It has been a long road we have walked since Malcolm died, and it continues to stretch out in front of us in daunting valleys and peaks. Though I often still feel hazy and lost, I have also made an effort to focus on how to find myself/ourselves. One thing I have always craved is travel, and I fully believe it is good for the soul. As I planned a flurry of trips this year, I still simply cannot work up the excitement I once had for wandering the world. Something was missing. We can’t just run away from Malcolm, we had to bring him, somehow, leave a mark, no matter how small, on where we have been. It is our family’s personal #RememberingMalcolm campaign, and we have already had family and friends who have supported us and seized on the idea and are helping us spread love through the world in Malcolm’s memory. It really, truly means the world to us that people think of him and sprinkle a little love and positivity wherever they go.
Back when we realized Malcolm wasn’t going to pull through, we had to make the difficult decision to take him off life support. One of the more harrowing aspects of the situation was being asked if we’d consider making Malcolm an organ donor. How could we not? The possibility to offer hope to another family in pain was one we could not let pass by.
The Living Legacy people walked my husband through the process. They gave us a teddy bear with the word ‘HERO’ on it. This bear is the representation of our lost son we take to bed with us each night and carry with us when we travel. A squeeze on Hero Bear (HB) or Malcolm Bear can calm frantic nerves or just is there when we need to cry. It was in his hospital bed the night before his organ donation, his skin felt the bear, it touched his lips, Hero Bear has some special attachment to him.
Though I don’t feel we ever undervalued time together before losing Malcolm, we definitely bask in every moment that we all get to spend together more than ever. We love being outside, exploring nature and bonding through experiences. This past weekend we went to Natural Bridge, VA, on our first, official, #RememberingMalcolm trip.
One of the tourist stops in Natural Bridge is the beautiful State Park. I had envisioned our volunteer experience to be something along the lines of trash cleanup or similar, but once I explored the Virginia State Park volunteering process we found out our options were limited to assisting with one of the day’s programs. One-time volunteers do not need the background check that routine volunteers require, which is great (I hadn’t allowed enough time for a background check!), but it also limits what you can do that day to being supervised assisting the Park Rangers with their work. Volunteer Coordinator Megan Meadows made sure that we had our opportunity that Saturday!
Megan provided a list of the day’s programs. Several nature-related and another called ‘Legends of Natural Bridge’, which educates visitors on the history and geology of the area. Finally, that evening, they had ‘Rockin’ the Creek’, which is a family-friendly concert with food trucks and local wines in a beautiful location on a summer evening. Volunteers there would help hand out cups and bracelets and enjoy the festivities, themselves. I read the volunteer options to my daughter, since I want the kids to be involved, and she (not surprisingly) went with the nature route.
We arrived hour prior to our scheduled time and checked in and said hi. Then we had about an hour to explore the park before we started volunteering. A perk to volunteering is that you get into the park for free! This was not something I was aware of when I pursued the volunteer opportunity, but it was nice. When I saw that the main trail (the Cedar Creek Trail) was paved and only 0.8 miles long each way, I thought we could easily make it. I was wrong! Between pausing to take photos at the bridge and exploring little stops along the way, we ended up rushing back to the visitors center and skipping the Monacan Village completely! We ended up coming back the next day.
After our slightly rushed park visit, we assisted in 2 hour education session on ‘Skulls, Skins and More’. Our super engaging and very smart Park Ranger, Liz, gave us a quick education on the animal pelts laid out, as well as the skulls, snake skins, minerals and other display items. It was then up to us to share this information with visitors that stopped by, and engage them in further discussion. Liz was there when the questions got too detailed, and by the end of the session we all felt like mini-experts. ‘Yes, mink are native to Virginia, two were spotted in the park, yesterday!’, ‘that sounds like a queen snake that you saw. Let’s look at our snake book so we can make the identification.’, ‘that is an adolescent bear skull. It isn’t intact because it was found by a ranger, and had already had several animals gnawing on it. See these teeth marks? See how they are similar to the teeth in this squirrel skull? Some rodents had been nibbling on it.’ Watching my daughter answer questions and offer information made me super proud.
We also got to meet, handle and show off Thom Hiss Jefferson, the little, sweet tempered corn snake, which thrilled my daughter to no end.
Liz showed us how to use the clicker to count up visitors with whom we had engaged in nature-specific discussions. These counts are used to maintain/adjust funding for the parks for the next year. My daughter was very diligent at making sure we were counting everyone.
We will continue to travel, live life for our departed Malcolm, and look for meaning when we do. It is an exciting and rewarding process that we can’t wait to get to know.
Healing. Having family time is healing. Relaxing is healing. Being in the moment is healing. Giving back and giving love is healing. Travel is healing.