We lost a member of our family last year. It was terrible and tragic, as these things are. We remember him and feel sad every day when thinking about the hole his loss has left in our hearts and our lives and in the lives of the people who loved him, admired him, and relied on him. He was a hero to his family and friends and a wonderful light that has been taken from the world.
He was also a Disney lover par-excellence. He was with us on my first trip back to Disney as an adult. I remember so clearly him gathering everyone’s park tickets (in those days they were the hard plastic Key to the World cards) as soon as we had scanned into the park. Clutching a handful of 13+ cards he would take off at a very brisk walk. (Ever the rule follower, he didn’t run. As a to-the-bone father and community leader he would never shove or push. As a consummate competitor, though, he was going as fast as possible and getting there before as many people as possible). We would gather the strollers and children and meet him outside of whatever ride was agreed upon – usually one of the secondary attractions closer to the gate. He would be there, slightly sweaty from his trek, but already clutching those invaluable paper fastpasses. And the cycle would continue. He could go all day. His daughters have memories of him tirelessly riding Expedition Everest at rope drop and again at closing over and over until the lines were prohibitive.
Facing the first Christmas after his death, his daughters wanted only one thing. To go to Disney World. The rest of us had our doubts, but along we went.
The trip was not good.
Some might call it a disaster.
My kids, too little to catch the undertones, had fun but everyone else was sad and overwhelmed.
Disney magic could not distract when so much of the magic was helped along by the one who was no longer there with us. There were tears when we ate breakfast at Cinderella castle because that was what we always did, with him. Grim faces as we rode Expedition Everest three times because that’s what was fun, with him. Full days because we always wanted to maximize our park time, with him.
Coming home, I thought: I never want to go back again. That sucked. It was too crowded, too sad, to expensive, too, too, too….
Within months, though, I knew we needed a mulligan. That siren song of low-summer crowds, low-summer rates, new treats and restaurants called. The trip back was different, we took things slow and spent time at the pool – something we never used to do. We didn’t even ride Expedition Everest once because my kids don’t love it (there’s a whole other story about how we screwed up and took our 6 year old on it because she was tall enough without fully internalizing that she might be terrified – a lesson you would think my time on the White Rollercoaster of death would have taught me). We limited our meals to 2 per day and did the after hours events. We managed to take a Disney vacation that was about the four of us as a family rather than about Disney. Or about how we have always done it. I realized that the blogs and podcasts are wonderful home vacations but planning our trip based only on them was putting so much pressure on each moment to be packed with DISNEY at all times. I wasn’t listening to what I wanted, I was only thinking about what I should do and worrying about what I might miss.
What is the point of all this, you’re probably asking yourself. You’re right, there should at least be a point if not a lesson since I’m taking the time to write this down. My point is that we were trying to recreate rather than adapt. We needed to do things on our own terms rather than expecting things to be how they were. Self care is about listening to self and doing what feels right, rather than what society or community (even the smaller community of Disney-lovers) deems right or necessary. I’m not claiming that our approach this trip was unique – judging by the number of people in the pools with us it certainly isn’t – but it was our own.
In DBT mindfulness is one of the four groups of skills taught. Mindfulness, which I’ll certainly talk in greater detail about another day, means balance. Balance is sought between reason and emotion, between being and doing. It is a curiosity about self and experience that requires one to continue looking for all of the information about their experience and to be kind to one’s needs.
On our last trip, I was finally able to balance my being and doing minds by doing less and finding time to just be way more. To just be on the balcony with a book and my feet up rather than rushing to the next.
Those speed walking, busy to the last minute trips were wonderful and they contain memories that I will always cherish, but they are not true to who our family is now. We lost a member and a piece of the whole and it changed everything. I’m sad to see those trips and those moments go. I’m also at peace thinking about the ways that we might experience Disney and our altered family in the future.
The man that we lost was an individual who knew himself completely and was at peace with who and what he loved. I can only hope that we are able to find similar self knowledge and acceptance as we shift and change without him here to show the way.