top of page

Not on vacation.

Updated: Jul 28, 2023

My perception of time has altered since the death of our beloved Olivia.
Now, I look to timelines as guideposts through this grief journey.

On March 24th, we loaded the sum of our belongings onto our newly purchased 2019 Flagstaff fifth wheel, hitched up, and began the five-hour drive from Houston, Texas into Lago Vista, a peninsula about twenty miles north of downtown Austin.

Keith’s mother Billie, stepfather Barry, older sister Kellie, and nephews Callan & Briggs all dwell there.

We left Houston on a flicker of hope; hope that we'd supernaturally be held as everything around us, and within us, crumbled.


The first ‘leg’ of our journey was uneventful, which for RV life is what you hope and pray for.


It’s not easy to maneuver the winding roads of North Austin in any vehicle, but somehow Keith (with little-to no experience hauling trailers) managed to pull our 11,000-pound rig to safety. The relief of that first leg was only shortly experienced, because it was in Lago Vista that we uncovered obstacles that would delay us from getting back on the road until June.


Overcoming mental setbacks have become rights of passage for Keith and I, so frustratedly feeling stuck again, we fought to shake off our own perceptions.

Instead, we leaned hard into rest, and family.

We wanted to do very little while we were in Austin.

Early evenings became treasured opportunities for Keith and I to sit under the awning of our new rig and watch clouds shift under sunsets.


This daily routine produced a series of conversations:

· Hard conversations about grief.

· Admissions on own suicidal ideations.

· Conversations centered around beliefs of what we can see, and what we cannot.

· Conversations derived from anger, and frustration.

· Nonsensical conversations that left our bellies trembling with the echoes of our laughter.

· Creative conversations spawned with new ideas.

· Conversations of hope.

· Conversations of perseverance.


These conversations devastated us, they frightened us, irritated us, enlightened us, relieved us, and filled us with courage.


We call the birth of this series: Two Chairs Somewhere:

*More to come on that in the form of a book.


 

In late May, finally surrendering to the fact that we'd have to put our RV in the shop for an undisclosed amount of time, Keith turned to me and said, “Hey, why don’t we go to Puerto Rico?”

I looked back at him with wide eyes.

“Hear me out. My birthday's in a week, and the RV's in the shop for repairs. Why don't we take this opportunity to visit the island one more time?”

Knowing vacations would soon be off the table, budgetary and otherwise, I unhesitatingly agreed.


We flew into San Juan Municipal Airport on the 23rd of May:



Puerto Rico stirs up within me a conglomerate of emotions. I was born in Arecibo, a town nestled in the hills, and my memories contain some good, some traumatic.

Keith first visited Puerto Rico, in 2019, on an impromptu anniversary trip he’d planned for us. Since then, the island has captured his heart, as it's never released mine.


After disembarking, we joined the rush to baggage, a shuttle, and finally to our rental car.

Little to my knowledge, I’d have an emotional collapse on the side of the road just a short while later.

I remember driving frustratedly through lines of traffic on this beautiful island, when the despair within me began to erupt. We had three more hours ahead of us, and I just wanted it to stop. For the safety of others, I pulled our rental into an exit bluff, fled the vehicle, sat on the side of the road, and burrowed my face deep into my palms.

I wept.

I shouted at the sky.

I screamed at a mountain, “I DON’T WANT TO BE HERE ANYMORE!”

I didn’t just mean Puerto Rico.

Keith plopped onto the hard rocks and wet soil beside me.

He rubbed my back when I told him to leave me.

“I’m not leaving you, not ever. We can stay here all night for all I care.”

My body trembled and my heart palpitated unrhythmically.

I was terrified, and some part of me felt like I could curl up into a fetal position and allow the earth to swallow me into a shallow grave, if Keith had only gotten in the car and driven off.

I eventually regained my wits, my breathing, and gripped onto his outstretched hand.

So, Keith pulled me up from the ditch, literally.


I barely slept that night, but we were warmly greeted by the sun in the morning:



We used our time wisely in Puerto Rico, intentionally recharging. We spent the days in surf towns drinking fresh coconuts and floating in gentle Caribbean waters, all-the-while imagining what it would be like if we could buy a property with beach access that could serve as a retreat for families of special needs. We'd name it Casa Olivia.



We returned to Austin just before midnight on the 28th of May to $6,500 worth of RV repairs. After driving back from the shop and unhitching, Keith’s stepfather Barry would notice something not right. He'd immediately come to our rescue by re-welding parts of the RV's kingpin that were unknowingly bent.


These are the last days spent on Lake Travis, featuring Briggs:


 

On the 3rd of June, we finally departed Lago Vista!


The first leg of our journey was to Sweetwater, Texas where we were allowed to boon-dock overnight at the National WASP WWII Museum. Bob absolutely loved the pasture adjacent the airfield.


 

Our second leg brought us out of Texas and into Taiban, New Mexico where we were permitted to boon-dock on a private ranch for two days. Bob, once again, basked in the vastness of it all, and we, on sunsets. The family that hosted us are honest hardworking ranchers that brought to us pastured beef and eggs. Hidden gems: Ruth and Forest listened to our story, and asked to pray over us. We, of course, permitted! They (along with their daughter, Heidi) allowed us to stay two nights, though we’d only originally requested the one.

It was that first night (and after their prayer) a lightening storm swept over Taiban with tornado-forced winds. The RV rocked and moaned but Keith said I slept like a baby.

The next morning, much to our surprise, nothing on our RV had been damaged.


 

After spending two quiet days in Taiban, we headed north to Velarde, New Mexico (forty-five minutes south of Taos) where we were hosted by Black Mesa Winery.

Keith and I rarely drink alcohol anymore (its avoidance has been a great benefit to us) so we indulged in only a couple of cider/wine tastings, then stuck to their local artisan treats instead:



From there, we popped over to Taos, New Mexico for it's architectural beauty:


 
After the death of Olivia, we've been contemplating starting over in Colorado.

Hard-to-articulate motivators have positioned our hearts toward this picturesque state.

On the 8th of June, we finally crossed state lines:



I am writing to you from Gunnison, Colorado, where we are currently parked (below):



Gunnison is situated within a valley. It's frigid here (even in June).

Due to its placement within the Rocky Mountains, glacial air settles into the valley at night. This makes it one of the coldest places to winter in the United States (especially during snow packed seasons)!


Since arriving in Colorado, we've visited South Fork, Pagosa Springs, and Creede, all along the southern outskirts. Every part of this state has mesmerized us with its forests, mountains, lakes, and streams... but we are not on vacation.

We are on a pilgrimage toward home.


 

It's Olivia's birthday. She would have been six years old today.

I cannot express to you how gutted I feel.

Yesterday, Keith and I bought a pink balloon to release in her honor.

We'd intended to write letters and attach them, but as soon as Keith opened the truck door, the balloon quickly drifted from the backseat into the open air where it quickly vanished.

The heartbreak over losing that balloon was magnified by our innate feelings over losing our daughter. We both shed tears.

Today is a day worthy of significance.

This is a day that celebrates Olivia's first breaths.

But, like every other day, we are demanded to move forward without her.

It's heartbreaking.

Keith and I don't want a life where we cannot hold our daughter.

Our grasping for her presence feels a lot like that balloon right now. She just out of reach.





Keith and I are grateful for the prayers, the messages, and the space you hold for us in your hearts. Please continue to pray for our healing (as you feel led) while we navigate this new terrain (physically and metaphysically).


Pray for our hearts, our minds, our physical strength, new work opportunities...all of it.

We are (in every way) starting over.


Happy earthly birthday, little love.
We miss you.
Mum & Dad.

 

I never got around to sharing photos from Olivia's fifth birthday.

I think something within me knew that this birthday would be her last.

I thought it right to share them with you today:



The group singing Happy Birthday, out of tune, and with enthusiasm:




Thank you for being a part of our journey,

In Love, and Hope,

Shalamar


292 views2 comments

Recent Posts

See All

2 Comments


Darla Matlock
Darla Matlock
Jun 16, 2023

I love that the two of you are allowing yourselves...to experience grief, to experience life, in all of it's glory and pain. I love that you are doing it together. I love that you are sharing your journey...bold and raw...with the world who needs to see authenticity. The huge heart cloud....wow! Love to you both

Like
Shalamar Iris
Shalamar Iris
Jun 17, 2023
Replying to

Darla,

I hadn't noticed the cloud in the shape of a heart until I played it again (after your message). I see it now. Thank you for that beautiful vantage point! <3 And, THANK YOU for being here.

Like
bottom of page