My family did our annual Thanksgiving vacation to Gulf Shores, AL. For the past seven years, we’ve joined three other families for a weeklong retreat at a house along the beach: A full week of eating, drinking, laughing, relaxing, and just detaching from our busy day-to-day routines. As we we’d all been looking forward to the trip, this year was a little different for us. My mom’s sister Phyllis passed away October 12; five weeks before Thanksgiving and seven weeks before her 64th birthday.
My aunt was diagnosed with Endometrial Cancer a little over a year ago and unfortunately her journey throughout her treatments was quite painful. As we’re all still processing, there's been a major shift in our family dynamic. Personally, it’s been a challenge for me to truly sit with my emotions about it. She was known for the beautiful smile and sharp sense of humor, her love for pork chops and the Pittsburgh Steelers, her stubborn and rebellious approach on life. She’s been such a prominent member of my family, so not having her around has cast a faint shadow over all of us… so much that we’ve barely spoken about it since. Her presence was missed on our trip this year, but we managed to get through our week as best as we could considering.
I got to spend some quality time with my siblings and niece. We went to the movies [twice], played Super Mario World, and had many candid conversations about life. I got to snuggle with my dad and catch up with my mom, though I could tell that she was working through some of her own emotions about my aunt’s transition. For the most part we all kind of did our own thing, but as a group we did come together for themed dinners, hosted by a different family member every other night: Sunday BBQ Night, Tuesday Fiesta Night, Thursday Traditional Thanksgiving Dinner, and leftovers for the nights in between.
Whenever I’m experiencing heavy emotions, I naturally isolate and submerge myself in work. Most of my week was spent trying to catch up on rest and shopping for a upcoming photo shoot I had the Sunday after our return. Though it was a challenge for me to fully relax, I was seduced by the serene atmosphere and encouraged to indulge a little. Every morning I sat silently on the porch, sipping hot tea, watching the sun move, and listening to waves crash. I spent only one day on the actual beach, so I took that time to bury my feet in the sand and do a bit of writing...mostly about my family.
If you know me, you know that my family is my everything. Sometimes the families we are born into aren’t the most compatible with who we come to be as individuals. With my family...we have our different approaches to life and often don’t communicate very well, but our love for each other keeps us solid. With loss, often comes plenty of gain. My aunt’s passing may have been the shift we all needed to strengthen our relationships with each other. T’Phyl brought something special to each of our lives. For me, she was always very supportive of my creative work. She bought me a selfie stick (when it was still a thing) and a iPhone tripod to use for my blogging. I have her to thank for many things, but mostly for showing me how to live for myself. I relate a lot to her; being strong-willed, independent, and so very different from my siblings. As I’ve added another ancestor to my alter, I will continue to spend my life LIVING and honoring her spiritual guidance. This Thanksgiving tradition is one I hope to continue for years to come. It is the one time of the year I get to travel with my entire family and I am honored to be able to have that privilege.
Scroll down for some highlights from our family trip.