In January, our son died at the age of 5, suddenly but not unexpectedly. He had been born with a complicated heart condition that required multiple surgeries and frequent medical attention. His short life had been filled with miracles, and he had a calm spirit that balanced the normal-kid energy of his two brothers.
The five of us often took road trips together in our aging but usually-reliable ’98 Outback, the boys singing along with the Blues Brothers in the back seat. Down to the beach in blazing sun; out to their grandparents in snow and slush; back home to Brooklyn on the interstate after months at a hospital miles away.
In the aftermath of his death, we felt sad, and proud — and empty.
Therapists we spoke with told us the various ways that people deal with loss. My wife was an “attender,” immersing herself in the reality of our son’s death and confronting her grief head-on.
I was a “distractor,” busying myself with a million little things to avoid sinking into the depths of despair. Work was an obvious outlet, but not enough. I organized our small apartment. I helped our older son build a computer. And I planned a crazy road trip. Because all I really wanted was to get away, preferably at 65 miles an hour.
My wife had mentioned once that she wanted to see Mount Rushmore. That seemed pretty far away, so Mount Rushmore it would be. And then I read that there would be a total solar eclipse in late August, viewable only from a 70-mile wide strip of land far from our home.
So I asked work for a month off in late summer, and they said yes. I asked my wife if she wanted to go, and she didn’t say no. And, being the distractor I was, I started to plan.
My planning started in February — less than two months after our son’s death, and five months before we were due to depart.
The route was shaped by some basic rules. We would drive no more than three or four hours a day, a pace which would get us to Rushmore and back in five weeks while giving us time to…