An Empty Nest and a Full Heart



I am married to a very smart man.  When our youngest daughter, Caroline went off the college in Boston, our oldest daughter, Kate,  graduated from the University of Alabama and moved to St. Petersburg, FL and our middle son, Joseph, moved in with her to go to college at the University of South Florida.  All at once our house was empty. It wasn’t a gradual, one by one process, but an all at once abandonment.  The Dragonslayer was the smart one in our relationship.  He figured out early on that we would need a diversion.  A HUGE diversion. But could be a big enough diversion to soothe my truly broken momma’s heart? A trip to Italy. So, I began planning a trip.  But it soon became overwhelming just thinking about all the places we wanted to visit, how to navigate between all the cities, where we should stay, etc, etc. So, I called the AAA travel agency and got a wonderful lady named Lisa. I wish I still had her contact info so I could call her up every September to thank her once again for arranging the absolute best trip of our lives.  She hooked us up with a Tauk tour to Italy, one of their small group tours of 24 people or in our case 12 couples.  One of the couples dropped out before the tour started and we ended up as a group of 22.  The only reason we were able to get in on the tour at the last minute was due to someone else dropping out for health reasons leaving two spots open.  The trip cost an extravagant amount of money, more money than we had ever spent at one time with exception of our house! But I was trusting that the Dragonslayer knew what he was doing.  So we flew to Milan and enjoyed three days on our own before meeting up with our group. Neither of us had ever been on a long (14 day) tour with a group of complete strangers, so the 7 hour train ride from Milan to Naples where our journey was to begin gave us ample time to think about all the wonderful adventures that were awaiting us. Our first two nights were spent on the Amalfi Coast in Sorrento in Hotel Florida, which was an old palatial style hotel surrounded by lemon trees with lemons the size of grapefruits! The first night was comprised of a welcome cocktail hour on the hotel rooftop overlooking the beautiful coast and all the lovely lemon trees.  The Dragonslayer and I were the first couple to make it to the terrace. Then we were very shortly joined by Dayna and Gary.  I knew immediately we were to be fast friends when they introduced themselves to us and I heard their beautiful west Texas accents.  Yes, they were from west Texas…they were my people.  We exchanged the normal formalities …where we are from, what we do for jobs, and how many children we have.  Then they shared with us how they were supposed to be on this exact trip a few short years before, but Providence had intervened in their lives by the death of their beloved son during his first year of college from a brain tumor.  I immediately hugged Dayna’s neck and began to cry with her as she shared her story. Both Gary and Dayna were wonderful Christians who accepted God’s decision to take their son and they truly held no bitterness in their hearts at all…much to the contrary as they were a most  kind and loving  couple. Soon the terrace was filled with all the other couples and we all began the process of becoming fast friends. Our tour guide for the two weeks was Florence, a former Italian model who spoke 5 languages and was not only fluent in multiple languages but also in all things Italian ……food, culture, history, religion, you name, Florence could speak to it. Dayna and Gary were joined by their very dear, long time friend Sheila and John and it was such a pleasure to watch them laugh and enjoy themselves knowing that there was deep pain underneath.  About three days into the trip, I developed a horrible case of food poisoning.  During our tour of Pompeii I had started feeling not so great. Pompeii was a truly vile culture centered on all things sexual and the more the tour guide described the degenerate behavior of the citizens of Pompeii, the sicker I felt. Once on the bus that was to take us to Rome, I really began to feel like I was dying. Thankfully we made it to our hotel in Rome before the never ending wave of vomiting hit me.  I don’t think I have ever been so sick! I was throwing up so profusely that I ended up with two black eyes due to blowing out all the blood vessels around my eyes.  Our friends were so worried about me that they offered to come to our room to lay hands on me and pray! Thankfully Tauk takes excellent care of their guest and a doctor was sent to my room.  I did recover, but had two very black eyes to attest to just how sick I was.  A few days later we were scheduled to tour the Vatican.  I carefully applied a lot of makeup to by black and bruised eyes and thought I did a pretty good job of covering up the evidence of my illness.  When we got to the part of the tour where Michelangelo’s Pieta is on display, I was standing next to Dayna.  She looked at Mary holding the dead Christ, her son, and Dayna silently began to cry.  And I began to cry with her.  I suddenly had a knew understanding of how Mary must have felt as I watched Dayna looking at the sculpture. We finished our tour and headed outside to the cafe for a coffee break.  I didn’t realize that I cried off all my makeup! Suddenly everyone was asking me what happened to me and the Dragonslayer was now suspect! We all had a good laugh about it which was what we needed after the heaviness of the Pieta. That event of  looking on the Pieta while watching a mother being reminded of her lost son sealed us all together as only something like could do.  The remainder of our trip was absolutely wonderful. We all became fast friends, Facebook pals and Christmas card exchanging buddies. The Dragonslayer knew what he was doing by booking that trip. And God knew what He was doing by putting 11 couples together as strangers and then weaving their hearts together as friends. 



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