Saturday, May 21, 2011

Celebrating in Pensacola

As I'm sitting on yet another plane, part of me can't believe my time in Pensacola has already come and gone. Just a week ago, it was Wednesday in Guam, and I had no idea at that point if I would be healthy enough to travel or what flights would work out to get me to my final destination in time for the celebration. Looking back a week later, I am grateful to say the travel was easy (as easy as 19 hours of flying can be), I am feeling almost 100% like myself again (which means I can finally start working out soon!), and most of all, I am 1000% grateful that I was able to be there this weekend with my family, not just to relive old memories, but also because we made so many new ones.

Our angel
Courtney, Ben and I arrived in Pensacola after flying all night from California. After hugging my mom and dad, we headed off to breakfast at Panera Bread, which amazingly was my second visit to this fine establishment in the 12 hours since I arrived in the U.S. From there we ran extremely important errands at Target (!) and Michael's (crafts!) before heading to our friends' beachhouse to collapse into siesta. As in January, we stayed at our dear friends, the Winns' house. But unlike January, our gracious hosts were there to greet us. It was great to see Gail and Frank. We are so fortunate they were willing to open their home so we could all stay together as a family in this peaceful retreat.

Welcoming us on the fridge of their house was a collage of pictures of our family from over the years. Both my grandmother and grandfather, four years apart, each had one of their last trips outside their house to this very spot. This home and these friends have been such an interwoven part of our journey to say goodbye, so it was fitting that we found ourselves all convening here once again to remember and celebrate over boiled fresh shrimp and a sensational sunset.

We spent Sunday sleeping in then sipping coffee and sharing stories about Shoopa with one another on the upstairs porch overlooking breathtaking Pensacola Beach. Part of it was getting ready for the service, since both Mom and I had decided to speak. But mostly, it was spontaneous reflections about the memories that stood out to us most in our respective lifetimes of knowing Bea and Shoopa. There were so many good ones.

Half mast at the dock at Shoopa's house
That afternoon I found myself, for the third time in 48 hours, at Panera Bread (seriously, folks). This time it was to meet my dear friend Parmita, who I've known since Freshman year of high school. She's one of those people I've managed to rendezvous with all over the world, literally. We went to Spain together after junior year of high school, met up in London one spring break during college, and visited each other in our respective homes, New York City and San Diego. She just finished her first year of law school and was just barely back in town. I think we had figured out it was probably 10 years ago when last visited in Pensacola.

The next morning, I jet-lag woke up early, got ready, and went to my grandparents' house with my parents to pick up pictures, art, and mementos for the reception. We headed to the church to set up and get ready. Before long, my cousins arrived from their various homes in southern Florida. It was a nice feeling knowing that our entire Pensacola family was back together again. I already told you about the service a bit. People trickled in for a while and once the Prelude started, we took our all-too familiar seats in the front pew. This is our third family funeral in this church in four years, so we knew the drill. This is also the church I grew up in, was baptized and confirmed in, so it was neat to see my old choir director as the organist for the service, and our former pastors and my confirmation teacher came up to greet and console our family. It was a strange setting to think about the fact I will be the one teaching confirmation this fall.

Ten minutes into the service, after some beautiful songs and music Shoopa would have loved, I stood up to speak, surrounded by my sister and cousins. I was shocked to see so many people were standing in the back and even filling the upstairs balcony of the church. It was great encouragement as I was speaking, looking out into the crowd at so many familiar faces who had shaped my childhood in this town and even seemed like a part of my family. And for those eyes I met who I hadn't seen before, this sea of people represented the legacy of impact that was beginning that very hour, left by a man who was a lifelong learner and lifelong teacher.

I already told you about the dozens of people I met after the service who approached me to tell me, often with tears in their eyes, how much he meant to them. I just want to add to this my observation about how important it was for me to be here on this day, in person, from no matter how far away. No Skype, no Facebook page, no blog post, no video recording, no phone call recap could ever have replicated the value of my being present in that room with that conglomeration of people who all shared such a deep admiration and respect for someone I love so much.

After the service, our entire family headed to lunch at our favorite spot, the Fish House. My dad's sister Leslie drove from up Gainesville to see us, another bonus visit. We spent part of the afternoon diving through boxes of old family photos. I have to say, this was my favorite part of our week together aside from the service. My grandmother had documented, in photos, our entire lives. She had saved cards we'd written her. She had put together a whole photo album of Nick and my wedding that I found. It was amazing to look back over photos from the last 28 years of my life, including my birth announcement and baby pictures. So grateful to have these souvenirs, not just from the trip, but from a lifetime (so far) of memories.

After saying goodbye to Ben, my sister, and cousins, my dad and I played golf together Tuesday afternoon at the Pensacola navy base course. It was neat to play this course I had driven by so many times growing up, and neat to play in Florida for the first time. And always, always great to spend time with my dad, even if it wasn't exactly my best round :) We had dinner with family friends at the beach Tuesday night and I had a bonus visit from a friend I've known since third grade who was in town for work in the Air Force. It was great, throughout the whole visit, to get caught up, in person, with so many lifelong friends and family.

Looking back on the visit, I realize, it couldn't have been more wonderful. Everyone was so calm and focused. After going through this a few times, we had a greater understanding of the miracle of death and, therefore, no reason to be afraid. In my grandfather's last words, he told my mom that he felt Bea, my grandmother, was present. And it was "beautiful." What an amazing lesson from this man who spent his life teaching, even up until his last breaths.

After being picked up in San Francisco by my sister, picked up in Pensacola by my parents, I headed off to Washington, D.C., to be picked up by my husband. And so, this crazy but peaceful journey of unexpected, meaningful visits continues…


  1. Sounds like an amazing trip Peyton. Sounds like Shoopa was an amazing man.

  2. Thank you Peyton, and thank God for you and your Shoopa!


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