Sadness and serendipity – Part 2

The trip to my nephew’s funeral was one of sadness, certainly. But also one of surprise, even serendipity.

One definition of serendipity from Webster’s is “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” That would apply to my brother’s and my experiences covered in Part 1 of meeting the hospice director and the former pastor on our respective ways to the funeral.

But with meaningful travel in general, and this trip in particular, we encountered a slightly different definition of serendipity: going in search of one thing and finding another, one that seems unrelated to the former but in fact, furthers our original journey or intent but not in the way we imagined. 

The view from Fort Phoenix, town of Fairhaven, MA, an unexpected destination…

My parents and I flew from Seattle to Providence, Rhode Island. There, we met my brother who had just arrived from Florida. We had a wonderful dinner together that first night, catching up and discussing the funeral that was to occur the following evening.

The next morning we awoke and had most of a day to do nothing. Rather than hang around the hotel all day, we decided to do something I hadn’t expected on a trip of this kind: we played tourists. In the next entry, I’ll give you a photo essay of the surprising things we encountered in Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts.

What the photos cannot reveal, however, are the moments that transformed this day from one of mourning to one of a different kind of discovery.

First, as we drove through the old sections of towns like New Bedford (former whaling capital of the world, or so they say) and Fairhaven, MA, we saw more funeral homes than I’ve ever seen before. Whether they do indeed have more mortuaries per square mile there or whether we just noticed them more this day, I cannot say. But each was a poignant reminder that even though we were enjoying a beautiful day together, the intended purpose of our trip was never too distant.

Second, we all came to realize that this was the first trip that the four of us had taken, just on our own, since I was in high school. We’ve done other vacations or family gatherings with our spouses and kids, but not just my parents and their two sons for years. My mom especially noted this, appreciated it and marveled at the time we had together, just the four of us. I tend to think of “family” as a multigenerational collection that spans both my side and my wife’s side through grandparents, uncles, nieces, in-laws – everyone who we consider to be a relation. Yet this trip revealed that something special happens when you travel with only the people who formed your tightest, most intimate circle growing up.

Third, as is often the case in times of pain and vulnerability, we appreciated each other and what we saw more. We paid better attention to the small details – meals unique to that region, comments that reveal a shared sense of humor, the cobblestones of the streets or scent of the sea. I am convinced that our joy is more noticeable when contrasted with our sadness and such was our experience this day.

We came on this trip to mourn the loss of a family member. What we ended up experiencing was a trip where we celebrated and valued dearly the family I have known since birth. It wasn’t the trip I expected. It was much better.

But then, our journeys of serendipity usually are.

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