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“Pre-Trip: Jacksonville”

I’ve always believed Christmas is a time to travel towards friends or family. It’s a time to surround yourself with loved ones next to blazing fires, sipping hot chocolate, while A Christmas Story plays on the television. It harkens delicious smells of roast turkeys and casseroles and the sweet aromas of pies for dessert. Just thinking of those things brings them to the center of your pre-frontal cortex, striking feelings of joy and excitement that race down to your core.

This is the picture so many of us have, myself included. I reflect back to the first Christmases after my mother died. They were ironically the most vivid. It seemed the adults wanted to make sure my siblings and I got everything we wanted, and so treated us like pampered royalty. Tons of boxes and bags in garish Christmas wrapping concealed the floor under the ornate trees at our house, Nan and Pap’s house, and Gram and Pappy’s place.

A massive turkey waited to be carved and served, while smaller dishes lined up in prostration around its succulent form. My whole family sat with expectant faces, taste buds ready to dig into the feast sprawled out before them.

Years later, by the time I got married, my own family’s traditions were slowly fading. My grandparents had passed on. My aunts were getting too old to host meals like they used to. But my husband’s family was bigger, younger, and still did all the Christmas traditions, so I was lucky enough to enjoy a few more years of the iconic Christmases.

That is until December of 2020, the year everyone’s Christmas changed, and mine even more so because it was the year my husband told me he was leaving me.

The pandemic was an unexpected monkey wrench in the world’s plans. Death, destruction, and the unknown hovered over everyone. In the midst of holiday pandemic plans, the fear, the loss, and the desperate hope for a better four years politically, I had lost everything in a different way.

I know loss of any kind is devasting. Loss of a parent or loved one. Loss of a friend or beloved animal. Loss of a marriage to the person you thought would be your partner forever. All loss resonates with us in similar ways. We feel an overwhelming sense of sadness. Our minds do not seem to function in the same way. Our bodies become tense and unfamiliar. We either cannot eat at all for the lump in our stomach, or suddenly depend on eating as a way to cope. My head knows all this and should have been prepared. But can we ever be completely prepared for the emotions and feelings associated with what is our loss, our life?

Months of pain, confusion, anger, blame, guilt, and tears brought me to my first Christmas holiday post-pandemic and post-divorce, alone and wondering who I was and who I was becoming.

I knew I could go home to the safety and security of my dad, my aunt, my sister, and brother. But there wasn’t much else. We would not have a typical Christmas celebration. There wasn’t a need for it anymore. We had no grandparents from the old generations and no children for the new. I would be going back for a visit, not a holiday gathering.

My ex-husband’s family was out of the question. Not one single person reached out to wish me a happy birthday in October let alone invite me to their Christmas meal. If my ex and his new partner were there, it would not have been a possibility anyway.

This realization led me to consider what I wanted to do for Christmas. Did I want to stay in a city in which I lived for almost 10 years, triggered by memories of my ex, or did I want to leave the bitter-sweetness of my adoptive home and explore uncharted territory? I chose the latter. I chose North Carolina.

The reasons were simple: North Carolina had both of my favorite things: mountains and beaches. The state was also conveniently half way between my home state of Pennsylvania and my current home, Florida. I considered living there, hoping for a magic message when I arrived, nudging me in the direction of this fresh start. I planned on spending two weeks exploring the areas of Asheville, Maggie Valley, Charlotte, and Oak Island.

Published in Travel

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Heart of Healing
Jacksonville, Florida

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