The story of my daughter Jill’s camper after her death has had many painful twists and turns, with a bittersweet ending. But her camper’s final destination is contributing to a healing smile on my heart.
It has been five years since she drowned in a kayaking accident in Tennessee. One of the most heart searing memories of my life is going up the hill to her campsite, opening the door to her camper, and knowing that she would never return from that trip down the river. It will take me the rest of my life to grapple with the enormity of that thought, of that loss.
For me, one of the worse parts of trying to cope with her death was what to do with her possessions. I am still trying to perfect the steady courage to deal with her writing. I did collect and publish her poems on line. I have a novel she wrote that I am trying to read without tears. My courage comes and goes with deep black holes of grief in between readings. Her writing is her voice, her soul, and is comforting in a way, because I hear her voice and feel her presence when I am reading her writing, but then I look up from it and see her empty camper. I know in my head that possessions are not the person, but in my heart, she lingers on in her possessions like her writing, her clothes, her books, her truck, and her camper. I shared her writing with family and friends, because I knew that’s what she would want me to do. I gave her clothes, including her nursing scrubs to Goodwill, because she was a giving, sharing person and I knew that’s what she would want me to do. I shared some of her books and gave her truck to her brother.
Shortly after her death, I had promised her brother he could have the camper, but then I couldn’t bear to part with it, so he brought it to our home in Ohio from his home in Georgia.
Her camper, I hugged closer to my heart, because it was the home of her heart and I knew how much it meant to her and what it represented in her life. It sat in our garage with a brief interlude at my brother’s house, for four years. I would sneak out and run my hands over it, go inside and imagine she was there talking to me. Anything to bring her back into my life again. I missed her so much, how much I couldn’t even admit to myself, because I would dissolve into fragments of grief if I did.
Whenever I glanced at the camper through the garage window, my conscience like her voice often had done, would nudge me and wonder if she really would want me to allow her camper to deteriorate in the garage. Once, a fisherman offered me $1,000 for it, but I couldn’t give it up. My feelings for her were so intertwined with it that somehow the vision of it sitting snugly in our garage made me feel closer to her. I knew it wasn’t rational, but I missed her so.
August 29th is the anniversary of her death. We are now close to another August 29th and it still feels like I am getting the terrible news for the first time. I see the sheriff and his team standing on the front steps with solemn faces and hear them tell me about the accident. I think about the last five years and how at times I feel her presence and cherish the memories of our life together and our relationship. Neither of us was perfect, and we didn’t always agree. But we loved each other, and love has a way of smoothing things out enough to keep two people working together for a relationship.
She used to nag me about things I found it difficult to face. I heard her nagging about the camper no matter how hard I tried to close the listening ears in my mind. I knew exactly what she would want me to do with her camper.
A week ago, my son came to pick up the camper and take it to its new home in Georgia. I didn’t want to see it go. I managed not to cry visibly in front of him and his wife , but I cried inside as I watched it disappear down the alley behind our house. It seemed like she was disappearing from my life in that camper, again, like she had when she first drove it away from me. I didn’t physically chase it down the alley, but in my heart I did. I was still chasing her to heaven, wanting to bring her back.
Tonight, my son sent me a picture of her camper that he had set up in his yard. He and his wife are going take it on the road. She loved taking her camper on the road and she and her camper had many adventures together. I looked at the picture and I knew that she would be adventuring on the road with her camper again. And, she is not leaving me behind. Heaven and earth are not as far apart as we think, and while she is busy with God’s work in heaven, she is still here beside me on earth. We started our journey together when she was born and we still are journeying together, this time in separate worlds, but joined by God and our love for each other. It is getting a little easier to say, “Happy Heavenly Camping, Jill.”