandchildren, and some are farther away than others so we work to make that happen. Mom still drives at age 84 and does pretty well with it. She drives around her own town, and easily makes the half hour trip to my home. But anything more than an hour behind the wheel has started to make her a little nervous. So she looks for a designated driver and often that’s me.
I have no problem driving my mother places. It’s the least I can do for her. She raised five children and we ought to be good for something, right? So we help her out with a few things here and there, and I seem to be the one behind the wheel most often.
My nephew’s First Communion was about 175 miles away: about 2½ hours all on Interstate highways and pretty easy driving for me. Then, just a day before we were prepared to make that trip, my aunt passed away. She lived 250 miles away, almost five hours in the car through forest land and over a lot of mountains. So I said to my mother, “We can make both trips, but are you sure that you’re up to it?” Again, she is 84. But she was certain that she wanted to make both trips. So we did.
We had a nice time with my sister’s family, helping to celebrate her son’s big step in his religious upbringing. Then we drove home where we spent one night, before I picked her up the next morning for the longer trip to see my uncle and cousins and pay our final respects to my aunt. That trip was definitely more emotional, as it is always hard to say goodbye. My aunt was a vibrant woman with a huge heart, a sly smile, and a lilting laugh. She was my father’s only sister, and my mother’s only sister-in-law, so we were all there: my mother, my sisters, and my brother and sister-in-law. It was important to us to be there to say goodbye to our much-adored aunt, and to remind her remaining family that we will always feel connected to them even without her physical presence.
The trip home was not as easy. We took a much longer route in order to avoid torrential rains and extreme flooding in parts of central Pennsylvania. Taking this longer route left me thinking about a lot of things; mainly about how our life journeys are all different but generally lead to the same end.
Most of us take the long road in life. We grow up and grow older before we even know it has happened, yet the look back sometimes feels like a long one. We sat around with my cousins after the funeral, reflecting on our times together as children and our shared experiences. My mom and my uncle chimed in here and there, recalling some details from time to time and reminding us of events we hadn’t considered.
My aunt had suffered from cancer for over a dozen years. She fought that wretched illness very hard, unwilling to leave her family any earlier than she had to. She lived to see her eldest granddaughter marry, and to see the arrival of two great grandchildren. She lived her life to the fullest, traveling and spending time with family as much as she could. She took the long way home.
My mom is doing the same thing. She wants to be with her family during this leg of her journey. For now, I am her sometimes chauffeur. And while her backseat driving really pushes my buttons, I bite my tongue and try to ignore it, because she is an octogenarian and getting closer to finding her way home. We hope it will be a long way off, but we never really know for sure.
These back to back trips were important for our family, and the events themselves are analogous to our life journeys: from beginning to end we follow our own path. And if we’re lucky, we take the long way home.