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Aloha Means Goodbye and Hello

Many years ago, I took my first solo trip.

Rich and I had broken up, and I was leaving Ohio to return back to California. I planned that trip with enthusiasm: I wanted to see the country, and refused to drive once the sun went down, as I didn’t want to miss anything. I wanted to see route 66, a corner in Winslow Arizona, Carhenge at the Cadillac Ranch, and Las Vegas. By the end of the trip, I declared “every year I will take a trip all by myself!”

Well, it took me 30 years, but I finally took another one.

In January I took what I called my “widow trip.” This was to be my first adventure without Rich, a journey of rest and relaxation, reflection and rejuvenation, renewal and resolution and refocus. I had been to Hawaii many times, but this was the first return trip to Maui since our honeymoon more than 28 years ago. I was determined to make the most of it. When you trave with others, you often skip things you want to do , as you balance each other’s choices. But as a solo traveler, I was determined to do what I wanted, when I wanted. And I did.

As I mentioned, Rich and I honeymooned on Maui. But I didn’t want to retrace our steps. While I planned to honor us, I also needed to make new memories. So my first choice was where to stay, and I chose the Wailea Beach Beach Resort. I had never spent time in this part of the island, so there were no memories there. My first full day I wandered along the beach walk (I did that daily, and would recommend it highly), and hung by the pool before an early dinner at the Lahaina Grill, reportedly the best restaurant in Maui. Dinner did not disappoint. In fact, I was a little leery before I arrived, as the website really didn’t lead with the best picture. But it was a beautiful restaurant, and the staff was as warm and welcoming as the food was delicious!

I mentioned an early dinner, and there was a reason for that (besides jet lag). At 230am the next morning, I boarded a shuttle to the top of Haleakala to watch the sunrise over the volcano.

The bus ride to the summit was pretty quiet, given the early hour, and uneventful because, well, it was dark. And at the top it was quite cold, so we were bundled up for our long wait. I think we were there a good 2 hours before there was a hint of sun, but it was okay because the night sky was stunning. This was an experience I had always asked others to try with me, but I was actually glad to be doing it alone. No need for chit chat: I could be alone with my thoughts. Granted, I was hardly alone on the volcano, as there were hundreds of folks up there…

… but I secured a spot on a rock with a clear view, and hunkered down.

Watching the horizon for glimmers of light was easy fodder for this symbolism-hungry former English major. It’s easy to see the story in this scene. The more I stared, the more I was sure I had seen some light, but then I wasn’t really sure if I had. Had I just been hoping for the sun? Or was it really coming? It reminded me so much of my current journey. I mean, I knew that of course the sun would come, and I would be warm and comforted by the colors and light. But sometimes, you doubt whether things will really get better. But as sure as the sun went down the night before, it rose that morning.

We headed back to the bus, tired and exhilarated. I know I was not the only one who whispered messages or prayers up on that volcano. In fact, the Hawaiians sang a song of prayer as the sun came up, You can hear an example of it here. It really was magical, and a reminder to the tourists that we were privileged to be there. The last bit of the journey that morning wasn’t spiritual, but it was fulfilling: breakfast! The folks at Valley Isle Excursions hooked us up: macadamia nut pancakes at the Maui Tropical Plantation!

I knew I’d be pretty wiped, so when I returned to the hotel I changed then headed back down the beach walk to the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont. I spent several blissful hours there, followed by a cocktail at the bar. After wandering back down the magical beach path, I had an early dinner at the poolside bar back at the Marriott, then crashed, content with a day filled with nourishment for my body and soul. But this was just the beginning of my magical trip.

My next day was also destined to be memorable, for very different reasons. I started with whale watching, which is something every Hawaiian visitor should have on their bucket list,. January is prime whale season, as the mamas and babies are all over. I had already been blessed with sightings. The night before, while wandering around at sunset, I gleefully cried out when I saw one breach ff shore (breaching is when they do that awesome full body leap and crash out of the water). I laughed at myself and sheepishly glanced around, only to find that everyone else was either freaking the same way, or wistfully wishing they had seen it. I thought that would be my highlight, and I felt fulfilled. When I boarded the charter the next morning, I was cautiously optimistic, but figured if I even saw one or two I’d be sated.

When I boarded the boat at Ultimate Whale Watch and Snorkel, I met Captain Emma and First Mate Lexie. These dynamic women were part of a trend for this trip: strong, powerful women helping me realize my own strength. They filled us in on the plan, and told us to be patient. We did not need to be. It took very little time for us to come upon whales — but Emma kept saying “that’s not our whale.” No one knew quite what she meant, until we met Shania.

Shania Twain was playing on the radio when we spotted her all white fluke, so rare that Emma and Lexie were excited. You now you are experiencing something special when the “experts” are giddy. Shania flirted a bit, then breached! We were so tickled! She would roll and wave her fins, then dive down, then, she breached again!

And again.

And again.

Emma told us, as she picked her jaw up off the floor, that the human equivalent of a whale breach, in terms of caloric expenditure, is like running a marathon. So for a whale to do it that many times in succession was really wild. But it got wilder. We wondered if she would go for double digits. She did. Twice. By the time we had to go back to shore, she had breached about 24 times! She was so predictable, that we had time to even plan for “whalefies,” pics with her breaching in the background!

At one point I cried a little, just from the sheer beauty of it all.

I also was thinking about Rich, and how much he would have loved this. When we docked, I made sure I was the last to leave the boat, so I could thank Emma and Lexie. I told them about my widow trip, and that I was doing new things on my own to prove to myself that I could, and that I would be okay. I also told them about Rich, and how he had been a marathon runner, and that I thought of him with every breach. I swear he sent us that whale. He sent me Sania to tell me over and over that he knew I could do it. That I would be ok, and that he would send me whatever help I needed. We all wept a little at that, as hokey as it sounded.

But I walked away feeling so incredibly full of heart, ready to take on the rest of the day.

I wandered around a bit before heading off to find a place for lunch. I had something big on my schedule for the end of the day, an I needed sustenance — and a cocktail. I found a spot at the bar at Monkeypod, a well-known local chain.

After another walk about, I pointed my Turo rental north (first time trying Turo — great experience!). My destination was the Hyatt Regncy in Ka’anapali, where Rich and I stayed on our honeymoon. This was going to be challenging, I knew.

Walking into the lobby it all flooded back — the exhaustion and giddiness upon arrival, taking in the soaring indoor/outdoor lobby, and my eyes wandered upwards, trying to remember which room had been ours. I remember that lobby was were Rich would sneak down every morning to check for faxes from work (remember those, pre-cell phone?), and every morning I pretended I didn’t know. I wandered the grounds to try and find some of the places we had taken pictures, and even reenacted a few. I watched the penguins, the swans, and all the other birds. The hubbub around the pool seemed like it was happening in another world. I was in a grief bubble, for sure, and I knew it was going to be harder still.

I wandered down to the beach, and flashed back on watching him slowly swimming back and forth off shore. He loved doing that. He so loved the ocean. And since I wanted him to be forever in the places that brought us both joy, I had brought some of his ashes.

I found a remarkably empty little beach, and sat down. When I was cleaning out his things back home, I found shell necklaces that we received on our honeymoon, and I put those on. I wrapped myself in the sarong I somehow still had from that trip, and I cried. I remembered everything wonderful about that trip — even his inevitable sunburn when he refused sunscreen. I laughed a little, and smiled. I waded out into the water, and let him go. I could immediately feel some peace, knowing that at east a part of him would forever be in that beautiful place.

I dried my eyes and made my way back to my car. Windows down, music blasting, the Hawaiian wind drying my tears. And then, offshore, a whale breached.

Thank you, Rich. I love you.

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