Love, Loss & Letting Go On The Road

In one of my earlier posts, I wrote about a few “essentials” I never travel without, but there was one very personal item (yes, even more personal than the nose hair trimmer) that I didn’t mention—a delicate sliver of a silver charm.

On one side, it bears my name. (“Amy,” that is. “Laughinghouse,” as you might imagine, would be a bit unwieldy). The other side is embossed with three hieroglyphics which supposedly signify my name’s meaning. It’s elegant, unusual, and most importantly to me, a gift from my sister, Kimberly.

Kim passed away on June 10, 2009, but wearing that pendant, hooked around my neck on a slender chain, I felt that she was there, seeing the world with me.

My pendant gets an airing at the Castelo de Sao Jorge in Lisbon, September 7, 2013.

My pendant gets an airing at the Castelo de Sao Jorge in Lisbon, September 7, 2013.

Kim with one of her last paintings. She could capture the beauty of a place even if she hadn't been there.

Kim could capture the beauty of a place in her paintings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I could imagine her wicked cackle of a laugh, the expressive arc of her eyebrows, which communicated her thoughts like semaphores, and the hilarious stories that she could have woven from even the most commonplace event.

So when I happened to notice the chain dangling, unhooked and bereft of its charm while wandering around the tangled maze of Barcelona’s Barri Gotic quarter one day, I felt the weight of a loss much greater than the actual mass of that feather-light talisman.

My sister and me one our one and only trip to Orlando, Florida. We were so exhausted at the end of the day, we're probably the only kids on the planet who ever begged their parents not to make them go back.

My sister and me on our one and only trip to Orlando, Florida. We were so exhausted at the end of the day, we’re probably the only kids on the planet who ever begged their parents not to make them go back.

We didn’t travel much as kids. Back in those days, flights were too expensive for a middle-class family of four. Our mom and dad were only able to take us as far as four wheels could carry us (bearing in mind that the wheel was a relatively new and miraculous invention at the time). That meant long drives to the beach and yearly jaunts to visit my grandparents 14 hours away, sometimes with three highly vocal Siamese cats in tow.

Their yowling, however, was nothing compared to the arguments that erupted from the back seat. “Kim’s on MY side of the car!” “Amy’s touching me!” How my father resisted the urge to direct our powder blue station wagon right off a cliff, I’ll never know, although it probably had a lot to do with the geographical dearth of cliffs on America’s Eastern seaboard.

I think it was the limited scope of our adventures that birthed the travel bug in both my sister and me. We knew there was a big world beyond Panama City (Florida, that is), and we wanted to see it.

Kim only had the opportunity to travel overseas once—to Paris, doggedly hauling my infant niece in a baby carriage up and down the stairs of Metro stations—but she and her husband, along with my niece and nephew, logged hundreds of thousands of miles crisscrossing US highways. They thought nothing of driving 12 hours each way for a weekend at Mardi Gras, and they once rented an RV to explore the wilds of Alaska. Our last trip all together as a family was to the Big Island of Hawaii for Christmas—which was also my sister’s birthday.

My Mom, Dad, and Kim with my nephew, Chris, my niece, Kristin, and my brother-in-law Steve, in Hawaii, Christmas 2000.

My Mom, Dad, and Kim with my brother-in-law Steve, my nephew Chris, and my niece Kristin. Hawaii, Christmas 2000.

Every time I fastened that oblong ornament around my neck, I knew there was some small risk I might lose it. But what was the alternative? Leave it lying in a box, sequestered like a lonely relic? No. I think Kim would have loved to go many of the places I’ve been fortunate enough to visit (though she might have raised those dark eyebrows at a few), and I was determined to bring her with me however I could.

I wandered the streets of Barcelona that afternoon, eyes glued to the pavement, my heart leaping at the sight of every silver gum wrapper. Still, I knew it would be a miracle if I found the charm.

Carrer Banys Nous in Barcelon's Barri Gotic neighborhood.

Carrer Banys Nous in Barcelon’s Barri Gotic neighborhood.

I didn’t. But that doesn’t mean there might not be a happy ending to this story after all.

Maybe that adventurous part of Kim’s spirit, which the pendant symbolized in my mind, was as inexorably attracted by the energy and warmth of Barcelona as I am. Maybe, as I loitered in a lively old square, where laughter and chatter wafted from the buzzing cafes, she slipped quietly away, dropping her kid sister’s hand to explore for a while on her own.

I imagine that charm glinting in the blazing sunshine on an old cobblestone steeped in history and trodden by centuries of footsteps, soaking up the heat and the atmosphere. Someone, I’m certain, will notice it eventually. They’ll pick it up, and I hope they will wear it, too, as they wander around faraway cities, clamber up mountainsides and whiz over oceans.

I’ve accepted that I’ll never hold it again. But just as my sister sometimes comes back to me in my dreams, so, too, has a form of this memento.

The Christmas after I lost the pendant, marking yet another of Kim’s birthdays without her, I opened a small white box from my mother. There, glinting on a bed of snowy cotton, was an almost identical pendant. This one is perhaps doubly precious, because it was a gift from my sister to our mother, engraved with my mother’s name—and she was entrusting it to me.

Now when I travel, I wear this necklace for both of them.

Am I afraid I might lose it? Absolutely. But at least if I do, I’ve realized that I don’t need a symbol over my heart to carry the people I cherish with me, wherever I go.

Barcelona's skyline. It's out there, somewhere.

Barcelona’s skyline. It’s out there, somewhere.

15 Comments

  1. Jocelyn Ralston says:

    Really beautiful, Amy.

  2. Amy Laughinghouse says:

    Thank you so much, m’dears. I’m trying to be philosophical about it. As much as I hoped I might find that charm, and as hard as I looked for it that day, part of me felt that somehow it wouldn’t be right if I did.

  3. Amy Laughinghouse says:

    You know ladies, there’s something that only struck me just now. I actually met a really sweet girl on this trip–from Atlanta, no less (aren’t all we Southern gals as sweet as a glass of iced tea!)–who was wearing a pretty little ring that I commented on. She told me she had found it in a purse that she bought. Well, that ring went to Guernsey, Bordeaux, Lisbon, Seville and Barcelona on that trip, and it will probably go to India soon, too. That’s exactly what I’m hoping will happen with my charm. It’s almost like that conversation was preparing me for this.

  4. Holly Curtis says:

    Amy,

    So sorry but no one can make you lose those memories you have 🙂

    Holly

  5. Amy Laughinghouse says:

    Too right, Holly!

  6. Becky says:

    Kim always wanted to visit you in England. Now, as an Angel, she visits with you every day and surely was with you on this trip. She always looked after you though you thought she was being bossy.
    Thank you for sharing your love for her. We know she is proud of you as we are. Thank you.

    Love,

    Mom and Dad

  7. Amy Laughinghouse says:

    Dear Mom and Dad – Well, Kim COULD be a bit bossy sometimes…but that was her right and her duty as my older sister, just as it was my right and my duty as a little sister to poke her in the car. (Yes, I’ll admit it now). And I know that she was always looking out for me–and still is. (No doubt she shakes her head at some of the things I get up to sometimes).

    If there’s one good thing that comes out of this, it’s that it has given me the chance to share a bit about Kim with people that didn’t know her. I think a little of that mischievous glint in her eyes shows in the photo of her with the painting.

    Love you, too.

  8. Christy says:

    Just lovely and heartbreaking all at the same time. Thanks for sharing, Amy.

  9. Thanks for sharing such a beautiful, poignant story Amy. I’ve often wondered about your sister but there hasn’t seemed to have been the right moment to ask you about her. It’s lovely to get a sense of her and your family from your writing.

    It’s inspirational too how you have chosen to view what’s happened to something so precious to you and reminds me how powerful is the nature of our thinking and its impact upon us.

    Thank you for sharing this.

    Much love to you,

    Chloe x

  10. shutzele says:

    Sweet, Sweet Amy, you’ve reminded us that we carry our worldly connections in our hearts. Things are things and their meaning is in our hearts too. You are tremendously thoughtful, compassionate and generous to share this with us. Thank you. Now we can all send you a hug from us and wink at you, as if we know a secret together…a shared intimacy…of how so very special Kim is to you. Love you!

  11. Amy Laughinghouse says:

    Chloe and Michelle, thank you both. I can feel YOUR warmth emanating right off this computer! Keyboard is almost hot to the touch. 🙂 I wish both you lovely ladies could meet, as you’re two of the most inspirational people I know, always leaving whomever you meet with a smile. You would get along like a house a’fire, as we say (or as they SAY we say) in the South. Mwah!

  12. mary says:

    Amy,

    That was a beautiful necklace. I remember you wearing it in st John. I love that you found beauty and mystery in its loss.

  13. Amy Laughinghouse says:

    Thanks, Mary. Yes, I’m glad the charm made it to St. John–still and always one of my favorite places on earth. Big hugs to you and the boys!

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