I need to go to sleep. In less than 48 hours I will be on the way to Virginia with my 3 year old daughter to spread the ashes of my father. We will be meeting my mom, my sister and her boys for a “Miles Family Tour.”
It is literally a Miles family tour since we are bringing my dad’s ashes to more than one location to spread. It also refers back to the summer trips we took in a beat up RV. We’d go up and down the California coast along PCH during our tour one summer. We would stop and camp out at a public beach. We’d stop at RV campgrounds with generator hook ups. We stopped at every major landmark that was remotely interesting. I remember getting our RV through the curves of Lombard Street in San Francisco.
I need to go to sleep. Tomorrow will be when I have to pack what we need to go on the plane. A phone for me, my daughter’s Kindle, medications, enough clothes for 6 days — Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday. A quick trip via Baltimore and then we begin our tour of Virginia. We will lay him to rest where my dad was born and raised.
We’d never prepare for our Miles Family Tours all those years ago. Throw some blankets in the car, our cat with them, and a bunch of books. No electronics except the tape deck in the front playing David Bowie. Instead of fast food, we had snacks we took from the house. Then we’d stop at fruit stands and eat juicy plums with juices running down our faces.
I need to go to sleep. I need enough energy to put everything in its place. Everything is organized and pre-planned for our tour this week. We’ve coordinated where we will be, stay, at what point his ashes will be where, when and why.
My 40 something year old dad some 30 years ago would have laughed at our carefulness. I remember, one day after high school swim practice, my mom, sister and my dad drove up in his Trans Am to pick me up and he yelled out the window, “Ready to go to Disneyland?” And then we drove two hours to Anaheim on a school day, just in time to see the evening Disneyland parade.
I need to go to sleep. We have to be well-rested and calm in order to function during this trip. There can’t be any hiccups or stress. Mourning my dad is stressful enough. It doesn’t matter that the original Miles family tours were defined by freewheelin’ stress.
The RV barreling through the Death Valley desert as it looks like we might run out of gas. My dad hitting a STOP sign and his rear-view mirror flying off in the wind behind us. And then him turning back to get it, only to duck tape it back in place. I remember the yelling in my ears as, at age 12, my dad directed me to hold down the gas pedal as he tried to push the RV to the gas station.
I need to go to sleep. If God blesses us, my daughter will have a minimum of meltdowns, no major hiccups will happen, nothing major will be forgotten. Our efforts to have my dad Rest In Peace — maybe will give us some peace. But it’s not and maybe never again be the OG Miles Family Tour. There’s someone we will leave behind, who will only go with us in spirit for ever more.
Melissa Miles McCarter lost her dad to a stroke-related dementia this year. The essay you just read is one in a collection she is writing about grieving the death of her father in the wake of his last year of life. You can read more of her essays here.
If you liked this essay, you might like this one.