Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Emergency Trip Home

When Eric and I found out that we were getting stationed in Germany almost four years ago, we decided very early on that once we arrived we would not visit home until it was time for us to PCS again.  If we were going to live in Europe, then we were going to see as much as we possibly could in the short time we were given.  We made a commitment to truly and authentically give our daughter the experience of a lifetime, and all money that we would spend would be towards that experience.  We were going to travel the world!  And had no plans of sitting still! 
But that meant that sacrifices had to be made.  If we were choosing to not go home for the 3 1/2 years that we would be stationed in Germany, then we were going to miss holidays and important moments spent with our family.  Things would change, people would change, and we wouldn't be there to see it.  By no choice of their own, our family had to sacrifice the same things, and just like everyone else, we would change too, especially Isabelle.  It really wasn't fair to them, but Eric and I were certain that all would be worth it, and that our time in Europe would pass quickly.  We assured our family that with modern technology and my blog, it would be just like we were at home with them.

But when there is a death in the family, technology doesn't cut it, and exploring Europe pales in comparison... all that truly matters.... is going home.  

Eric, Nikki, Ray, Sydnee, & Deb, October 2013

Eric's stepmother, Deb, died of cancer on June 4th, 2016.  Her strength and joyful spirit during her illness was an inspiration to everyone who knew her.  She was a beloved and dedicated teacher who adored her family and the hundreds of kindergartners she taught in her 34 years at Randolph Elementary School in Randolph, NE.  While we knew not to have any expectations when it came to cancer, Deb's passing was a shock.

Eric had been out of the country on a big training mission for a few weeks when I woke up to an email that Deb had been admitted into the hospital and may not make it through the night.  For whatever reason, my emails were the only non-military emails that Eric was reliably receiving, so I immediately forwarded the latest news about Deb which then started a whirlwind of emails going in every direction between me, Eric, and his older sister, ending just a few precious hours later with the news from the Red Cross that Deb had passed, and we were being sent home.  

My husband is a very kind, very gentle and sweet sweet man, but he has difficulty putting his emotions into words, and he'll be the first to admit it.  I have learned over the course of our 10 years together that if I ask him "how does {insert whatever situation here} make you feel?," he'll always shrug his shoulders and say "fine," no matter the situation, no matter how he is feeling.  Instead, if I ask "are you happy/sad/nervous/etc...?" he'll give me an honest "yes" or "no" answer, and then I can slowly branch out from there, extracting bits of emotional information as I go along.  Eric is a complex man, but he just isn't comfortable putting his emotions into words, so he won't tell you that his dad is the most important person in his life.  He credits all that he his today to the character of the man who raised him.  Ray is the example that Eric aspires to.  He also won't be able to tell you just how deeply he loves his dad, because there aren't words to describe it.  But of course, if you know him, then you already know that this is true without Eric having to explain it.  So while Eric was stunned by the news of his stepmother, his immediate reaction.... was his dad.  How was his dad handling this?  Is he holding up okay?  All that he cared about, was getting home to his dad as fast as he possibly could.

He couldn't get home to him fast enough.

October 2013

But first, Eric had to be pulled from the training mission he was on and then make the 10+ hour drive to our home in Germany, but within 36 hours of waking up to that first email, we were on an airplane headed home.      
We had no time to plan for this trip.  Even though I am an obsessive planner, planning anything at that point was the furthest thing from my mind.  I only concentrated on my husband, ensuring that he could relax as much as possible for the few short hours he had at home before we boarded an airplane, which meant that whatever ended up in our suitcases, ended up in our suitcases.  Besides the funeral, and Eric wanting to spend as much time as he could with his dad, that's as far into planning as we ever got.  I notified our friends and my side of the family that we were coming home, and I made rough plans to spend a day & night with my mom and youngest sister at some point while we were back, but I figured everything else would just.... fall into place. 

Saying our final goodbyes to Deb was not easy.  I'm sure I don't need to tell you that, though.  Reunion between father and son was... well... even for me, someone who has no problems putting her emotions into words, I am at a loss on how to describe it.  All I can say is that it was so precious, you had to be there to see it.  Our hearts were comforted knowing that Deb was no longer in pain and was celebrating in the arms of her Lord, but saying goodbye was surreal.  A special woman gone from our lives in what felt like a blink of an eye is just.... unbelievable.  Eric has said a few times since we've been back that it doesn't feel like she's actually gone.  
Ray, Nikki, Eric, and Sydnee were engulfed in love, support, and prayers throughout the days after Deb's passing.  An entire community came together to honor a special woman and it was incredible to see.  For Eric, the comfort of being at home again was obvious, I'm sure I don't need to tell you that either, but watching an entire community rally around him and his family, lifting them in prayer and love as they embarked on their grief path together, that was a comfort beyond description. 

The funeral and visitation were on the first few days after we arrived home, leaving the rest of our time open to make up for 3 years of missed moments.  It turned out that even under the worst of circumstances, we managed to have the best trip we could have ever not planned.    

Eric grew up in Randolph, a small town where everyone truly knows your name in Northeast Nebraska.  His dad still lives in the same house that Eric was brought home from the hospital after he was born!  The drawer in the kitchen where little baby Eric would dig out all the tupperware and then crawl in and curl up all cozy-like is still there too.  Actually, just about everything from Randolph is still there, and that's the best medicine for a guy coming home with a sad heart.  
Eric had an idyllic childhood, his memories and bike mileage span every tiny inch of his hometown.  He went to elementary school and high school in Randolph, and then got his undergrad from Wayne State College in Wayne, NE- only 30 miles Southeast of Randolph- and is also where he served the Nebraska National Guard for 16 years before commissioning and going active duty in 2012.  If you have ever wondered what makes Eric, Eric... go to Randolph, or Ramona, SD where he spent his summers (which is a fraction of the size of Randolph, if you can believe it).  The community that lifted a family after the death of their wife, mother, stepmother, is the same community that shaped my husband into the kind of man he is today.  

population 955

Farm kittens!

Main Street

Where it all started 20 years ago!

 Veteran's Memorial in Wayne, NE- Eric's name is on it.

Everything about our trip home turned out to be serendipitous, we couldn't believe how everything seemed to fall into place so perfectly.  Eric was even able to make it to his 20 year high school reunion!  Which was so cool for him since he missed his 10 year reunion because he was on a 15-month deployment at the time.  It was so much fun catching up with everyone, and hearing all of their stories from high school!  But I'll leave out the part where Eric went out the night before and got completely wasted and was super hungover at his reunion.  All that matters is that I had a blast!! ;)  Our emergency trip home also happened to coincide with a ceremony where Eric's older sister was nominated for the presidency of the Nebraska PEO, and we were able to go and listen to her speech!  Ray & Eric beamed with pride in their seats, I'm not sure if Nikki could tell or not, but they were so proud of her (I was too).  Eric's uncle was in town for the funeral so they were able to spend time reminiscing about family history, one of Eric's favorite topics (he especially loves to hear stories about his grandpa).  And we got to spend one evening grilling out with one of Eric's best friends and his family, where Isabelle got to run all over the place searching for new baby farm kittens- her idea of the most perfect evening! 
We had 10 days at home before having to go back to Germany- the majority of those days were spent in Randolph with Eric's dad where we ate ourselves through the mountains of food being delivered to Ray's house seemingly every hour.  Our days were not rushed; they were easy and relaxing, and so darn good for the soul, ya know? 
But we couldn't go home and not see all aspects of home.  Nebraska & South Dakota are dotted with teeny sleepy towns along a spider web of gravel roads going in every direction.  To us, "home" branched out in all sorts of places and it was important to see as much as we could.  So as our time with Ray came to an end, we said our goodbyes and headed up to South Dakota.

Eric and I had similar idyllic childhoods, growing up only 40 minutes away from each other our entire lives and never knowing it.  We were even born at the same hospital just two years apart!  Vermillion sits on the Nebraska/South Dakota border and is where I grew up!  I went to elementary, high school, and college all in my hometown.  I graduated college in 2010 with a bachelors and associates degrees in Dental Hygiene with a minor in Communication Disorders (I almost double minored with Art History but was totally burnt out by the time I was able to graduate that I said forget the Art History minor, just give me my degrees!).  My education is something I am really really proud of.  It took me a little while because I had two babies first, moved from a different state, got out of a horribly unhealthy relationship in the middle of it all, and raised my itty bitty baby girlie as a single parent, but eventually I did it!
My small town is a metropolis compared to Eric's small town, but even so, I always thought Vermillion was tiny and suffocating.  There was a point in my life where I thought I would live there forever and raise my daughter- there isn't a better place in the entire country for raising a family than Vermillion- but somewhere along the way it stopped feeling like home.  I think it's because the girl who rode her bike all over town, lived in her swimsuit at the river every summer, and danced to '70's Saturday Night' in the parking lot of Dairy Queen every Saturday night, isn't the same girl writing this blog right now.  That's just what happens when you grow up and life happens in ways a nice girl from a small town didn't expect.  

But just like Randolph made Eric, Eric... Vermillion made me, me.  

population 10,500- 10x's bigger than Randolph.

My daddio's dental office.

Isabelle and my dad's dog, Betsy.... love at first sight.

VHS class of '98!  My graduating class was 130 people.

I basically lived every single one of my summers on the Missouri River (in the distance).

USD's Dental Hygiene department- many hours, many laughs, & many tears were spent inside this building.

We didn't spend a whole lot of time in Vermillion.  We drove through my old neighborhood, walked through campus, got coffee and lunch, and stopped to talk to my dad, but that was about it.  Our time at home was coming to an end and we still had a lot left to see before we could go back to Germany with full hearts.
We went home without a plan, but we didn't really need one.  Serendipity took care of the details that I couldn't.  Not only was Eric able to make it to his high school reunion, and us to Nikki's special ceremony, but Isabelle's biological dad dropped everything to meet us in Nebraska so that he could spend a few uninterrupted days with her.  For Isabelle, that meant everything.  I got to spend an entire day & night with my mom, youngest sister, and niece, and finally met my soon-to-be brother-in-law.  I got a manicure & pedicure (my first since moving to Germany.... they just aren't the same here)!  We were able to go out and have a little too much to drink with our best friends, and eat the best hamburgers we have eaten in what feels like forever!  Some of my oldest & dearest friends came to hang out with us at the hotel the night before we flew back to Germany.  We also got to watch all of our nieces swim and have a ball, which was music to our ears.  Then we went to my mom's new house, my sister's house, and met our "nephew," Pete... finally!  We even reunited with our furbaby, Brew, for just a bit!  Eric and I went to the cemetery where many of his family members are buried, including his Grandma Betty who passed away this past January.  And while we were in the area we visited his grandpa's farm that now belongs to his dad and uncle.  We saw everything and everyone we hoped to see!  Serendipity took over the details when I wasn't able to plan any, letting us concentrate on making up for three years of missed moments with the people and things that matter the most to us.

When you're too scared to hold a gross looking caterpillar but your big cousin is totally willing to make it less scary for you, but you still aren't going go anywhere near it! 


Uncles are the best for showing off your collection of broken bird eggs to!

Braylee Mae having the time of her life! 

Brew missed daddy!!

Sioux Falls is the largest city in the entire state of South Dakota- population: 170,000- and is the 47th fastest growing city in the United States.  We aren't known for our large cities, and that's the way we like it.  It's just 15 miles west of the South Dakota/Minnesota border, and is named for the waterfalls created from the Big Sioux River during the last ice age.  Every summer downtown hosts a sculpture walk with different sculptures featured every year.  Sioux Falls is a very close second to Vermillion for being the best town for raising a family, but with 70 city parks it's not hard to see why.  
We flew into & out of the Sioux Falls airport because it's centrally located to both of our families and to both of our hometowns, but also because Sioux Falls is basically where I consider home to be now.  It's where we would do all of our major shopping when I was growing up.  Guys, they had a mall!  Going to the mall was an all day event where we'd spend the entire day all decked out in our baggiest jeans with a crop top, a choker necklace, and Doc Martens (it was the 90's, guys), shopping for the exact replica of the outfit we were already wearing, or buying makeup from The Body Shop, or giggling at boys, or in my case, all three.  When we were in high school and maybe a little more rebellious or whatever (I mean, let's be honest, there has never been anything rebellious about me), Sioux Falls is where we would go to drive The Loop.  I don't really remember much about driving The Loop, except that we did when there wasn't anything else going on and it was always way cooler than anything we'd drive past in Vermillion.  I did a lot of growing up in Sioux Falls too.
Once upon a time, Eric and I owned a house there and thought that that was where we would live and raise our daughter for forever.  But God had other plans, and now, it's hard to imagine what life would have been like if we had stayed.  We couldn't help but drive past our old house (I didn't take any pictures of it because it didn't feel right since it isn't ours anymore) and were thrilled to see how well cared for and adorably decorated it is!  But Eric & I happily drove away knowing that we are exactly where we are supposed to be right now, and gave ourselves a high five for trusting God's plan.

Falls Park!

Our emergency trip home had come to an end.  We had seen everyone, everywhere, and everything that we hoped to while we were home, which was so much more than we had expected!  The goodbyes we said were different from three years earlier, these goodbyes were immediately followed by "see you soon's" since we'll be home again in just a few short months.  Although, no matter how you dice it.... goodbyes are always hard.  And I have to admit that the same excitement about the adventure awaiting us three years ago wasn't quite the same this time as we boarded an airplane for Germany.

Before we went home for Deb's funeral I thought I could live in Germany forever.  I LOVE it here!  Life here is a good life.  If my blog serves any purpose whatsoever I hope it's to inspire people to fall in love with the whole wide world we live in.  For me, I fall in love when I'm traveling and interacting with the people in it.  The people I meet and things that I see when I'm traveling remind me that the world does not revolve around me, and I'll be honest... I need to be reminded of that a lot more often than I'd like to admit.  
Eric, Isabelle, and I have seen so much during our time in Europe, and I'm confident that Eric and I have succeeded in giving Isabelle the experience of a lifetime.  But.... home is home.  There's no place like it.  I didn't realize how badly I missed home until we went back after three years of being away.  I didn't realize how beautiful the Midwest is, or how the absolute best kinds of people all come from there.  I had no idea how badly I missed my home until we were so far away for so long, and then went back unexpectedly for the saddest of reasons.

When there is a death in the family, technology isn't the same as being with the people who matter most, and exploring Europe pales in comparison... all that truly matters.... is going home

In loving memory of Deborah J. Schnell, October 17, 1956- June 4, 2016.  

1 comment:

  1. I'm so sorry to hear of your loss! It looks like you had a really great visit back home, though I am sure bittersweet due to the reason for your trip. Your pictures are lovely. I have never been to either Nebraska or South Dakota, but I grew up in a small town myself--less than 500 people!--so these pictures look very familiar to me :)